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Among My Souvenirs

Stories of the road

Melrose Abbey

It was the first stop of the day – about an hour south of Edinburgh on our way to York, the quaint town of Melrose. It was still a little early and both the sun and the coffee shops were just beginning to rise. Here in this small little village was the stunningly magnificent ruins of the Melrose Abby.

Sadly, it has shared the fate of many ancient cathedrals and monasteries. Built largely of wood, especially the ceilings, they were susceptible to weather, insects and fire. Being so close to the border the Abbey suffered at the hands of the English during the Middle Ages and especially during the Protestant Reformation in 1560.

Built by David I, in 1136, it was the first Cistercian monastery in Scotland and was one of a number of abbeys that he set on the borders to show his piety and his power over this contested territory. The abbey was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Rebuilt in the 1380s it was used as an abbey for the next 450 years when the last monk John Watson died in 1590. The crumbling abbey became a parish church until a new kirk was built nearby in 1810.

Only a very small part of the first abbey church survives. The present building of rose-colored stone dates almost entirely to the post-1385 rebuilding. Yet Melrose is still considered one of the most magnificent examples of medieval church architecture anywhere in the British Isles.

Although the front was secured behind a fence, surely, I thought, I could get around the massive structure and take a photo from behind. With good buddy Thomas, acting like my bodyguard we headed off to the back of the structure. Success! An unlocked gate. I got ready to snap the first frame when a booming voice came out of nowhere and announced that we were trespassing! We had to come all the way around and go through the museum gate, which didn’t open till 10am.

Well at least I captured one or two shots before humbly retreating across the lawn for by 10am we were on the road again to York.