Melrose Abbey

Melrose Abbey is a Cistercian abbey in the Borders region of Scotland, founded in 1136 and now in picturesque ruins. It is said to enshrine the heart of Robert the Bruce.

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History of Melrose Abbey

Tradition has it that an abbey was founded at Melrose around the end of the 6th century, and that the famous St. Cuthbert was one of the abbots in 643 before he left for Lindisfarne.

Ethelwold succeeded St. Cuthbert, and sometime later the monastery was ruined by the Danes. The place where this abbey is supposed to have stood is called Old Melrose, and is a mile and a half from the present abbey.

The present Melrose Abbey was founded by king David of Scotland in 1136, and is supposed to have been built in ten years. The church of the convent was dedicated to St. Mary on the 28th of July, 1146. It was the mother church of the Cistertian order in Scotland. The white-robed monks were brought from Rievaulx Abbey, in Yorkshire, and they soon superseded the order of the Benedictines.

The exterior of Melrose Abbey has 50 windows, 4 doors, 54 niches, and more than 50 buttresses. The abbey was damaged by the English in 1322 and 1384. Richard II made it a grant in 1389, as some compensation for the injuries it had sustained in the retreat of his army.

Twenty years before the Reformation, there were 120 monks at Melrose Abbey. The privileges and possessions of the abbey were extensive. Melrose Abbey was endowed by its founder, David of Scotland, with the lands of Melrose, Eildon, and others, right of fishery on the Tweed, and succeeding monarchs increased its property.

In 1544, King Henry VIII had Melrose Abbey torched, and it never recovered. Sixty of the monks, it is said, renounced Catholicism at the Reformation. The last abbot was James Stuart, natural son of James V, who died in 1559. By 1560, the abbey had ceased to function. The abbey's holdings were given up in 1561. Its carvings were destroyed by a Protestant mob following the deposition of Mary, Queen of Scots. Finally, as has happened with many priceless works of antiquity, much of the abbey was carted off by locals needing building material.

What to See at Melrose Abbey

The best view of Melrose Abbey's exterior is from the southeast side. The Gothic abbey is built in the form of St. John's cross, with a considerable part of its principal tower now in ruins.

There are many very superb windows; the principal one at the east end (the top nave of the cross) appears to have been more recently built than the others. The beauty of the carved work, with which the abbey is profusely decorated, is seldom equaled, and has been deservedly celebrated by poets over the years.

Alexander II and many of the Scottish kings and nobles are also buried at Melrose. Robert the Bruce's heart is believed to be enshrined in the abbey. A plaque marks its location.

A stone coffin, supposed to be that of the famous Michael Scott, the wizard, was found in the small aisle on the south of the chancel in 1812. It was authenticated that his remains had been laid here. There was an altar erected to say mass for his soul. The length of the skeleton was six feet, and a stone head at the foot of the coffin bears a very rude wizard-like appearance. Scott is said to have predicted his own death, which would be by a small stone falling on his head.

The village of Melrose contains about 1000 inhabitants, and is 35 miles from Edinburgh. The remains of several Roman camps are to be seen in its neighborhood, and one of the hills bears the marks of having been a volcano. Sir Walter Scott's residence at Abbotsford is within a few miles.

Quick Facts on Melrose Abbey

Site Information
Names:Melrose Abbey
Country:Scotland
Categories:monasteries; abbeys; ruins; abbey churches
Faiths:Catholicism; Cistercian order
Styles:Gothic
Dates:1136
Status: ruins
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:55.599163° N, 2.717786° W
Address:Abbey St.
Melrose, Scotland
Phone:01896/822-562
Hours:Apr-Sep: daily 9:30am-6:30pm
Oct-Mar: Mon-Sat 9:30am-4:30pm, Sun 2-4:30pm
Closed Dec 25-26, Jan 1-2
Lodging:View hotels near Melrose Abbey
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. Melrose Abbey - Historic Scotland (you can buy an admission ticket online here)
  2. Melrose Abbey in Melrose - Frommer's Scotland
  3. Melrose Abbey – Undiscovered Scotland – includes many good photos
  4. Melrose Abbey – Frommer's Attraction Review
  5. Abbey of Melrose – Catholic Encyclopedia
  6. Melrose Abbey Factsheet – BBC History Trails: Impact of the Monk

More Information

View of the abbey church from south at dusk. Ruins of Melrose Abbey, Melrose, Scotland. © Holly Hayes
View of the abbey church from south. Ruins of Melrose Abbey, Melrose, Scotland. © Holly Hayes
View of the abbey church from east. Ruins of Melrose Abbey, Melrose, Scotland. © Holly Hayes
Nave (mostly ruined), choir (mostly intact) and cloister (left), viewed from west. Melrose Abbey, Melrose,... © Holly Hayes
Nave roof of the abbey church, viewed from the south tower. Ruins of Melrose Abbey, Melrose, Scotland. © Holly Hayes
Heart of Robert the Bruce, with modern marker. Ruins of Melrose Abbey, Melrose, Scotland. © David Joyal
Cloister and church, viewed from west. Ruins of Melrose Abbey, Melrose, Scotland. © Holly Hayes

Map of Melrose Abbey

Below is a location map and aerial view of Melrose Abbey. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.