A Place of Quiet Contemplation | The Cloistered Life | A Romantic Resting Place
A Place of Quiet Contemplation
The graceful ruins of Dryburgh Abbey nestle in wooded seclusion beside the River Tweed. On entering, the visitor immediately understands why the contemplative life of a medieval monk was attractive. The abbey was established in 1150 by white-clad Premonstratensian canons. They were invited to this idyllic spot from Alnwick Priory, Northumberland, by Hugh de Moreville. The Constable of Scotland and Lord of Lauderdale, he was himself an incomer from England.
Dryburgh became the premier house in Scotland of the Premonstratensian order, which had been established at Prémontré, north-east France, in 1121, by St Norbert of Xanten. There were six Scottish houses in total, including Whithorn Priory, in Galloway.
Dryburgh Abbey never quite aspired to the heights of wealth and influence achieved by its neighbours at Kelso, Jedburgh and Melrose, and on the whole the monastic life was lived out quietly. The sound of war occasionally visited the secluded spot, most famously in 1322, when Edward II’s retreating army, on hearing the abbey’s bells ringing in the distance, turned aside and set fire to the place. The Protestant Reformation effectively ended Dryburgh Abbey’s days, and by 1584 just two brethren remained alive.
The Cloistered Life
At Dryburgh, the visitor gets closer to the cloistered life of the medieval monk than perhaps anywhere else in Scotland.
There is an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity; and the abbey church and cloister – the spiritual and domestic homes of the brethren – remain substantially complete. The church is a fine relic of Gothic architecture, particularly the transepts flanking the presbytery, lovingly hewn from warm-pink sandstone. The cloister retains its feeling of privileged enclosure. Its highlight is the 13th-century chapter house, which still has precious painted wall-plaster surviving, and a wonderful acoustic. Other features of interest include the warming house and dormitory in the east range.
A Romantic Resting Place
In the 18th century, the ivy-clad ruin attracted the attention of David Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan. The chief founder of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1780, Buchan purchased Dryburgh House and set about creating a charming landscape, in which the ancient abbey figured prominently.
When he died in 1829, he was laid to rest in its sacristy. Three years later, on 26 September 1832, Buchan’s close friend, Sir Walter Scott, antiquarian and novelist, was buried in the north transept (which he called ‘St Mary’s Aisle’). A third great Scot, Field-Marshal Earl Haig, was interred beside Scott in 1928.