Cambuskenneth Abbey

The ruins of Cambuskenneth Abbey sit in a quiet green space beside the River Forth.

The Tower and West Doorway hint at the large Arroussian Monastery which was founded here by King David I in 1140 AD. Cambuskenneth Abbey was the only Arrousian Abbey established in Scotland, and its importance in late-medieval Scotland can be compared to the other major monastic foundations of David I in Jedburgh, Holyrood and St Andrews.

As Cambuskenneth Abbey was so near to Stirling Castle, it witnessed important moments in Scottish history, particularly during the Scottish Wars of Independence, with parliaments and important meetings being held there throughout the 14th century. The spoils of the Battle at Bannockburn were even shared out on the grounds of the abbey in 1314.

In 1486 Margaret of Denmark, Queen of James III, died at Stirling Castle and was interred in front of the high alter of Cambuskenneth Abbey. After James III was killed during the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488 he was buried beside Margaret, and his original tomb was finished in 1502. Unfortunately, this marble tomb was damaged when the abbey was being plundered for stone in the 16th century. The tomb we see today is a Victorian creation.

The abbey declined in importance and fell into disuse during the Scottish Reformation. By 1560 the abbey was under the control of the Keeper of Stirling Castle, John Erskine, Earl of Mar. Erskine had a great deal of masonry removed from the abbey, which was already in poor condition, and used it for construction projects in Stirling Castle. It’s thought that Erskine also used the abbey’s masonry to construct Mar’s Wark, his own grand townhouse near the castle. The story goes that the huge bell from the bell-tower was also removed at this time, but it fell into the River Forth whilst being transported.

In the 1860s William Mackison, who was Master, Burgh Surveyor and Town Architect of Stirling, carried out restoration works and an excavation of the abbey site. Mackison was born in Stirling, but grew up in Dundee. By 1858 he had formed a partnership with his uncle, Francis Mackison, a civil engineer in Stirling, and was living with his wife, Mary Low, at 23 King Street.

During Mackison’s excavation of the site bones were discovered in the presbytery of the Church and were thought to be those of James III and Margaret of Denmark. The bones were then reburied in a grand new monument on the command of Queen Victoria. Interestingly, JT Rochead, architect of the National Wallace Monument, also took part in these excavations. The works carried out by Mackison at Cambuskenneth Abbey do not meet today’s conservation standards, but they are still a significant example of early conservation works to historic buildings and monuments.


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