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Cambuskenneth Abbey, Cambuskenneth

A Scheduled Monument in Stirling North, Stirling

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Latitude: 56.1231 / 56°7'23"N

Longitude: -3.9173 / 3°55'2"W

OS Eastings: 280904

OS Northings: 693918

OS Grid: NS809939

Mapcode National: GBR 1D.L7XN

Mapcode Global: WH4P6.SCS9

Entry Name: Cambuskenneth Abbey, Cambuskenneth

Scheduled Date: 31 December 1921

Last Amended: 28 April 2017

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM90055

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Crosses and carved stones: sculptured stone (not ascribed to a more specific type); Ecclesiastical:

Location: Stirling

County: Stirling

Electoral Ward: Stirling North

Traditional County: Perthshire


The monument is the remains of Cambuskenneth Abbey, an Arrouaisian monastery founded around AD 1140 by King David I. It is visible as the foundations of the abbey church of which the west doorway survives and now serves as the entrance to a small enclosed graveyard of later date. Also visible are the foundations of the conventual buildings, and a freestanding, roofed bell-tower to the north of the church, which contains a number of grave markers and architectural fragments. There are the remains of ancillary buildings to the east and southeast of the abbey. Around 200m to the west of the abbey, beside the River Forth, are the buried remains of the Watergate and associated harbour. The monument is situated around 5m above sea-level on a neck of land which is bounded on the east, south and west by a loop in the River Forth.

The scheduled area is in two parts; both are irregular on plan to include the remains described above and an area around them in which evidence for the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.  The eastern area includes upstanding remains of the abbey and ancillary buildings and the western incorporates the area of the Watergate and harbour. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of all modern boundary walls and modern fences, the above-ground elements of all signage and services and the top 300mm of all modern paths to allow for their maintenance. The scheduling also excludes all burial lairs where rights of burial still exist and the collection of carved stones and artefacts contained within the bell-tower which are curated as museum objects.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural significance

The monuments cutlural significance has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is a good example of a medieval abbey. It was founded around AD 1140 by King David I but nothing is known of this early phase, which may have been constructed in timber. The earliest visible remains date to the 13th century and consist of the church and the conventual buildings. These survive mostly as wall footings and foundations; only the west doorway of the abbey church stands to around full height. However, the plan of the abbey can be clearly understood; the church is cruciform and almost 60m in length. The nave had a north aisle (which may have been a later addition), the chancel was square-ended and the transepts each had two eastern chapels. To the south of the church is the cloister with the sacristy, slype and chapter-house on its east side, the refectory and a kitchen on the south side, and probable cellars on the west. All of these structures are reduced to foundations apart from the west range, of which nothing is visible above the ground surface. The remains all date to the 13th century or later, with the north wall of the nave, transept and chapter house showing evidence of reconstruction in the late 14th century.

The roofed bell tower stands to the north of the church and is the most intact structure at the site. This is later than the church and coventual buildings and probably dates to the late 13th century with some 19th century alterations. As a free standing bell-tower it is an extremely unusual late-medieval structure, with the only other parallel in Scotland found at Lindores Abbey, which only survives as ground floor walls.

To the east and southeast of the church are the remains of two ranges of ancillary buildings, visible as low footings with one gable wall surviving to wall-head height. These were probably erected in the 15th and 16th centuries and the range closest to the Abbey church may have been the infirmary. The buried remains of a substantial gate ("the Watergate") and associated harbour lie 200m to the west of the abbey, and is an unusual survival in the context of a monastic site. The form of the Watergate was recorded in an engraving by John Slezer dated 1693.

The plan of the church and conventual buildings was uncovered and then consolidated in the 1860s by William Mackison, Town Architect of Stirling. This work has confused the character of the masonry but it does means that the plan and extent of the abbey can be understood. It is also an interesting and significant example of early conservation works. Further analysis of the upstanding remains can enhance our knowledge of the chronology and development sequence of the abbey, as well as the cultural and social influences that may have informed its form and design.

Previous excavation has indicated a high potential for the survival of important archaeological remains below the present ground surface. We can expect structural remains such as traces of earlier buildings and ancillary ranges, pits and middens to survive, along with artefacts and environmental remains. Such remains enhance our knowledge of the layout and development sequence of the abbey complex and inform us of medieval monastic religious practice, society and economy. In addition, there is high potential that unmarked burials may survive in and around the church. Soil conditions will influence the extent to which bone survives, but human skeletal remains have the potential to reveal much information about the contemporary population: evidence for their health, diet, illness, cause of death, and perhaps the types of activities people undertook during life.

