Dunfermline Palace And Abbey
A royal foundation | From priory to abbey | The Bruce at Dunfermline | The Reformed Church at Dunfermline | Dunfermline Palace
A royal foundation
Dunfermline Abbey has a history stretching back to the 11th century – the time of King Malcolm III and Queen Margaret. In the 12th century, their son, David I, raised the little priory to the lofty status of abbey. He endowed it richly, and brought stonemasons from Durham Cathedral to help build it. The great nave still stands largely complete, the most visually stunning example of Romanesque architecture in Scotland.
The abbey church is also famous as the mausoleum of some of Scotland’s great kings and queens. They include Queen Margaret (later canonised as St Margaret), David I and King Robert Bruce. As such, it occupies an especially important place in the national consciousness. Late on in its history, the abbey cloister became a royal palace. The ill-fated Charles I was born here, in 1600.
From priory to abbey
In 1070 Queen Margaret founded a priory in Dunfermline on the site where she had married Malcolm III. She introduced a small community of Benedictine monks from Canterbury, and so laid the foundations of the first Benedictine house in Scotland.
David I re-established the priory as an abbey in 1128. He had a new church built, on the grand scale. Only the nave survives, but what a survival. The attractive Romanesque pillars resemble those in Durham Cathedral, and it is likely that they were carved by the same masons. In 1250 St Margaret’s remains were translated to an elaborate shrine at the east end of the choir. (The site of the choir is now occupied by the 19th century parish church.)
The Bruce at Dunfermline
In 1303, Dunfermline Abbey was badly damaged by Edward I. King Robert Bruce financed the rebuilding. The most impressive of the new buildings was the monks’ refectory, a soaring structure with an elaborate façade which took full advantage of the sloping site. The rebuilding demonstrated Robert’s confidence in the affluence and self-reliance of his kingdom, following the Wars of Independence with England. Bruce was interred before the high altar in 1329, and his heart was taken on Crusade (and eventually buried at Melrose Abbey.
The Reformed Church at Dunfermline
After the Protestant Reformation in 1560, the nave was converted into a parish kirk for the people of Dunfermline. The old choir was allowed to collapse. When a new parish church was built on the site of the choir between 1818 and 1821, the nave was taken into State care.
There was probably always a royal apartment in the abbey complex. After the Reformation, King James VI had an impressive new palace built to the west of the old cloister. It became the home of his queen, Anna of Denmark. King Charles I was born here in 1600, the last king to be born in Scotland. With James and Anna’s departure for London in 1603, royal interest in Dunfermline waned. The palace fell into disrepair.