The impressive 12th century ruins of the famous Melrose Abbey in Scotland are among Britain's most important examples of medieval monastic architecture.
In 1136, the then Scottish King David Lyon gave the order to build Scotland's first Cistercian monastery in Melrose. Ten years later, the east wing of Melrose Abbey was completed, and the rest of the monastery's additions followed in the typical Gothic cross shape over the next half century. Today, its ruins are among our top 10 sights of Britain and our top 10 monasteries in the world.
Melrose Abbey was destroyed several times by English troops, but was always rebuilt. It was not until after the damage in 1544 that the monastery was fully restored and soon all the monks had left. Around 1590 Dan Jo Watson, the last monk of Melrose Abbey, died. Until a new church was built in 1810, for exactly 200 years, Melrose Abbey was the parish church of Melrose.
Meaning of Melrose Abbey
Melrose Abbbey was for a time one of the richest monasteries in Scotland, thanks to numerous endowments and the flourishing trade in wool and animal skins with northern Europe. The monastery was also famous for its agricultural success; it is said that under Abbot Waltheof the monastery's granaries fed 4,000 people during the great famine of 1148. A fragment of the tomb of the canonised abbot can still be seen today.
Melrose Abbey has also been the burial place of several Scottish kings, nobles and other notables, including Alexander II of Scotland and the fabled heart of Robert the Bruce, which was supposed to have been buried in the Holy Land. A stone coffin in the south chancel is said to contain the philosopher Michael Scott, who was said to have magical powers. Some suspect that there are magical writings in his grave...
Visit to Melrose Abbey
Today, the majestic Melrose Abbey is probably one of the most famous ruins in Scotland and still impresses with its imposing stone wall remains, which give an idea of the former size of the monastery. The entire site can be explored with an audio guide or on a guided tour.
Artful round arches, turrets and windows have survived the centuries and still show the fantastic façade decorations of yesteryear. Some fragments date back to the penultimate reconstruction in 1385.
Among the numerous plant tendrils, music-making angels and figures of saints, the present motto of the city of Melrose can also be found: "Be halde to ye hende" - "Think of your end". Less monastic motifs can also be discovered in the filigree figures, including dragons, demons, goblins and the famous Melrose pig playing the bagpipes.
Finds from the monastery grounds that recreate everyday life at Melrose Abbey are on display, from cooking pots to bedpans in the 16th century Commendator's House.