Contextual Characteristics

The abbey was a daughter-house of the Church of St Nicholas, Arrouaise, in France. Arrouaise followed the Rule of St Augustine but the Order's observance was particularly austere and had its own specific customs. Overtime the distinction between the Arrouaisians and Augustinians diminished, and the Arrouaisians became identified as Augustinians. Cambuskenneth was the only Scottish daughter-house of Arrouaise although David I may have been also a benefactor to the Arrouaisian Priory of Harrold in the "Honour of Huntingdon", lands he held in the shires of Northampton, Huntingdon and Bedford in England. David I also held Carlisle from 1135 and would have known of the order from Carlisle Cathedral, which was affiliated to Arrouaise until 1156. Although of the Arrouaisian Order, Cambuskenneth can be compared with the other major Augustinian foundations of David I at Jedburgh, Holyrood and St Andrews, and with his other major monastic foundations, including those at Dunfermline, Kinloss, Loch Leven, Melrose and Newbattle.

At the time of the Reformation (1560) it is recorded that the abbey was "ruined and cast down" and was subsequently used as a quarry. John Erskine, Earl of Mar, in particular, is believed to have used the abbey stone to construct his lodgings in Stirling (known as Mar's Wark (SM90289,Canmore ID 46198) after assuming secular control of the abbey as Commendator.

The abbey is situated on a neck of land which is bounded by on the east, south and west by a loop in the River Forth at about 5m above sea-level.  The importance of the Forth to the abbey is evidenced through the remains of the Watergate and harbour.

Associative Characteristics

The abbey is an important foundation of King David I. As the only example of an Arrouaisian house in Scotland, it demonstrates David I's extensive patronage of the reformed monastic orders. The foundation of abbeys, belonging to various religious orders, was a central element in David I's revitalisation of the Scottish Church but also helped to transform Scottish society. Monasteries became centres of foreign influence, and provided sources of literate men to serve the Crown's growing administrative needs.

The abbey was first known as St Mary's of Stirling but from at least the 13th century onwards, the abbey was referred to as St Mary of Cambuskenneth. The place-name means 'creek or field of Kenneth' and is traditionally associated with a battle between the Scots (under Kenneth MacAlpin) and the Picts.

The abbey is situated about 2km to the east of Stirling Castle, across the River Forth. The close proximity of the Stirling Castle enhanced the Abbey's prestige and wealth and meant that the abbey was the location for a great many important parliaments and other political events. In 1303-1304 Edward I, King of England, received Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow as he swore an oath of fealty to the English king. In 1308, Sir Neil Campbell, Sir Gilbert Hay and others swore fealty to Robert Bruce on the high altar. In 1326, the clergy, nobility and other lesser individuals swore fealty in Robert Bruce's presence to his son, if he should die without issue, and also to his grandson, Robert Stewart. This close connection between Crown and abbey was reinforced with the burial of King James III at Cambuskenneth following the Battle of Sauchie in 1488. 

The monument reflects medieval cultural preferences for the display of wealth and status through the patronage of monastic foundations. The form of the monument and its architectural details reflect medieval monastic spiritual devotion through worship, work and study.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance as a medieval abbey founded by David I. It makes a significant contribution to our understanding of medieval monastic foundations, devotion, patronage and daily life. It is also of importance as the only Arrouaisian foundation in Scotland and has a rare and well-preserved example of a free-standing bell-tower. The layout of the abbey is well-preserved and there is good potential for the survival of complex archaeological remains, perhaps including evidence for an earlier abbey church and domestic buildings. The monument's importance is enhanced because of its close proximity to the royal residence of Stirling Castle and by its association with David I and the Scottish Crown. Its loss would diminish our ability to understand the character, functions and development of medieval monastic foundations in Scotland and the nature of the relationship between Church and Crown in the medieval period.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 47271 (accessed on 7/3/2017).

Stirling Council Historic Environment reference 1176 and 1178 (accessed on 7/3/2017).

Cambuskenneth Abbey - A Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches (accessed on 7/3/2017).

Alexander, J E 1868. 'An account of the excavations at Cambuskenneth Abbey in May 1864', Proc Soc Antiq Scot.6, 14-25.

Cowan, I B 1967. The parishes of medieval Scotland, Scot Rec Soc 93, Edinburgh, 25.

Cruden, S 1978. Cambuskenneth Abbey, Edinburgh, 1-7.

GUARD 2000. Cambuskenneth Abbey Environs Project.

GUARD 2013. Cambuskenneth Abbey Investigations, Data Structure Report.

GUARD 2015. Abbots, Kings and Lost Harbours: Looking for Cambuskenneth Watergate Data Structure Report.

MacGibbon, D and Ross, T 1896-7. The ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland from the earliest Christian times to the seventeenth century, 3v, Edinburgh, 2, 225-31.

RCAHMS 1963. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Stirlingshire: an inventory of the ancient monuments, 2v, Edinburgh, 120-9.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Cambuskenneth Abbey
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Related Designations

Designation TypeListed Building (A)StatusRemoved

Battle of BannockburnBTL4
Designation TypeBattlefieldStatusDesignated


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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