Ancient Monuments

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Isle of May Priory

A Scheduled Monument in East Neuk and Landward, Fife

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Latitude: 56.1825 / 56°10'57"N

Longitude: -2.5513 / 2°33'4"W

OS Eastings: 365878

OS Northings: 699014

OS Grid: NT658990

Mapcode National: GBR ND1C.RYB

Mapcode Global: WH8V0.SV9S

Entry Name: Isle of May Priory

Scheduled Date: 18 July 1958

Last Amended: 3 March 1999

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM838

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: priory

Location: Anstruther Wester

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: East Neuk and Landward

Traditional County: Fife


The monument consists of the upstanding and excavated remains of the Benedictine priory of the Isle of May, which is traditionally said to be on the site of a community established by St Ethernan or Adrian in the ninth century. The structure now known to have been the west range of the priory was scheduled as St Adrian's Chapel in July 1958, but recent excavations on behalf of Fife Regional Council and its successor, Fife Council, have revealed the plan and parts of the structures of much of the rest of the complex, and the scheduled area has to be extended to encompass these.

The main upstanding part of the monument, the west range, still stands to two storeys and survives through having been adapted for domestic occupation after the abandonment of the rest of the priory. Its adaptation involved the addition of a three-quarter round south-western tower and an internal floor and subdivisions.

The church, on the north side of the cloister area, was a rectangular structure in its final state, though evidence has been found of at least two earlier underlying structures of more complex two-cell plan. The east conventual range was presumably of two storeys; at its lower level it had a chamber (the chapter house?) next to the church, with an undercroft divided longitudinally by columns to the south. The south range, which was presumably the refectory, is the most fragmentary part of the complex. South of the junction of the east and south ranges evidence was found for the mouths of a drain, which presumably served the reredorter on the upper floor.

There are indications of further structures south of the main complex and of an extensive burial ground to the north.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, defined along its east and west flanks by existing field boundaries. The southernmost point is on the west field wall, 62m south of the change in angle of that wall. From there the southern limit of the area passes 55m in a north-easterly direction to meet up with the east field wall. It then runs 58m in a north-westerly direction along the wall to its change of direction, and then runs a further 22m northwards with the wall. From there it crosses westwards for 30m to meet up again with the west field wall, and thence southwards along that wall to join the starting point. The walls themselves are excluded from scheduling. The area to be scheduled is marked in red on the accompanying map extract.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance as one of the best illustrations of the ways in which the ideals of monastic planning might be adopted to meet the needs of a poorly endowed religious community on a marginally viable and relatively inaccessible site. It derives added significance from the fact that it was a site hallowed by its associations with early religious recluses and with early missionary activity in eastern Scotland. Although now extensively excavated it is likely that further investigations of the area around the priory itself carry the potential for greatly enhancing our understanding of the economic background of monastic life on such sites.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Cowan, I. and Easson, D, 'Medieval Religious Houses, Scotland', 1976, p. 59-60.

Duncan, A. A. M., 'Documents relating to the priory of the isle of May', Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot. 1956-7, 52-80.

Stewart, J. (ed.), 'Records of the priory of the isle of May',1868.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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