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Balmerino Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in Tay Bridgehead, Fife

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Latitude: 56.4098 / 56°24'35"N

Longitude: -3.0414 / 3°2'29"W

OS Eastings: 335834

OS Northings: 724655

OS Grid: NO358246

Mapcode National: GBR 2G.00NF

Mapcode Global: WH7RP.75Y1

Entry Name: Balmerino Abbey

Scheduled Date: 28 April 1920

Last Amended: 11 June 2010

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM827

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: abbey

Location: Balmerino

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: Tay Bridgehead

Traditional County: Fife


The monument comprises the standing fabric, carved stones, earthwork and buried remains of Balmerino Abbey, a Cistercian complex founded in early 13th century AD. It is located on the S shore of the Firth of Tay in the hamlet of Balmerino and is a consolidated ruin, open to the public. The monument was first scheduled in 1920, then rescheduled in 1971. The present rescheduling brings the legal documentation up to modern mapping standards and now excludes an occupied building converted with scheduled monument consent.

The abbey complex comprises the remains of a church, claustral range, an isolated building, carved stone effigies and ornamental stone fragments. The church, surviving as earthwork remains and lower building courses, is laid out on an E-W oriented cruciform plan around which the associated buildings cluster: the earthwork form of the E side of the cloisters and W range to the north of the nave; the standing remains of a sacristy, chapter house, parlour and cells to the north of the N transept; and the vaulted standing remains of a single building further to the north-east. Relocated carved stone fragments include components of the altar, tomb chests, effigies and decorative masonry pieces.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. To allow for their maintenance, the scheduling extends up to the outer face (but excludes the above-ground elements) of all boundary features (fences, walling, styles and gates), and excludes the top 300mm of all modern surfaces.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The abbey complex is a well-preserved set of ruined buildings, earthworks and associated buried deposits dating to the early 13th century AD. The most visible upstanding components include parts of the N transept and the N and W walls of the nave of the church, as well as the range of buildings to the north of the church comprising the sacristy, chapter house, its associated structures and a building to the north-east originally thought to be the abbot's house. In the grounds surrounding these there are likely to be significant archaeological deposits relating to the abbey's construction, use and re-use. Along with the architectural design and character of its standing fabric, these deposits can help us understand over 700 years or more of religious and secular activity here. The remains are of considerable interest in understanding the architectural form of an abbey complex, the skill and techniques of the builders and the sequence of events in the abbey's changing layout.

Contextual characteristics

This is one of a group of eleven abbeys forming the strict, influential Cistercian order in Scotland (with others at Coupar Angus, Culross, Deer, Dundrennan, Glenluce, Kinloss Melrose, Newbattle, Saddell and Sweetheart). Balmerino shares the mother house of Melrose with the abbeys at Coupar Angus, Kinloss, and Newbattle and was developed with an endowment from Queen Ermengarde (wife of William the Lion) from 1225 onwards.

The origins of the order of Cistercians at Citeaux in Burgundy, France can be traced back to the late 11th century and within 200 years the foundations stones of Balmerino and the small group of similar abbeys had been laid. They conform to a broadly similar plan and scale. Balmerino draws upon the design and construction techniques of its mother house at Melrose: the cloisters are unusually on the N side of the church and the E end conforms to a common Cistercian plan - a short rectangular presbytery.

There is a suggestion from the excavation of similar abbeys that, of all the buildings of the abbey, the chapter house was most frequently remodelled to keep abreast of changing architectural fashion. This is probably the case at Balmerino where clear signs of reworking the structures and space indicate distinct changes in the life of the monastic complex. Earlier changes to the buildings include the expansion and remodelling of the church (with the additions of an aisle along the S facade and the opening up of walls to increase light). The fabric of the E range suggests that much of what survives was remodelled during the post-monastic adaptation of the abbey as a residence, including offices, a kitchen and a bake house. Researchers have reconsidered the function of what was commonly regarded as the abbot's house, the single structure to the north-east of the abbey church; one suggests that it is in fact an infirmary (as seen at Deer and Glenluce abbeys). The later history of the abbey is characterised by the effects of the Reformation, a fire at the site in the mid-16th century, the use of the church for parochial worship until the late 16th century and the eventual abandonment of liturgical practice here in the early 17th century. After this time it was taken into the wider estate policies of Lord Balmerino and partly converted for domestic use.

The wider landscape (outside of the scheduled area) contains surviving fragments of the abbey complex and the wider infrastructure that supported it. Elements of a farm, mill and water supply system and a possible harbour are all still visible in the fields and land surrounding the abbey. The adjoining steading at the east has reused much of the ashlar stonework from the abbey buildings.

Balmerino reflects the development of Scotland's monastic tradition and the religious practice of the community that built, lived and worshipped here. It forms part of the network of the Cistercian order and it can tell us much about the changing ways of religious life. The redevelopment of its buildings reflect the broader changes in religion from the 13th century onwards. It is (albeit discretely) a component of the wider landscape of the S shore of the Tay.

Associative characteristics

The establishment of the abbey at Balmerino is recorded under the patronage and endowment of Queen Ermengarde and her son Alexander II. By the late 15th century it was associated with a dependant monastic cell at Garvan, also in Fife.

The site has been the subject of considerable antiquarian interest from the mid-1800s onwards. Early conservation works by the National Trust for Scotland on their purchasing Balmerino in 1936; the subsequent treatments here provide an interesting commentary on early heritage conservation philosophy.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular the liturgical, domestic and economic functioning of a medieval religious house. It can help us understand much about ecclesiastical architecture, the development of monasticism in Scotland and the role of the church in wider medieval life. The loss of this example would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand medieval Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the core site as NO32SE 2.00.


Easson, D E 1957, Medieval Religious Houses in Scotland: With an Appendix on the Houses in the Isle of Man, London: Longmans, Green and Company.

Fawcett, R forthcoming, 'Balmerino abbey: the architecture', Citeaux. Commentarii Cistercienses

Scotia Archaeology 2007, Data Structure Report to Country Property Developments, Balmerino Steading, archaeological excavation 2006-7, Aberfeldy.

MacGibbon, D and Ross, T 1896, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland. Volume 2, Edinburgh, 505-17.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland, 1993, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan, Edinburgh: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 33-7.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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