As with so many things Scottish, the origins of Holyrood Abbey are mixed together with legend. It is said that David I was hunting in the forest surrounding Edinburgh when he was thrown from his horse having been startled by a hart. The deer then turned on the King and charged to gore him, but a holy cross descended from the sky and started the deer. To thank God for this deliverance David founded Holyrood Abbey on the site in 1128. It was given to Augustinians from Merton Priory.
The first stone church was built between 1195 and 1230. For many years the Parliament of Scotland met at the Abbey; in 1256, 1285, 1327, 1366, 1384, 1389 and 1410. Robert I signed the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton at the Abbey in 1328 which brought to an end the First Scottish War of Independence.
As time passed Holyrood became more and more frequented by the Scottish Royals; both James II and his younger brother Alexander were born at Holyrood in 1430 and James was crowned there seven years later and married there in 1449. Between 1498 and 1501 James IV constructed the first Palace immediately adjoining the Abbey buildings which was extended considerably over the next hundred years or so.
During the War of the Rough Wooing the English inflicted serious damage upon the Abbey in two raids in 1544 and 1547. The lead was stripped from the roof, the interiors were plundered and the bells removed and melted down. Only a few years later the Reformation arrived in Scotland and in 1559 a mob destroyed the altars and looted the rest of the church. The east end of the church was demolished in 1570 and a wall was put up enclosing the rest of the church. However, the Abbey was in a good enough state to be used for the coronation of Charles I in 1633.
James VII established a Jesuit college at Holyrood in 1686 and the following year the Protestant congregation moved out and the Abbey became a Roman Catholic Chapel Royal, almost entirely to serve the Royals at Holyrood Palace. Grinling Gibbons was brought in to refit the church but in 1688 during the Glorious Revolution a mob broke into the abbey, destroyed the Chapel Royal and desecrated the royal tombs.
One last attempt was made to keep the Abbey Church functioning in 1758 when a new roof was put up, but this was done so poorly that ten years later it came back down again during a storm. Since that date the Church has remained a roofless ruin, despite numerous campaigns to rebuild.
Today, most people consider the Abbey to be an addendum to a visit to Holyrood Palace but that is doing the Abbey something of an injustice.
Photo - Andrew J. Müller
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