The Scottish Borders are home to a number of ruined, yet magnificent Abbeys, which were all founded in the 12th Century. Three of the best known are Jedburgh, Melrose and Dryburgh Abbey. The story of the Border Abbeys is one from building, attacks by the English and rebuilding. But most of all it’s a story of various orders of Monks who represented their order and made the journey from the European continent through England and ended up in the Scottish Borders to live in their holy abbeys and practice their religion.
Christian monasticism is the devotional practice of individuals who live ascetic and typically cloistered lives that are dedicated to Christian worship. It began to develop early in the history of the Christian Church which was the origin of the formation of the monastic orders who lived by a particular religious rule.
The best preserved and best-known abbey is St Mary's Abbey, best known as Melrose Abbey. It is a partly ruined monastery of the Cistercian order in Melrose, Roxburghshire, It was founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks at the request of King David I of Scotland, and was the chief house of that order in the country until the Reformation.
Other buildings in the complex were added over the next 50 years. The abbey was built in the Gothic manner, and in the form of a St. John's Cross. A considerable portion of the abbey is now in ruins. A structure dating from 1590 is maintained as a museum open to the public. The ruins of Melrose are widely considered among the most beautiful of religious houses in the United Kingdom, being especially notable for a wealth of well-preserved figure-sculpture, and its architecture is considered to be some of the finest in Scotland.
Alexander II and other Scottish kings and nobles are buried at the abbey. A lead container believed to hold the embalmed heart of Robert the Bruce was found in 1921 below the Chapter House site; it was found again in a 1998 excavation. This was documented in records of his death. The rest of his body is buried in Dunfermline Abbey. Melrose Abbey is a magnificent ruin on a grand scale, and it was a highly desirable place to be buried.
The abbey is known for its many carved decorative details, including likenesses of saints, dragons, gargoyles and plants. On one of the abbey's stairways is an inscription by John Morow, a master mason, which says, Be halde to ye hende ("Keep in mind, the end, your salvation"). This has become the motto of the town of Melrose.
Being so close to the border, Melrose Abbey suffered at English hands during the Middle Ages. Rebuilt in the 1380s, it was used as an abbey until the Protestant Reformation of 1560. Afterwards, the existing monks were allowed to stay on: the last died in 1590.
Across the gardens visit the Commendator’s House Museum to see a rich collection of medieval objects found in the abbey cloister.
Dryburgh Abbey was established in 1150 by an order of Premonstratensian monks. These white-robed monks, who had their religious roots in France and Northumberland, lived a life of simplicity. Set on the bend of the River Tweed, Dryburgh is considered the most evocative monastic ruin in Scotland. Sir Walter Scott is buried here in the North Transept of the Church. The Cloister and Chapter House are extremely well preserved. A spiral staircase leads to the top for a dramatic view of the Sacristy. The peaceful setting of Dryburgh Abbey acted as the ideal secluded spot.
It was burned by English troops in 1322, after which it was restored only to be again burned by Richard II in 1385, but it flourished in the fifteenth century. It was finally destroyed in 1544, briefly to survive until the Scottish Reformation, when it was given to the 2nd Earl of Mar by James VI of Scotland.
Wander around this remarkably complete medieval ruin by the River Tweed to grasp the appeal of monastic life. You can still see plaster and paintwork inside the chapter house dating from when it was built.
Jedburgh Abbey was established by Augustinian monks, first as a priory and its status was raised to abbey in 1154. The abbey was founded by King David I in 1138 to demonstrate his power. This Abbey church has many interesting architectural features including a rose window. Situated on a prominent rise in the town of Jedburgh. Built over more than 70 years, Jedburgh is striking for its unusual mix of Romanesque and early Gothic architecture. Now in ruins, you can walk in the remains of ancillary buildings where the brethren ate and slept, and the vast kitchen and cellar ranges. Then walk in the recreated cloister garden to reflect on life in the medieval abbey. Be sure to also climb to the view point within the ruin walls.
Driving down from Edinburgh on the A68 you will reach Melrose Abbey first, then a further 8 miles (16 minutes) you will reach Dryburgh Abbey, from Dryburgh Abbey it is 12.4 miles south (24 minutes) to Jedburgh Abbey.
The journey is 37 miles (1 hour 15) from Edinburgh to Melrose Abbey. And Jedburgh Abbey is 56.5 miles (1 hour 25) to Newcastle Upon Tyne
Melrose Abbey: Abbey Street, Melrose, Roxburghshire TD6 9LG
Dryburgh Abbey: St Boswells, Scottish Borders, Melrose TD6 0RQ
Jedburgh Abbey: 4/5 Abbey Bridgend, Jedburgh TD8 6JQ
1 Apr to 30 Sept: Daily, 9.30am to 5.30pm. Last entry 5pm Jedburgh and Dryburgh - Late Night Opening in July: Tuesdays and Thursdays, until 8pm Last entry 7.30pm 1 Oct to 31 Mar: Daily, 10am to 4pm Last entry 3.30pm
Entrance fees are £6 per adult for each Abbey, or as part of the Historic Scotland trust, you can purchase a year membership pass for £49.50 per adult or a package for 2 adults is only £86.40.