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Dunfermline Abbey

The original establishment in Dunfermline was the Benedictine Abbey of the Holy Trinity and St Margaret, founded in 1128 by King David I of Scotland in honour of his mother, Margaret. She had replaced the original Church with a Catholic monastic establishment during the reign of her husband King Máel Coluim mac Donnchada (Malcolm III or Malcolm Canmore, r. 1058-93). The first Abbot was Geoffrey of Canterbury, former prior of Christ Church, Canterbury, which probably supplied Dunfermline's first monks. At the peak of its power it controlled four burghs, three courts of regality and a large portfolio of lands from Moray in the north down through Musselburgh and into Berwickshire.

In the decades after its foundation the abbey was the recipient of considerable endowments, as seen from the dedication of 26 altars donated by individual benefactors and guilds. It was an important destination of pilgrimage after Dunfermline became a centre for the cult of St Margaret, from whom the monastery claimed foundation and later fabricated an earlier foundation charter to prove it. A number of convenient “miracles” were also arranged. The foundations of the earliest Church of the Holy Trinity are under the present superb Romanesque nave built in the 12th century.

During the winter of 1303 the court of Edward I of England was held in the abbey. On his departure the next year he burned most of the buildings in retribution for William Wallace holding a Parliament there.

Seal of George Durie,
Abbot of Dunfermline

George Durie became Abbot and Commendator of Dunfermline from 1522 until 1530. St the time, he was an Archdeacon of St Andrews under his uncle, the infamous Archbishop James Beaton, and from 1527-1530 was judge and executor of the monastery of Arbroath. He assumed the title of Abbot of Dunfermline under the supervision of James Beaton, the true titular. When Beaton became Archbishop of Glasgow, the duties of Abbot of Dunfermline were devolved by King James V on George.

Nepotism was widespread in those times – George parcelled out lands to his relatives and legitimated sons, Henry and Peter, and made his nephew, David Durie of that Ilk, the Hereditary Bailie of Dunfermline. He also brought to trial and condemned to death for heresy his cousin, John Durie. John, however, was rescued by the intercession of Earl of Arran, Regent of Scotland, and became one of the earliest Protestant divines, and a minister at St Giles, Edinburgh.



It was such excesses of behaviour among senior churchmen that led to the Scottish Reformation. In March 1560, the abbey church was sacked by Presbyterian zealots. Abbot George Durie escaped to France and arranged for the jewel incrusted reliquary containing the head of St Margaret, wife of Malcolm III Canmore, to be taken to Utrecht and later Douai in France. It was last seen just before the French Revolution.

Dunfermline Abbey, by John Slezer (bef. 1650 – 1717), a Dutch or possibly German military engineer. As Surveyor of his Majesty’s Stores and Magazines, he made detailed surveys of Scotland's fortifications and other important buildings.

On 29 January 1560 George had embarked for France with Mary of Guise along with James Beaton. He was to represent her case to King Francis II and Queen Mary. In August the Scottish Parliament voted for the abolition of the catholic church and hierarchy and Sir James Sandilands went to France to get ratification from the Queen. His bad reception was due to George Durie, then at the French court. George returned a decade later, senile and stripped of power and influence. It is unclear when he died, but possibly 1572, then interred in the Western Church of Dunfermline. His Testament is dated 1582.


Rebuilding the Abbey Church

The refectory and rooms over the gatehouse – part of the old city wall – still remain. The nave was also spared, and repaired in 1570 by Robert Drummond of Carnock. To be used as the parish church until the 19th century. It now forms the vestibule of the new church, which opened for worship in 1821.


Durie commemorations in Dunfermline Abbey

In the North aisle is the monument to George Durie, last Abbot of Dunfermline. He was in office from 1539 to 1560, and granted a charter to Dunfermline, confirmed by James VI when it became a Royal Burgh. George Durie’s name is placed at the top of the memorial, and at the bottom the Durie coat of arms and the letters H.D. and M.M. - the initials of Henry, his son, and Margaret Macbeth. Henry’s wife.

