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Cambuskenneth Abbey

Abbey (Medieval), Bell Tower (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Cambuskenneth Abbey

Classification Abbey (Medieval), Bell Tower (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Abbey Of St Mary Of Stirling

Canmore ID 47271

Site Number NS89SW 4

NGR NS 80852 93961

NGR Description Centred onNS 80852 93961

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
© Copyright and database right 2017.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Stirling
  • Parish Stirling
  • Former Region Central
  • Former District Stirling
  • Former County Stirlingshire

Archaeology Notes

NS89SW 4 80852 93961

For logboat found in the (adjacent) River Forth and displayed in the abbey tower, see NS89SW 28.

(NS 8089 9394) Cambuskenneth Abbey (NR)

(Augustinian - founded AD 1147) (NAT)

OS 6" map, (1967).

Cambuskenneth Abbey, which for the first half-century or so of its existence was known as the Abbey of St Mary of Stirling was founded in or about 1140 (RCAHMS 1963) in 1147 (S Cruden 1953) by David I. The communit followed the Augustinian rule, but as a daughter-house of the church of St Nicholas, Arrouaise, no doubt observed the more rigorous constitutions of the order of Arrouaise for as long as the connection with the mother-house was maintained.

The scarcity of extant remains and the inadequacy of the documentary evidence make it impossible to say much of the architectural development of the site. No doubt a temporary church and some domestic buildings were erected soon after the Abbey was founded, but such remains as exist today suggest that the main period of building activity was in the 13th century. An extensive reconstruction seems to have been carried out in late medieval times; at the Reformation the Abbey is said toe have been "ruined and casqt down" and was soon put to use as a quarry. (See RCAHMS 1963 plans, figs.49-51).

The site was excavated in 1864 under the direction of William Mackison, Town Architect of Stirling, and he restored the free-standing bell-tower at the same time. This, standing complete, is 64' (3 storeys) high. The remainder of the Abbey buildings are now mostly only foundations. The measures taken to preserve these foundations, revealed in 1864, have substantially altered their character, and much of the masonry visible today is comparatively recent. The remains include the church (the W doorway of which is still extant), a S cloister with the sacristy, slype and chapter-house on its E side, and the refectory and, probably, a kitchen on the S. On the W there was presumably a cellarium which has been destroyed; it is now merely outlined by a kerb, and its area is occupied by an orchard. To the E and SE of the cloister there are other buildings which cannot now be identified with confidence.

Close to the NE corner of the N transept of the church there are foundations which may represent the enclosing wall of a garden or orchard. The name of St James' Orchard, which lies N of the tower suggests that this ground may once have been connected with the Abbey.

RCAHMS 1963; S Cruden 1953.

Cambuskenneth (St Anrews, Linlithgow). The abbey of Cambuskenneth evidently possessed parochial staus, reference being made in 1436 to 'ecclesiae parrochialis monasterii de Cambuskynneth', the entire revenues of which would pertain to the abbey.

I B Cowan 1967.

As described.

Visited by OS(JP) 11 December 1973.

NS 808 939 Apart from a heavily restored bell-tower very little of this Augustinian abbey now survive. It was founded about 1140 but the visible remains suggest that the main period of building activity was in the 13th century.

RCAHMS 1979, visited August 1978

RCAHMS 1963; I B Cowan and D E Easson 1976

A group of 36 coins were discovered in the vicinity of the abbey in 1983.

J D Bateson 1990.

NS 808 939 During August and September 1997 topographical and resistivity surveys were undertaken in three fields and an area within the bounds of Cambuskenneth Abbey.

Upstanding earthworks W of the abbey ruins were recorded topographically, and a resistivity survey was undertaken in the area to test for the presence of buried remains. At least six major anomalies were detected, each coinciding with recorded topographical features. These are interpreted as building platforms with dividing trackways, associated with rubble spreads which appear to have resulted from collapsed walling. These features seem to be within the abbey precinct, and may represent the remains of buildings associated with the agricultural activities of the abbey, possibly including housing. At the W end of the field exposed walling was found, at the point where the field slopes down to the river edge. A print published in 1693 by John Slezer shows an abbey watergate at this point, and the walling may be the remains of its foundations.

