Holyrood Abbey Ruins

Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Holyrood Abbey was founded in 1128 by King David I. The original abbey church of Holyrood was largely reconstructed between 1195 and 1230. The completed building consisted of a six-bay aisled choir, three-bay transepts with a central tower above, and an eight-bay aisled nave with twin towers at its west front. During the 15th century, the abbey guesthouse was developed into a royal residence, and after the Scottish Reformation the Palace of Holyroodhouse was expanded further. The abbey church was used as a parish church until the 17th century, and has been ruined since the 18th century. The remaining walls of the abbey lie adjacent to the palace, at the eastern end of Edinburgh's Royal Mile.

The Parliament of Scotland met at the abbey in 1256, 1285, 1327, 1366, 1384, 1389 and 1410. In 1326 Robert the Bruce held parliament here and there is evidence that Holyrood was being used as a royal residence by 1329. The Treaty of Edinburgh–Northampton (1328), which brought an end to the First War of Scottish Independence, was signed by Robert I in the 'King's Chamber' at Holyrood in March 1328. The abbey's position close to Edinburgh Castle meant that it was often visited by Scotland's kings, who were lodged in the guest house situated to the west of the abbey cloister. In the mid-15th century, with the emergence of Edinburgh as the main seat of the royal court and the chief city in the kingdom, the Kings of Scots increasingly used the accommodation at Holyrood for secular purposes. James II and his twin brother Alexander, Duke of Rothesay, were born there in October 1430. James was also crowned at Holyrood in 1437 and building works were carried out before his marriage there in 1449. Between 1498 and 1501, James IV constructed a royal palace at Holyrood, adjacent to the abbey cloister.

During the War of the Rough Wooing, the invading English armies of the Earl of Hertford inflicted structural damage on Holyrood Abbey in 1544 and 1547. Lead was stripped from the roof, the bells were removed, and the contents of the abbey were plundered. In 1559, during the Scottish Reformation, the abbey suffered further damage when a mob destroyed the altars and looted the rest of the church. With the reformation and the end of monastic services, the east end of the abbey church became redundant. In 1569, Adam Bothwell, the commendator of Holyrood, informed the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland that the east end was in such a state of disrepair that the choir and transept should be demolished. This was done the following year, retaining only the nave, which by then was serving as the parish church of the burgh of Canongate. Between 1570 and 1573 an east gable was erected, closing the east end of the former nave, all but two of the windows in the nave were blocked up, the royal tombs were removed to a new royal burial vault in the south aisle and the old east end was demolished. The abbey was extensively remodelled in 1633 for the coronation of Charles I.

In 1686, James VII established a Jesuit college within Holyrood Palace. The following year, the Protestant congregation was moved to the new Kirk of the Canongate, and the abbey was converted into a Roman Catholic Chapel Royal and the chapel of the Order of the Thistle. The abbey church was remodelled according to the plans of James Smith, and was fitted with elaborate thrones and stalls for the individual Knights of the Thistle, carved by Grinling Gibbons. However in 1688, following the Glorious Revolution, the Edinburgh mob broke into the abbey, destroyed the Chapel Royal and desecrated the royal tombs. The roof was vaulted in stone in 1758, but the work was badly executed, and during a storm in 1768 the roof collapsed, leaving the abbey as it currently stands, a roofless ruin. The restoration of the abbey has been proposed several times since the 18th century – in 1835 by the architect James Gillespie Graham as a meeting place for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and, in 1906, as a chapel for the Knights of the Thistle – but both proposals were rejected.

Holyrood Abbey was the site of the coronations of James II in 1437, Margaret Tudor in 1504, Mary of Guise in 1540, Anne of Denmark in 1590, and Charles I in 1633. It was also the site of many royal funerals and interments, including King David II in 1371, King James II in 1460.

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Founded: 1128
Category: Religious sites in United Kingdom

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4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Stanly Palathingal (11 months ago)
Though in ruins, it must have been a formidable one in its good old days. Elegant structure even in its ruins. It is part of the palace visit. It is very much attached with the palace and you won't miss it anyway.
Mircea Dascalescu (11 months ago)
Admire the fantastic ruins of this abbey, from where Holyrood Palace get developed. Beautiful ruins, rounded by the magnificent garden of the royal family. The place is just at the bottom of the Arthur seat and walk in there is like feeling 100 years of history in the air. Beautiful.
Exploring Roslin (3 years ago)
If not visit of the First Templar Grand Master of Templars, following meeting with king David I in 1128, This abbey wouldn't manifest nor anyone wouldn't even heard about, nor two Scottish kings wouldn't be buried there. Part of Scottish History, place to see ? aye, be in Edinburgh and no visit this abbey wouldn't make much sense to anyone who seek Scottish History
Meg Towler (4 years ago)
Would of loved to walk around it but they are doing essential work.
Phil Halson (4 years ago)
Scotland has a number of abbeys and castles and most are spectacular. As this is within the centre of Edinburgh, it's easy to visit, and I'd recommend that you do.
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