Dunfermline Abbey

National Grid Reference (NGR): NT 08980 87310, map


Address

St. Margaret's Street
Dunfermline
Fife
Scotland

Introduction

The Benedictine Abbey in Dunfermline had its origins in the foundation c. 1070 by Queen Margaret, wife of King Malcolm III, of a monastery dedicated to the Hoy Trinity.   It is assumed by several authorities that the church to which it was attached was a Culdean establishment and a Priory until the reign of King David I, who raised the monastery to the rank of an Abbey in 1128.   The first abbot was Geoffrey of Canterbury from a monastery in Kent which probably supplied the first monks.    The foundations of the earlier church of the Holy Trinity are under the present Romanesque nave, built in the twelfth century and completed by 1150.

Many areas of the Abbey were destroyed in 1303-4 by Edward I during the War of Independence, and subsequently had to be rebuilt. This work was ordered by King Robert the Bruce and he is said to have added the royal palace. By the beginning of the reformation in the sixteenth century monastic life had almost ceased and by 1560 there were no monks left in the Abbey. The church was sacked in March 1560.   The nave was spared and repaired in 1570 by Robert Drummond of Carnock.   It then served as the parish church until the new church was built (site 4677).   The original nave serves as the vestibule of the new church.   The eastern end of the Abbey Church collapsed between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and so in 1818 a new Parish Church was constructed, under designs by William Burn, in this location. Worship is still carried out in this church today  The remains of the original Abbey are now under the care of Historic Scotland.and have been preserved as a place of historic importance.   There is a visitor centre in the Pends gate house.

The guest house (which had always been a royal residence) continued to be in use and modifications were made to it throughout the sixteenth century and it was reconstructed as a palace between 1590-1600 for Anne of Denmark, wife of James VI.

After the death in 1093 of Queen Margaret and her canonization in 1251, a chapel was built to house her remains and those of her huband (see site 4678).

A graveyard is at the north, south, and east of the church, and there are also some gravestones against the west boundary wall.   The northeast section of the graveyard contains some memorials and monuments, but the north area is the oldest part of the graveyard, having been in use since the eleventh century.   In the southeast corner a grassy area is the probable site of the monks cemetery.   It is the resting place of at least twelve stone coffins containing the remains of Benedictine monks of the abbey.   To the north east of the graveyard is the nineteenth century gate house.   


Description

Dunfermline Abbey

Remains of the original abbey complex are listed separately below.    For details of the modern interior of the Parish Church see site 4677.

The West Gatehouse (the Pends Gate) was the main gateway into the abbey grounds from the west.    Today there are two openings allowing passage to the inner courtyard, a small one for people and a larger one for horses and goods.    The gatehouse also served as a place of accommodation, and today houses the museum run by Historic Scotland.

The Refectory is to the south of the abbey church between the dormitory and the west gatehouse.    This was where the monks took their communal meals, and it was one of the areas destroyed by Edward I, and subsequently rebuilt during the 1320s.   Still visible is the reticulated tracery in the seven light window in the west elevation.    The floor is missing, revealing the storey below where springers for a vaulted ceiling are visible.

The Cloister was also to the south of the abbey church.   It was constructed c. 1128 and was the area that connected the church to the domestic buildings.    Four covered walkways originally enclosed the cloister garth (courtyard), and this was the place where the monks spent most of their time.    There is nothing left of the cloister, and the south graveyard now occupies this space.

The Dormitory was the place where the monks lived.   Little of it survives, and all that is visible is the undercroft.    This seems to have been one of the few areas spared by Edward I.

The Redorter is a communal toilet and is also known as a latrine.   This area was also one of those spared by Edward I.

The Kitchen was once a large building spread over two floors, but little survives today.    It is between The Pends Gatehouse and the guesthouse.  

The Palace (guest house) was next to the kitchens.    It was rebuilt by order of King Robert the Bruce, and became a royal palace for Scotland’s Kings and Queens. (See site 4679).

