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Inchcolm Abbey

Abbey (Medieval)

Site Name Inchcolm Abbey

Classification Abbey (Medieval)

Canmore ID 50895

Site Number NT18SE 7

NGR NT 18973 82656

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/50895

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

Digital Images


First 100 images shown. See the Collections panel (below) for a link to all digital images.

Administrative Areas

  • Council Fife
  • Parish Aberdour (Dunfermline)
  • Former Region Fife
  • Former District Dunfermline
  • Former County Fife

Archaeology Notes

NT18SE 7 18973 82656.

(NT 1897 8265) Remains of Abbey (NR) (Augustinian - founded AD 1123)

OS 6"map, Fife (1967).

The Augustinian Abbey at Inchcolm, which may well have been erected over a Celtic settlement, was founded by Alexander I about 1123, and erected from a priory into an Abbey in 1235. The substantial ruins, which are fully described in the Official Guide book (J W Paterson 1950), date from the 12thc, with frequent additions and alterations up to the 15thc. The abbey and its lands were secularised in 1609.

D E Easson 1957; S Cruden 1960; J W Paterson 1950.

Inchcolm Abbey, as described, is in an excellent state of preservation.

Visited by OS(AC) 11 March 1959

Excavation in advance of a drain trench showed that the N wall of the 13th century chapter house belonged to an earlier building lying to the N. To the S fragmentary walls suggested buildings lying to the S of the chapter house and E of the gateway.

J Wordsworth 1984.

A watching brief was kept by Scotia Archaeology Ltd during the excavation of two pits to house bioplus treatment tanks: one (Trench 1) adjacent to the visitor centre; the other (Trench 2) against the custodian's house.

In Trench 1, 0.4m of modern materials overlay a deposit of massive boulders, some of them cement-bonded, which formed the rear of the modern sea wall. Below 0.3m of topsoil in Trench 2 was a thick layer of clayey soil containing animal bones and winkle shells but no oyster shells (which had been numerous in the topsoil). The lower deposit may have been midden material associated with the nearby abbey although more extensive investigation would be needed to confirm this.

Sponsor: Historic Scotland.

R Murdoch 1996

Architecture Notes

REFERENCE:

National Library 'Uncatalogued MSS of General Hutton

Vol 1 No 14 - plan of the monastery of Incholm

Vol 1 No 13 - 2 views of 1784 & plan of island dated 1822

Activities

Excavation (1925 - 1929)

Excavations by the Office of Works.

Aerial Photography (1966)

Oblique aerial photographs of Inchcolm Abbey photographed by John Dewar in 1966.

Excavation (1984 - 1986)

Excavation in advance of a drain trench showed that the N wall of the 13th century chapter house belonged to an earlier building lying to the N. To the S fragmentary walls suggested buildings lying to the S of the chapter house and E of the gateway.

J Wordsworth 1984.

Publication Account (1987)

Inchcolm housed a religious community long before the establishment of a monastery in the early 12th century. The early inhabitants were hermits devoted to the guardianship of a holy place whose reputation for sanctity stemmed from its links with St Colm, identifIed with St Columba, the 6th century abbot of Iona. The hermits probably lived in the simple stone cell which survives to the west of the medieval monastery but in an apparently 14th or 15th century restored fonn. On a knoll beyond the cell there is a fine, though weathered, example of a hogback tombstone; four rows of tegulae, or roof-tiles, are carved along the sides and a great beast's head adorns either end. Dating to the mid 10th century, this is probably the earliest hogback to survive in Scotland.

The Inchcolm hermitage received regal recognition in 1123 when Alexander I and some of his courtiers were stonn-bound on the island for three days. During this enforced visit the hennit sheltered them and shared his scanty provisions. Alexander made plans to establish a monastic settlement but these were interrupted by the King's death the following year. It is not known when the fIrst Augustinian canons settled there but the earliest surviving charter relating to the monastery dates from about 1162-9. The mid 13th contury saw a period of relative prosperity although it did come under periodic attack during the Wars of Independence. After the Reformation, no new canons were admitted and the last document relating to the monastery dates to 1578. The isolated position of the island is largely responsible for the fme state of preservation of the buildings.

Inchcolm creates in the mind of the visitor an unusually clear and vivid impression of monastic life, despite the fact that the surviving structures belong to several periods of building and modifIcation. The polygonal chapter-house was built in the 13th century and represents a design fashionable in England but used only three times in Scotland (another example may be seen at Elgin, Moray, and the third was at Holyrood in Edinburgh but no longer exists). It has a fine ribbed and vaulted ceiling, and the stone seating for the monks still lines the walls. The chapter-house is incorporated into one side of a 14th century cloister, with its open court, covered cloister walk and seats for the monks in the window recesses in which they worked. The upper floor contains their living quarters, including a warming house with a fireplace over the chapter-house. The church has undergone much rebuilding and enlargement since its foundation in the 12th century. A rare feature is the fragment of 13th century wall-painting with clerical figures outlined in black, red and yellow, preserved by having been sealed behind masonry during a later extension of the church.

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

External Reference (July 2010 - August 2010)

NT 18973 82656 This collection, which consists of a wide range of stones from arcades to window tracery, was assessed during July–August 2010. The arcade stones, of which there are four, form the springers for a series of arches. The profile of these stones is related to that of a string-course fragment, also in the collection. This string-course may have come from the chapter house exterior, and it is therefore possible that the arcade stones came from stalls on the interior of the chapter house.

A very unusual item was a mass dial, broken into two pieces. This has a series of incised radiating lines, and the remains of a gnomon in the centre. Although mass dials are well known in English churches they are relatively rare in Scotland.

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 hs.collections@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

Mary Markus Archetype, 2010

References

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