The archaeological ruins of Holyrood Abbey in Scotland

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It served as a source of inspiration for many artists, including the composer Felix Mendelssohn.

At dusk today, we visited the palace where Queen Mary and her husband, Prince Philip, once resided.” As you can see, the chapel’s roof has been torn off. This and the altar where Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland are covered in grass and ivy. Everything is ruined, decayed, and the sky is clear. There may be the beginnings of my “Scottish Symphony,” I believe. – Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Located in the city of Edinburgh, Holyrood Abbey is a ruined Augustinian abbey. For the Augustinian Canons Regular, King David I of Scotland erected the abbey in 1128. In medieval folklore, the abbey’s construction was God’s will, and it came to pass after a deer’s divine intervention. During the Feast of the Cross (a Christian commemoration day), King David was reportedly attacked by a wild stag while hunting in the woods east of Edinburgh in 1127.

The ruins of Holyrood Abbey/ Author: LASZLO ILYES – CC BY 2.0

He was flung to the ground by his terrified horse and found himself face-to-face with a ferocious wild animal. Suddenly, a shining holy cross appeared in the sky above the king as he tried to grab the antlers of the stag with his own hands in self-defense. The king was saved when the stag turned around and fled the scene.

As a result of his emotional response, he concluded that the miracle was an act of God. In gratitude for his miraculous escape from the stag and the cross, King David ordered the construction of an abbey at that exact spot where he encountered the animals. In the following year, the abbey’s construction began.

When it comes to the abbey’s name and the adjoining palace, Holyrood translates to “Holy Cross” (rood is an old word for a cross or crucifix). Abbey received a piece of True Cross from St. Margaret, which was brought to Holyrood Abbey from Waltham Abbey, and kept in a golden reliquary until the 14th century.

The Black Rood of Scotland was another name for the True Cross. An extremely valuable and holy piece of the Holy Cross was taken by England in 1346 and placed in Durham Cathedral, where it has remained ever since. During the Reformation, the relic was lost.

The Chapel Royal at the time of James VII

As a result, the late 12th-century abbey was built on a luxurious template, with a massive nave of eight bays. Six bay aisled choir, three transepts with central tower, and huge twin towers on the west front of the enormous building. The doorway and the north wall of the church, for example, retain their Romanesque architectural style. In the rest of the building, which underwent a major renovation in the 13th century, Gothic architecture can be clearly seen in the dominant arches.

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The aisle vault of the 4th bay, showing the rough quality of the construction/ Author: DimitrisTh – CC BY-SA 4.0

The abbey has seen its share of historic occurrences and has suffered as a result of the region’s turbulent past. The abbey was frequented by Scottish monarchs because of its proximity to Edinburgh Castle. James II, III, and IV were all married at Holyrood Abbey, where James II and Charles I were crowned, and where James II and Charles I were crowned. The Scottish Parliament has met at the abbey several times over the centuries.

Its regular use began to decline in the 16th century as a result of political events and warfare. Bells, lead, and other valuable items were stolen by Earl of Hertford’s English armies during the War of the Rough Wooing, which ravaged the abbey.

The abbey was further damaged and monastic services were halted during the Scottish Reformation, and the eastern end of the abbey was demolished in 1570. As a parish church in 1688, Holyrood was looted and the altars destroyed. As a result of a botched reconstruction in 1758 that collapsed ten years later, Holyrood Abbey now has the eerie silhouette that we see today.

archaeological ruins
The ghostly image of the church/ Author: Kim Traynor – CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s hard to deny that Holyrood Abbey has had an impact on many artists, poets, and writers. Felix Mendelssohn was one of them. A visit to the abbey during his first trip to Britain in 1829 inspired him to write his great Scottish Symphony, which is named after the abbey (The Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56).

The ruins of Holyrood Abbey’s nave/ Author: XtoF – CC BY-SA 4.0

Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, was built at the end of the 17th century next to Holyrood Abbey. The roofless abbey and the Royal Palace are two of Edinburgh’s most popular tourist attractions today.

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