The Chapel.    The first Culdee or Celtic church on this site dates probably to the tenth century, and may have been the place where Malcolm Canmore and Margaret were married.   The first stage of building of Dunfermline Abbey was the new church built on the site by Queen Margaret.    Excavations in c. 1916 have shown it to have been a small building of Anglo-Saxon type, with a western tower, nave and eastern apse of a total length of about 86 feet.    King David I built his new Abbey Church there beginning about 1128, and completed by 1150.    The foundations of Queen Margaret’s church lay beneath the new building.   Today in the New Abbey Church brass lines recessed into the floor following the excavations of 1916 show the outlines of the Culdee Church and the Priory Church of Queen Margaret.

Robert the Bruce’s Grave.     Robert the Bruce’s body was buried at Dunfermline Abbey in 1329 in the middle of the monk’s choir, while his heart was buried separately in Melrose Abbey.    The remains were rediscovered by chance in 1818 and reinterred in 1819 in the New Parish Church (see site 4677).

Towers   When the church was originally built in the twelfth century the two towers at the west end were identical and  around eight feet in height.    The northwest tower was rebuilt in Abbot Richard de Bothwell’s time (1446-1482) as part of a scheme that involved rebuilding the northwest corner of the nave.   The north tower is considerably larger than the sourch and has a spire above a corbelled parapet, while the south west tower has a flat roof with crenellated parapet.   The south tower collapsed in 1807 and  was rebuilt by William Stark.

The north porch was also added during the time of Abbot Bothwell.  It is at the west end of the north elevation of the church.    The coat of arms of Abbot Bothwell are on the ceiling of the porch.

The Wardlaw Vault is on the exterior of the south side of the church.    It may originally have been intended for Queen Anne (consort of James VI) but was given to the Wardlaw family in 1616.    It had previously covered the east processional door into the cloister, but  when the vault was reduced in size in the early twentieth century the door was restored to its former state.    Over the door are the words ‘Anne, Queen of Great Britain and Lady of the Lordship of Dunfermline, gave to Sir Henry Wardlaw, Knight, and his descendants, this burial place 1616’.

Ceiling painting.    A ceiling painting at the east end of the north aisle in the church depicts four apostles, and perhaps dates from c. 1500.    This is the only surviving section of paintings which originally would have covered the ceilings of all the aisles.

Rood Screen.   Only the lower part of the original rood screen  survives, and is at the eastern end of the nave of the New Abbey church.

William Schaw Monument.    This was first in the north aisle but was moved in 1794 to its present location under the north west tower to allow the pulpit to be seen more clearly when the nave was still in use as a church.   Each stone is inscribed with a mason’s mark, probably that of David Scougall.    The monument is dedicated to William Schaw (1550-1602) who was Master of Works of James VI’s building operations in 1583, and he was the Royal Master of Ceremonies to Queen Anne.   He was buried in the nave of the church.


People / Organisations:

NameRoleDatesNotes
Mrs Catherine RossResearcher2007-2008
Pre-reformation Church of ScotlandDenomination1070-1560
Church of ScotlandDenomination1560-NOW

Events:

