The present-day Abbey is the architectural and historic gem of Dunfermline. It was not there in Margaret’s time. When Margaret arrived here, there was just a small Culdee church, on the site of the present Abbey nave (4), which Margaret replaced with another church in the more Latin tradition in which she married Malcolm. Margaret invited Benedictine monks from Canterbury to form a monastery and to build an abbey. She died before this had got far but the Abbey was largely built by her son, King David I between 1128 and 1150.
The whole Abbey site had a large monastery (7) and a royal palace (8) on much of the site to the south and west of the present Abbey which includes part of the present graveyard. It was damaged in the reformation and the monastery became deserted but Anne of Denmark, who resided there after marrying James VI, started to rebuild the palace. However, after the final departure to London of the royal family in 1603, when James VI also became James I of England, the site was neglected and much of it collapsed. The exception was the Abbey nave which served as a local church.
Nowadays we have the Abbey and south of it, a green open space with graves, south of which are ruined remains of just part of the monastery and royal palace. The site is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and is open daily. Admission is free to HES members. For non-members an admission charge is payable at the site office (9) in the palace remains and this also covers the Abbey Nave (see later for the role the present office site played in 1718 for damask weaving in Dunfermline). Please do not go into the Nave without paying. The office has a well-stocked shop with much literature on St. Margaret and guide books to this fascinating site.
In the picture above there are clearly two ages of building. The west end is the original 12th century nave (4) which is in the care of HES. The east end (5) is a rebuild in the early 19th century of part of the original abbey and that is now the local parish church. This church is not under HES control and has free entry, though times may be restricted.
The nave in the older western half was built by Margaret’s son and the Benedictines on top of the church where she and Malcolm were married. About 100 years ago excavations under the floor of the nave uncovered stone remains of the earlier church. Now there is a glass window in the floor of the nave through which a small part of these remains of her original church can be seen.
Image credits – Martin Wilkinson