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Accessing Scotland's Past Project

Event ID 562133

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Accessing Scotland's Past Project


The origins of Kelso Abbey lie in the arrival of monks from Selkirk in 1128. These brethren were Tironensians, an order with its roots in France. Work on the great abbey church finished in 1248, and the building was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St John. At its height, Kelso was one of the richest monasteries in Scotland, with revenues from over 30 churches throughout the country as well as from brewing, mills and wool.

Today, the most tangible remainder of the abbey is the impressive monumental west porch of the church, which stands three storeys in height with the remains of its two transepts (the arms of the cross), and the west side of the tower at the west crossing. The church is unusual in that it was built to resemble a double cross, with transepts at either end. This design was probably inspired by buildings such as Ely Cathedral in England, and several similar churches in the German Rhineland. Little would be known about the interior of the church if it was not for the writings of John Duncan, a cleric from Glasgow who visited Kelso Abbey in 1517. His detailed account pre-dates the destructive raids carried out by Henry VIII's soldiers about 30 years later.

Excavations have shed some light onto the layout of the abbey's other buildings. A cloister adjoined the southern wall of the church, and was enclosed by buildings that would have probably housed offices, a dormitory and a refectory, or dining hall, for the monks. The infirmary was discovered through excavation, and lay to the east of the main abbey buildings. The infirmary, where the sick and infirm would have been cared for, probably had running water as lead pipes were found nearby.

Text prepared by RCAHMS as part of the Accessing Scotland's Past project

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