The beautiful Durie Window was designed by Elizabeth Goudie of Edinburgh in 1933, the stained glass lavish with blue and gold – the Durie livery colours and incorporating a small portion of pre-Reformation Glass with the motto Confido. The bronze plate at the base of the memorial gives details of members of the family.

While alterations were being made, an original dedication mark was discovered in the stone work to the right of the memorial – a St Andrew's cross, 4 inches square.





Abbot House and Durie connections

The Durie family rose to prominence in the 1500s. John Durie of Craigluscar, an estate near Dunfermline, Fife, had three sons – Robert Durie of that Ilk, who held the lands in Scoonie, plus Andrew and George, who were archdeacons at St Andrews under their uncle, the infamous Archbishop Beaton. Andrew later became Abbot of Melrose and afterwards Bishop of Galloway in controversial circumstances, and George was the powerful Abbot of Dunfermline in name from 1527 and fully appointed by James V after Beaton’s murder in 1539. He was one of the judges of Patrick Hamilton, one of the early Protestant martyrs.

Dunfermline was a seat of power in Scotland. Apart from being a senior churchman, George Durie was also an important politician. He was repeatedly chosen as a Lord of the Articles, whose job it was to choose which legislation to lay before Parliament, and he sat in Parliament during the 1540s. It was thanks to him that Regent Arran did not accept the English title of Earl of Hertford, and so, in effect, he caused the battle of Pinkie in 1547.

It is unclear whether George Durie – or any Abbot of Dunfermline – lived in Abbot House. It seems to have replaced a mid-fifteenth century residence for Abbot Richard Bothwell, during the time of Pitcairn, George Durie’s successor as Commendator. Abbot George had apartments in the Abbey from 1540, and he or his grandson established the Craigluscar estate, a few miles to the north-west.

Intriguingly, Dr Andrew Dewar Durie (see below) used Abbot House for his medical practice in the late 19th Century.


The Abbey Graveyard

Dunfermline is the final resting place of more royal saints than Iona. These include (with burial dates):

·         Saint Margaret of Scotland (1093. In 1250 following her Canonization her remains were disinterred and placed in a reliquary at the high altar. Her husband Malcolm's remains were also move next to Margaret. Their tomb, within the ruined walls of the Lady Chapel, was restored and enclosed by command of Queen Victoria. However, their remains were taken by Philip II of Spain to the Monastery at Escorial.

·         Duncan II (1094)

·         Edgar (1107)

·         Alexander I (1124) and his queen Sybilla of Normandy (1122)

·         David I (1153) and his queen, Maud (1130)

·         Malcolm IV (1165)

·         Alexander III (1286), alongside his first wife Margaret of England (1275) and their sons David (1281) and Alexander (1284)

·         Elizabeth de Burgh, wife of Robert I (1327)

·         Robert Bruce (1329), in the choir, now the site of the present parish church. After the discovery of the skeleton in 1818 the remains were reinterred with fitting ceremony below the pulpit of the new church. In 1891 the pulpit was moved back and a monumental brass inserted in the floor to indicate the royal vault.. Bruce’s heart rests in Melrose Abbey.

·         Matilda, daughter of Robert I (1353)

·         Anabella Drummond, wife of Robert III and mother of James I (1401)

·         Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany (1420)


On 19 June, 1259 the young King (Alexander III) then about eight or ten years old and his mother placed the remains of Margaret in a golden shrine, magnificently enriched with precious stones. St Margaret's skull was encased in a reliquary – a silver and gold likeness adorned with pearls, chains and precious stones and her hair could be viewed through a crystal on the breast of the figure. There is a reproduction of the head reliquary in Abbot House.


Durie royal connections

Henry's wife, Margaret McBeth, was renowned for her skill with herbs and was a favourite of Anne of Denmark. She attended the births of the royal children at the Palace of Dunfermline and it is said she saved the life of the infant Charles I when the royal physicians had failed.


See also the Annunciation Stone.




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