Dundrennan is among the most beautiful of Scotland’s medieval abbeys and is also home to one of the country’s finest carved grave slabs. The surviving ruins include parts of the transepts and the presbytery, and ground floor rooms of the cloister west range.
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About 13 Cistercian monks and 10 laymen came north from England, possibly at the invitation of King David I or his friend Fergus of Galloway, and founded Dundrennan in 1142. The Cistercians chose the site as they always sought wild and remote places to settle. Their motto was “everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and freedom from the tumult of the world”. The life of the monks was a constant round of work and prayer which included devotions at 1.30am and 3.30am each day.
The chapter house (only the front wall and parts of the roof columns remain) had a rib vaulted ceiling (13th century) and fine doorway. It was here that the carved 14th century grave slab lay. The inscription on the grave slab identifies it as the burial place of abbot Giles (Egidius) who served c1350. He may have been in charge of the abbey reconstruction after its being damaged during the wars of independence.
Abbots were usually buried under the floor of chapter houses so they would remain part of the ongoing business, so to speak. The slab is carved with four eight-petalled roses projecting from a floriate cross and an ornate abbot’s crozier with a delicate rose-shaped head. The slab was not weathering well due to the loss of the chapter house roof, so it was removed to the abbey vaults, and a replica was put in its place.
The abbey declined in the early 16th century, and the reformation (1560) sealed its fate. The church, however, survived to serve the parish into the 17th century.
One of the abbey’s claims to fame is that Mary, Queen of Scots, spent her last night on Scottish soil here on 15 May,1568 when she fled to England after defeat in the battle of Langside. Dundrennan abbey became the mother house of Glenluce abbey and Sweetheart abbey.
6.5 miles south-east of Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway, on the A711
Tel. 0 1557 500 262
Open: April-end Sep, daily, 9.30am-5.30pm
Historic Scotland property; parking
Photos and text © by Barbara Ballard