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Publication Account

Date 1987

Event ID 1016899

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


The great monastic church of Dunfermline was commenced in 1128 and completed in 1250. It was built over the foundations of an earlier church and took the form of a fully-developed cruciform structure similar, in lay-out and detail, to Durham Cathedral. The church measured 64.5 m from west to east and 32.5 m from north to south transept gables. Unfortunately only the nave of the medieval church survives, incomplete and somewhat modified, but this remains one of the finest examples of Scoto-Norman monastic architecture.

During the 13th century there was a major enlargement to the eastern end of the building, including the addition of a chapel to St Margaret at the east end. This work was completed in 1250. The choir was extended on the north side in the 14th century, probably by the addition of the Lady Aisle which was later demolished. In the nave three of the aisle windows and all the triforium windows were changed from Romanesque to Gothic. At this time the wall-head of the aisle appears to have been lowered. Towards the end of the 14th century the west gable was reconstructed from above the doorway. In the mid 15th century the north-west tower and the two adjoining bays of the nave were rebuilt The upper part of this tower, as it survives, appears to be the work of William Shaw, Master of Works to James VI from 1583 to his death in 1602.

The main body of the church appears to have been unsafe in 1563; in 1620 the vault of the south aisle was rebuilt and a few years later the aisle walls of the nave were strengthened by the introduction of the heavy buttresses which now form a major element in the composition.

During the 17th and 18th centuries the church suffered major damage. In 1672 the east part of the choir and the Lady Chapel were blown down and in 1716 the crossing fell. This remained ruinous for the next century and in 1819 the transepts were removed leaving only the nave of the medieval church. The south-west tower was damaged by lightning in 1807 and rebuilt in 1810.

The church should be considered as part of the whole monastic complex of which the Palace pends and Frater range survive in St Catherine's Wynd and Monastery Street and the Abbot's House in Maygate and Abbot Street.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Fife and Tayside’, (1987).

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