  • Chapel: Build/construction (1000)
    Culdee or Celtic Church - may have been the place where the marriage of Malcolm and Margaret took place.
  • Abbey: Founded (1070C)
    People: Queen Margaret
  • Chapel: Build/construction (1072 to 1074)
    The erection of this church by Queen Margaret represents the first stage of Dunfermline Abbey. Excavations revealed it to have been a small building of Anglo-Saxon type, with a western tower, nave, chancel and eastern apse, the total length being around 86 feet.
  • Church: Build/construction (1100)
    Dedicated in 1150.
  • Tower: Build/construction (1100)
    Original tower built.
  • Tower: Build/construction (1100)
  • : Build/construction (1100 uncertified)
    The rood screen was probably added at the time when the Abbey Church was constructed, between 1128-1150.
  • Abbey: Build/construction (1124 to 1150)
  • Cloister: Build/construction (1128 uncertified)
    The Abbey was constructed at this time.
  • Refectory: Build/construction (1150C uncertified)
  • Reredorter: Build/construction (120C)
  • Chapel: Build/construction (1250)
  • Dorter: Build/construction (12L0)
  • : Build/construction (1300)
  • : Build/construction (1300)
  • Gatehouse: Build/construction (1300)
  • Gate: Build/construction (1300)
  • Refectory: Destruction/demolition (1303 to 1304)
    The refectory was destroyed in 1303-04 by Edward I.
  • Refectory: Build/construction (1320)
    The refectory was rebuilt around the 1320s.
  • Chapel: Addition (1368)
    Marble plinth added at this time.
  • Church: Build/construction (1400)
    The entire west wall, including towers, was rebuilt c. 1400.
  • Tower: Build/construction (1400C)
    West wall and towers rebuilt c. 1400.
  • Abbey: Addition (1446 to 1482)
  • Tower: Build/construction (1446 to 1482)
    Rebuilt some time between 1446 - 1482.
  • Porch: Build/construction (1446 to 1482)
    The porch was added to the north elevation during Abbot Richard de Bothwell\'s time (1446-82).
  • Abbey: Addition (1450)
    A porch was added at this time.
  • : Build/construction (1500C)
    The kitchen was reconstructed c. 1500.
  • : Build/construction (1500C)
    The palace was extended at this time.
  • Tower: Build/construction (1500C to 1520C)
    Machicolated parapet and spire, c. 1500-20 could be a possible date as it appears to resemble the spires of St. Machar\'s Cathedral, Aberdeen.
  • Ceiling: Addition (1500C)
    This painting was added to the east end of the north aisle around c. 1500.
  • Gatehouse: Build/construction (1500C)
    Rebuilt around this time.
  • Abbot\'s house: Build/construction (1500C)
  • : Build/construction (1540)
    Remodelling carried out at this time.
  • Chapel: Destruction/demolition (1560)
    Demolished during the Reformation.
  • Abbey: Build/construction (1590)
    The north west tower was rebuilt at this time.
  • Abbey: Addition (1590)
    The steeple was added to the north west tower at this time and the design may have been influenced by William Schaw.
  • : Build/construction (1590)
    Remodelling carried out at this time.
  • Monument: Build/construction (1602)
  • Mausoleum: (1616)
    Uncertain dates of construction. In 1616, the vault was given to the Wardlaw family - it may have originally been intended for Queen Anne.
  • Abbey: Build/construction (1620)
    The aisle had to be rebuilt at this time.
  • Church: Build/construction (1620)
    Addition of buttresses and rebuilding of the south aisle.
  • Church: Damage (1672)
    The remains of the choir were destroyed in a storm.
  • Gate: Build/construction (1706)
    A gate was erected at the northwest of graveyard, facing Kirkgate. Another gate was erected at the southwest of the graveyard, facing St. Catherine\'s Wynd.
  • Church: Damage (1726)
    The east gable fell down.
  • Church: Damage (1753)
    The central tower collapsed.
  • Monument: Installed (1794)
    The William Schaw monument was moved to its present location in the north west tower in 1794.
  • Graveyard: Addition (1800)
    Before the early nineteenth century only the north graveyard was in use. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the graveyard was expanded to the south and east of the abbey church.
  • Gate: Build/construction (1800)
    The east gateway was built in the early nineteenth century.
  • Stained Glass: Installed (1800 to 1900)
  • Tower: Damage (1807)
    Collapse of south west tower.
  • Tower: Repair (1808 to 1810)
    Rebuilding of south west tower, plus repairs, alterations and improvements.
  • Abbey: Build/construction (1811 to 1812)
    Due to the collapse of the south west tower during a violent storm, William Stark was commissioned to rebuild it.
  • Church: (1813B)
    Proposals for a new parish church.
  • Church: Build/construction (1818 to 1821)
  • Church: Build/construction (1818)
    Foundation stone laid by the 7th Earl of Elgin.
  • Tower: Build/construction (1818 to 1821)
  • Church: Opening (1821)
    Opened for public worship on 30th September 1821.
  • Gate: Removal (1823)
    Removal of south west gate (facing St. Catherine\'s Wynd).
  • Gate: Build/construction (1823)
    New gate built at northwest of churchyard, replacing gate built in 1706.
  • Graveyard: Addition (1832)
    To the south of the abbey church the graveyard was expanded to include an area used for the burial of the victims of the 1832 cholera epidemic in Dunfermline.
  • Graveyard: Removal (1842)
    The old churchyard was levelled and many of the gravestones were removed or laid flat.
  • Church: Restoration (1845 to 1848)
  • Shrine: Build/construction (1863 to 1868)
    General the Hon. Robert Bruce effigy, by J. H. Foley.
  • Shrine: Build/construction (1870)
    Charles Bruce effigy, by Matthew Noble.
  • Stained Glass: Build/construction (1880 to 1974)
    Present stained glass windows added to the parish church between these dates.
  • Chapel: Restoration (1881)
  • Graveyard: Build/construction (1891 to 1892)
    Railings and parts of the west wall were built.
  • Gate: Build/construction (1891 to 1892)
    The west gateway was built.
  • Gatehouse: Alteration/conversion (1896 to 1897)
    Alterations to form museum.
  • Gatehouse: Build/construction (1897)
  • Isolated burial: Addition (1899)
    The plaque showing Bruce\'s burial place was added in 1889. It is located beneath the pulpit of the Parish Church, close to the site where the king was buried in 1329.
  • Mausoleum: Alteration/conversion (1904 to 1905)
    The vault was reduced in size at this time.
  • Church: Renovation (1904 to 1906)
    The Parish Church was modernised at this time under a scheme by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson.
  • Gatehouse: Alteration/conversion (1909)
    Minor alterations by R S Lorimer, 1909.
  • Church: Repair (1911 to 1915A)
    Repairs to stonework.
  • Church: Excavation (1916)
    Excavation of original twelfth century church (church built under orders of Queen Margaret), located under the floor of the nave.
  • Church: Addition (1916)
    New paving added in the nave, with metal inlays showing the outline of the original twelfth century church, which had been recently excavated.
  • Refectory: Excavation (1920 to 1924)
    Lower levels of the refectory were revealed by excavation at this time.
  • Dorter: Excavation (1920 to 1924)
    Lower levels of the dormitory were revealed by excavation at this time.
  • Memorial: Alteration/conversion (1952)
    South aisle choir fitted up as a war memorial (plans dated c. 1951 - 1959).
  • Church: Renovation (1984 to 1986)
    Work carried out on the organ by David Loosley of Stirling
  • Church: Renovation (1984 to 1986)
    Major structural renovation work was carried out at this time.
  • Graveyard: Installed (2006)
    New railings installed around Erskine Memorial, with funding from West Fife Common Good.
  • Graveyard: Build/construction (c185)
    Much of the boundary walls and railings were constructed in the mid nineteenth century.
  • Gate: Build/construction (c185)
    The northwest gateway was built in the mid nineteenth century.

