Balmerino Abbey

National Grid Reference (NGR): NO 35800 24650, map


Address

Balmerino
Fife
DD6 8SB
Scotland

Introduction

Balmerino Abbey is set back from the roadside behind a low wall in landscaped grounds overlooking the Tay to the west. The site is in a ruined state although it is maintained by the National Trust for Scotland.  It was originally founded as a Cistercian abbey by Ermengarde de Beaumont in 1229, and in that year the church, dormitory, guest-hall and porter's cell had been completed and occupied by twelve brothers who were led by their Abbot Alan from Melrose Abbey.    Few rooms or buildings had a fire so life must have been cold and harsh for long periods.   The abbey was brought to an end during the Scottish Reformation, begun in 1559. The buildings were stripped of their religious aspects and may have been partially demolished.   After this it was used mainly for stone and materials, robbed to build new local buildings. The monks were allowed to stay in the locality and maintain their pensions and livings, as long as they renounced the Catholic faith.    The abbey today is still in a ruinous condition.  

 


Description (exterior)

The foundations of the church were exposed during an excavation in 1896 and are now visible as bumps in the lawn.   The buildings were of red sandstone.    It was cruciform and consisted of a choir, nave, transepts and south aisle and presbytery.. It is now ruinous - the north and west walls of the nave, north and west walls of north transept, east wall of the south transept, and south wall of the choir, partially survive.

Fairly unusually for an abbey, the cloister was situated to the north of the church (most were to the south to capture most sunlight) and attached to the north wall of the nave. To the north of the transepts were the sacristy, chapter house and porter's cells. An Abbot's house and a barn were situated away slightly from the main complex.   There were also to the north and west of the cloisters a dormitory, refectory, kitchen and day room (or fratery), which may at first have been open to the elements on one side;   but no remains of  these are visible today.  

The following description of the abbey church as it originally appeared is based on a reconstruction by the National Trust for Scotland. 'The church was originally gabled and was built of red sandstone. It had a south aisle with a sloping roof supported by buttresses. The aisle was divided into seven bays and has pointed arched windows in its south elevation. The south elevation of the church was partially obscured by the south aisle. The clerestory had pointed arches'.

 

Chapter House

The chapter house is east of the cloister and joined to the north of the sacristy. It has a vestibule to the west and is covered by rib-vaulting. The walls and vaulting of the chapter house still survive.

Sacristy

The sacristy is a tunnel-vaulted room located at the east side of the abbey, north of the transepts of the abbey church.   There was a turnpike stair on the exterior of the building, at its north-west corner. Although the sacristy is now ruinous, the walls and vaulting still survive.

Parlour

The parlour is situated to the east of the cloister and joined to the north of the chapter house. It is tunnel-vaulted. On its east side there is a pointed, arched doorway with a hoodmould above it.   Although ruinous, the walls and vaulting of the parlour remain standing.

Transepts

The north and south transepts were gabled, supported by diagonal buttresses and had pointed, arched windows. Of the north transept only the west and north walls survive and of the south transept only the east wall survives..

Choir

The was gabled with a crossing tower and had tall, pointed-arch windows but all that now survives is the south wall. A wooden cross has been erected to mark the sites of the high altar and Ermengarde de Beaumont's tomb.

Cloister

The cloister was situated to the north of the abbey church and a private house now occupies the site.   Only the east range of the original building survives.

Abbot's house

The abbot's house is to the north east of the cloister.    All that remains is a mound covering the entrance to a tunnel-vaulted cellar.

 


Description (interior)


People / Organisations:

NameRoleDatesNotes
CisterciansDenomination1229-15
Ermengarde de BeaumontFounder1229-1233Ermengarde, the widow of William the Lion and mother of Alexander II, founded the abbey in 1229. She was buried below the high altar of the abbey church in 1233.
Lord James Elphinstone, 1st Lord BalmerinoOwner1606Balmerino created as a secular lordship for Lord Elphinstone in 1606 and 1607.
National Trust for ScotlandCurator1936-NOWThe abbey was presented to the National Trust in 1936 by the Earl of Dundee and has been in their care since then.
Queen Mary of ScotlandBenefactor1565/01/27-1565/01/28Visited the abbey.
JohnOwner1755Bought the estate of Balmerino in 1755. Bought the estate of Balmerino in 1755.
Saint EdwardDedicatee12-15The abbey was dedicated to Saint Edward.
Mr Francis William DeasArchitectC1910Architect during restoration work on the abbey.
Sir John HayCustodian1561/09-1573Was the first Lay Commendator of Balmerino Abbey.

Events:

  • Abbey: Founded (1227)
    Founded by Ermengarde de Beaumont, mother of Alexander II.
  • Abbey: Built (1229)
  • Abbey: Damage (1537)
    Burned.
  • Abbey: Damage (1547)
    On Christmas Day in 1547, the English forces of Henry VIII, led by Thomas Wyndham, attacked the abbey and burned it.
  • Abbey: Damage (1559)
    Damage done during an attack by the Reformers led by the Earl of Moray.
  • Abbey: Custodial Transfer (1561)
    Sir John Hay made the first Lay Commendator of Balmerino Abbey.
  • Church: Abandonment (1588)
    The abbey church was abandoned in 1588.
  • Church: Excavation (1896)
    An excavation in 1896 exposed the foundations of the abbey church.
  • Abbey: Custodial Transfer (1936)
    The ruins of Balmerino abbey were given to the National Trust for Scotland by the Earl of Dundee.
  • Abbey: Restoration (c. 1910)
    Restoration work done at the abbey.

Archive References:

NameReferenceNotes
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 927
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 31746Balmerino Abbey.
Dictionary of Scottish Architects - Online databaseReference: L001546Restoration work c.1910.
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 2545Balmerino Abbey - Conventual Buildings.
Scran - Online databaseReference: 000-000-108-791-CImage: Abby Hunt
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 2544
www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk - Online databaseReference: Balmerino AbbeyFor National Trust for Scotland re-construction of Balmerino Abbey.

Bibliographic References:

NameAuthorDateNotes
Villages of FifeLamont-Brown, R.2002pp. 49-50
Fife in History and LegendLamont-Brown, R.2002pp. 13-18
Balmerino and its Abbey: a Parish History with Notices of the Adjacent DistrictCampbell, J1899
Buildings of Scotland: FifeGifford, J1988pp. 94-96
Discovery & Excavation, Scotland 2007J. Lewis2007Excavation revealed remains of substantial walls on the South. Indications are that Abbey's East range had extended beyond present N limit. Bldg on N side could possibly be Monastic Abbot's house. (13th - 16th C). box drains, kiln at E end, flagged floor, walls, cobbling at N end indicate a possible monastic yard.