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Publication Account

Date 1985

Event ID 1016228

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


Reformed Benedictines from Tiron in France were introduced to Selkirk c1119. The site proved unsuitable and by 1128 they had moved to Kelso under the patronage of David I. Facing the now longvanished burgh and royal castle of Roxburgh (NT 713338), and dedicated both to the Virgin Mary and to St John, the abbey was to become one of the largest and the second richest of Scotland's religious houses. It also lay on the invasion route, close to the Border, and its downfall was sealed at the Refonnation-by 1587 "the haill monkis of the monasterie of the abbey of Kelso ar deciessit".

The principle survival is the abbey's west end, essentially a late 12th century Nonnan structure in transition to a pointed style of architecture. Internally there are virtually no plain surfaces; the walls are particularly strong in decorative arcades, notably in the two surviving bays fonning part of the south side of the nave. The first-storey arcades enclosed a wall passage (triforium), with another at the higher clearstory level; there are communicating stairs within the great angle buttresses.

Design in the nave is predominantly horizontal with relatively little light; in the many·windowed western transepts however, and in the great 'Galilee' torch, the lines are primarily vertical. Kelso was unusual in having transepts at the western end-indeed it had transepts at both ends, a feature deriving perhaps from churches in Gennany's Rhineland and found also at Ely and Bury St Edmunds. On plan the abbey must have resembled a double-ended cross, with a dark nave looking either way into brilliantly-lit transepts-a tunnel-effect from within.

Best preserved is the north transept with its magnificent gable. To the exterior both corners are gripped by buttresses, between which projects a stylish doorway with three recessed arches. Above the arches, an interlaced arcade is finished by a triangular pediment, decorated as at Lincoln.

Kelso also boasts an uncommon octagonal parish church (1773), the fine Ednam House (1761), 17th century houses in Abbey Court and 18th century houses in the Woodmarket The spacious Market Square has a Gallic feel to it; and Rennie's magnificent bridge (1800-3) replaced an earlier one of 1754, swept away in 1797.

Information from 'Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Lothian and Borders', (1985).

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