Archive References:

NameReferenceNotes
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 25961
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 49315
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 2260
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online:
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 108576Cemetery.
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 256493Boundary Walls and Railings.
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 256495East Gateway.
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 256498
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 256496North West Gateway.
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 256497West Gateway.
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 46893
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 46893Referred to as Toolhouse.
Dictionary of Scottish Architects - Online databaseReference: M030176Dunfermline Abbey, entrance gateways and walls including toolhouse.
Dictionary of Scottish Architects - Online databaseReference: M034662
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 108575
Dunfermline Press Archives - Online databaseReference: 1859 - 1907
Scran - Online databaseReference: 000-000-025-602-CImage: John R. Hume
CSA: Inventory of Scottish Church Heritage - HardcopyReference: 2260
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 4677New Abbey Parish Kirk
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 4678
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 4679
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 4680Conventual buildings
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 4681
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 8415
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 8728
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 25960
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 49325
Dictionary of Scottish Architects - Online databaseReference: M000285
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 46894
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 25963
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 25965
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 222731
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 49323
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 49324
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 49320
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online:
Dictionary of Scottish Architects - Online databaseReference: M003820Restoration work carried out by the practice of James Grant Shearer and George Annand.

Bibliographic References:

NameAuthorDateNotes
Buildings of Scotland: FifeGifford, J1988pp. 175 - 185
Dunfermline Abbey and PalaceFawcett, R.2004Richard Fawcett - Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments. This book is the official souvenir guide of Dunfermline Abbey and Palace, by Historic Scotland.
Dunfermline AbbeyWebster, J.M.1948
A Guide To Dunfermline AbbeyAbbey Kirk Session1987
Journal guide to DunfermlineMackie, J. B.1905
Dunfermline Our HeritageMcEwan, B1999Published by Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, Abbey Park House, Dunfermline, Auguest 1998, reprinted February 1999.
Ecclesiastical Architecture of ScotlandMacgibbon & Ross, D;T1896STAHS, and available most libraries pp. 230 - 258, volume one.