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  • Writer's pictureDonna Hechler Porter

Cambuskenneth Abbey

On a plot of land enclosed by the meandering River Forth near Stirling, Scotland, rises the ruins of an Augustinian monastery known as Cambuskenneth Abbey. Founded by Kind David I of Scotland in 1140, the abbey was bounded on three sides by the river, giving it an important defensive feature. On the fourth side, a bank and a ditch were added.

Much like his mother, David was a devout Catholic. He founded a number of religious orders and sites and supported the church throughout his reign. And, if sources are correct, our Dugal McQueen, and we, descend from this Scottish king.

Cambuskenneth Abbey was the daughter house of the French Arrouaise Order, the only one known to exist in Scotland. By the generosity of David I, this order ran a number of abbeys and churches in England on land owned by the king. While the Arrouasie were a distinct order at the time the abbey was constructed for the Augustinians, later the orders were merged.

The Abbey was originally known as the Abbey of St. Mary of Stirling, or Stirling Abbey, but in 1147 Pope Eugene II declared the abbey had his protection through a papa bull. This status was confirmed by Pope Alexander III in 1164 and again by Pope Celestine III in 1195. Around 1207, the abbey became known at Cambuskenneth. Because of its proximity to the Royal Burgh of Stirling, the abbey was one of the more important abbeys in Scotland. Its importance to the area can only be compared with the importance of Holyrood Abbey to Edinburgh.

High Tower at Cambuskenneth Abbey

A long history of kings and queens, of Scottish battles and royal business pepper the abbey’s history. The battles of Stirling Bridge, Bannockburn and Sauchieburn took place within shouting distance of the abbey. In 1314, after the Battle of Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce held a parliament in the abbey. In 1383 the abbey was sacked by King Richard III of England’s army and had to be rebuilt. King James III of Scotland was killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488. His body was brought to the abbey for burial.

Throughout it all, the high tower, the only structure still intact today, soared 65 feet toward the sky. Grotesque gargoyles support the parapet. Some scream in horror. Others grin defiantly at imaginary, or not so imaginary, invaders. As the carved monsters attempted to ward off invaders, the occupants of the abbey had a good view of the surrounding countryside and the invading armies.

As we have seen with a number of churches and chapels in Scotland, Cambuskenneth Abbey fell into disuse during the Scottish Reformation. Placed under the jurisdiction of the military governor of Stirling Castle in 1560, John Erskine, the stonework was removed and used in construction projects around the castle. In 1908 the abbey was acquired by the crown and it is today managed by Historic Scotland and open to visitors during the summer months. One can walk around the foundations of the abbey church and other buildings, much of which date to the 13th century. A historic graveyard is preserved on the site. James III of Scotland and his wife, Margaret of Denmark, are buried here, as well as many of the abbots of Cambuskenneth.

Burial site of King James III

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