Saturday, 20 August 2011

Dryburgh Abbey

Like all abbeys in the Scottish Borders Dryburgh is a ruin, albeit a very romantic one. The road ends at the abbey and the river Tweed surrounds it. However thinking of this as a peaceful place would be a mistake. War ravaged these parts with endless battles between the Scots and the English, followed by more violence during the Reformation and Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. The major blow came in 1544 when it came under violent attack, and after that the abbey never fully recovered again. However Dryburgh had a bit of a revival as a romantic ruin. First of all the 11th Earl of Buchan purchased it in 1786, build a house next door (now a country house hotel) and erected the curious obelisk in the garden (seen below). The place was also much admired by Sir Walter Scott who lies buried here. He's laying next to Earl Haig, of First War and poppy fame.

The rose window seen in the above picture is part of the south side of the abbey and originally shed light on the monks refectory (dining hall). I should not really call them monks as they were canons and members of the Premonstratensians, who lived together and followed a rule. They were known as white canons after the colour of their habits. They apparently had fur stoles to go with those habits, as the winters in the Borders can be very cold and there was only one working fireplace in the entire abbey, to cook. I do have a very romanticized view of life in a monastery, thinking how wonderful it must have been to lead a peaceful existence praying, singing and working. I tend to forget the rules of obedience, poverty and chastity, neither of which I would be any good at!

Behind the abbey stands a tall obelisk, which was erected In the 18th Century by the eleventh earl of Buchan to mark the foundation of the abbey in 1150 by Hugh de Moreville. This side, seen above, honours James II, King of Scotland, although I have to say the man portrayed reminded me more of a Red Indian. Hugh de Moreville was an Anglo Norman nobleman who was granted extensive estates in the Borders. In old age he enlisted (if that's the right word!) as a novice at the Abbey, and died within the walls in 1162. His son later was involved in the murder of Thomas Becket, but fortunately his father was dead by then, so never knew of the evil deed.

This is a view of the Chapterhouse and it was so lovely to actually hear monks singing while we were inside. Of course I wasn't actually hearing things, there was a tape hidden somewhere but it was the first time that accompaniment was provided in any of the ruined abbeys I've visited. And what a treat it was, making it much easier to imagine what the place would have sounded like in the far distant past. The monks sat all around the sides of this room on the stone benches, with the most important members such as the abbot on the arched seats. The walls were all painted and traces of that can still be seen.

One of the things I liked most about Dryburgh Abbey was its location. It's surrounded by green fields with grazing cows and sheep, as well as centuries old trees, some of which must have been around when the abbey was still in use. What tales they could tell us, if only they could speak. You can see some of them on the picture of the monument above but what I really enjoyed were these views from the windows.

This is a very condensed history of Dryburgh. You can read more here and I'll be coming back to the surrounding graveyard in a future post as well as to pictures of the wonderful sculpture found there. Of all the 4 ruined abbeys in the Scottish Borders (Jedburgh, Melrose, Kelso and Dryburgh) this has proved to be my favourite and I will return to wander around the graves and dream of the past.


Lenna Young Andrews said...

it is very beautiful Frieda, and rich with history. I am so glad you got to go there . . . thank you for sharing your wonderful photos.

arts4all said...

Just when I think I can survive without making another trip to Scotland, you offer up another set of wonderful photos and words of history and wisdom. Why these places call to me so strongly is a mystery, but call they do. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and vision with us ;-0


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