Four trial trenches were opened by machine in fields S of Hood Farm. A cropmark had been observed from a 1947 vertical aerial photograph and a resistivity survey was undertaken, detecting several anomalies. The trial trenches over these anomalies and the location of the supposed cropmark found no related features, but the overploughed remains of three rig and furrow features were exposed in section, as was a single stake-hole. No datable finds were recovered.

At the request of Historic Scotland a topographical and resistivity survey was also undertaken within the scheduled area between the bank of the Forth and the eastern extent of the upstanding abbey ruins. No features of potential archaeological significance were detected. However, this result may have been affected by a high water table during the survey.

Three sub-rectangular anomalies were located immediately W of the present ruins, and it seems highly likely that they represent foundations for additional buildings associated with the abbey.

This research project was undertaken with the kind permission of the landowners, the patrons of Cowans Hospital, and Mr Andrew Rennie, the farmer.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland

D Etheridge 1997

The Abbey is located at the southern end of Cambuskenneth village. The site is in the care of Historic Scotland. There are no changes to the NMR description. A 'Ruin' and structural remains, marked on the 1st ed OS map, lie outside the Abbey. The remains of the eastern and northern walls of an orchard, also seen on the 1865 map, are still visible immediately to the south of the Abbey.

Site recorded by GUARD during the Coastal Assessment Survey for Historic Scotland, 'The Firth of Forth from Dunbar to the Coast of Fife' 23 February 1996.

NS 8085 9396 The carved stone collection is located in the W tower of the abbey church. One of the most interesting stones forms part of a very ornate canopy, originally part of a larger design. A composition of niches with miniature vaults, and finials occupies the outer face. In addition, a large collection of cylindrical column shafts probably came from the cloister arcades. Another interesting fragment comes from the foot of a military effigy. The feet, are clad in sollerets with spurs attached, and rest on a lion. Work was undertaken on this collection between January and June 2007.

This and other inventories of carved stones at Historic Scotland’s properties in care are held by Historic Scotland’s

Collections Unit. For further information please contact at

Funder: Historic Scotland.

Architecture Notes

Architect & Mason: Alexander Mylne (Great altar and Chapter House)


National Library of Scotland

Uncatalogued MSS of General Hutton

Nos 164 - 166: Engravings


Publication Account (1985)

The ruins of this abbey, fonnerly known as the Abbey ofSt Mary of Stirling, lie in a bend of the Forth and are overlooked by the major medieval castle and town of Stirling. Founded in c 1147 by David I (c 1084-1153), the abbey was a daughter house of the French Augustinian monastery of St Nicholas at Arras and, because of its proximity to the royal castle at Stirling, it was the setting for a number of important historical events, which included meetings of Parliament in the 14th century and a visit by Edward I of England in 1303-4. During the Wars ofIndependence (1296-1357), the abbey suffered structural damage and was pillaged of much of its furniture and treasure. In 1559 the abbey was dissolved and the buildings were subsequently used as stone quarries for Stirling-some of the stone being removed to build Mar's Work (no. 12) and Cowane's Hospital (no. 13).

Although founded in the mid 12th century, the main period of construction did not take place until late in the following century when a cruciform church flanked on the south by a cloister, chapter-house and refectory were built These have now been reduced to little more than their foundations, and much of what can be seen today is the result of reconstruction during the 19th century. In the course of excavations in 1865 what are believed to have been the coffins of James III (died 1488) and his queen, Margaret of Denmark, were found near the high altar. The royal remains were subsequently reburied at the expense of Queen Victoria, and the new tomb can be seen on the site of the fonner high altar.

The best-preserved, but heavily restored, part of the abbey is the bell-tower, which lies to the north-west of the church. It is the only surviving example from medieval Scotland of a free-standing belfry-a type of building more familiar in Italy. The tower was probably erected some time after the church and abbey buildings but its precise date of construction is unknown.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Clyde Estuary and Central Region’, (1985).

Watching Brief (27 August 2012 - 14 September 2012)

NS 8086 9394 A watching brief was carried out on 30 April 2013 during the excavation of a trench to install a new sign. Upper deposits and the finds found within them suggested that they consist of made ground of imported material. More interesting is the discrete layer of clay below, which has been deliberately deposited, and possibly relates to the installation of the graveyard behind. This sits at a higher level than the bank, and is in turn higher than the soft deposits which currently cover the floor of the nave. It is also worth noting that clay linings are also used in garden parterres.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Paul Fox, Kirkdale Archaeology, 2013

(Source: DES)


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