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Ecclesiastical remains and burial grounds, Coldingham

A Scheduled Monument in East Berwickshire, Scottish Borders

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Latitude: 55.8872 / 55°53'14"N

Longitude: -2.1527 / 2°9'9"W

OS Eastings: 390543

OS Northings: 666021

OS Grid: NT905660

Mapcode National: GBR F0DC.QF

Mapcode Global: WH9XW.X913

Entry Name: Ecclesiastical remains and burial grounds, Coldingham

Scheduled Date: 24 January 2023

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13756

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: burial ground, cemetery, graveyard

Location: Coldingham

County: Scottish Borders

Electoral Ward: East Berwickshire

Traditional County: Berwickshire


The monument comprises buried remains of an early medieval and medieval ecclesiastical centre which contains at least two burial grounds and features associated with ecclesiastical use of the site. The archaeological features have been identified through geophysical survey and archaeological excavations. The cumulative evidence suggests that the monument spans an extended period of time from the early medieval period (late 6th/ early 7th century AD) through to the late medieval period (15th century). The monument lies within three fields to the east of Coldingham Priory at around 55m above sea level.

The monument is the buried remains of a multi-period ecclesiastic centre which includes at least two burial grounds. The monument stretches over three fields, known as St Michael's Knowe, the Glebe Field and the north part of the Abbey Yards Field. The southern part of the Abbey Yard's Field forms part of another scheduled monument, Coldingham Priory, claustral remains (SM383). Archaeological interventions have revealed a large number of features in these three fields. An extensive burial ground is present on St Michael's Knowe, comprising over 50 burials, as well as number of ditches and pits, likely to be enclosures. An Anglo-Saxon coin hoard was also found suggesting that at least some of the burial may date to the early medieval period. A complex series of enclosures and boundaries are present with the Glebe Field and archaeological excavations suggest that at least some of these date to the early medieval period. A multi-period burial ground and a substantial boundary were found at the north end of Abbey Yards field. To the south of this is a circular or sub-circular enclosure which may be medieval but could also date to the prehistoric period.

The scheduled area is irregular, comprising two fields (St Michael's Knowe and Glebe Field) and that part of the Abbey Yards field to the north of scheduled monument SM383.The scheduled area extends up to but does not include the boundary features (walls, hedges, etc.) around these fields. It includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduled area specifically excludes all hedges, the above ground elements of all modern post and wire fences, gates and drystone walls and all telegraph poles to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17): 

a.  The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past or has the potential to do so as an ecclesiastical centre spanning the early medieval and medieval periods. 

b.   The monument retains physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past as an extensive multi-period ecclesiastic site, dating from the early medieval period through into the late medieval period. Possible prehistoric enclosures, known through geophysics and topsoil stripping suggest that the site may have originated earlier.

c.   The monument is a rare example of a multi-period ecclesiastical centre with burial grounds and possible evidence of earlier prehistoric activity. 

d.   The monument is a particularly good example of a multi-period ecclesiastic centre with burial ground and differing functional elements and is therefore an important representative of this monument type. 

e.   The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past, in particular, our understanding of early ecclesiastic centres and their development through time. Scientific study of the human remains found can add to our understanding of health and diet of those buried here as well as potentially providing DNA evidence.

g.  The monument has significant associations with historical figures and events. The monument is associated with St Aebbe and Cuthbert and played an important role in the spread of Christianity through the south of Scotland. Coldingham is also closely associated with the Benedictine Order and was the site of the first "reformed" monastery in Scotland.

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

Antiquarian reports describe probable cist burials to the north of the Priory and in the field around St Michael's Knowe (Wood 1887; Craw 1923). Archaeological monitoring to the north of St Michael's Knowe in the 1990s established the presence of adult and child burials (Dent 1994). These were not believed to be connected with the later medieval priory and an Anglian date for the burials has not been discounted (Stronach 2005, 399). During excavations to the east of the Chapter House of the Priory an inscribed stone was found with the text '(A)BBADISSA', which may translate as 'the abbess'. This stone dates to the 8th or 9th century suggesting that Coldingham was a significant early-Christian centre (Okasha 1988).

More recent archaeological work (Johnstone 2022) on St Michael's Knowe as part of a pre-development evaluation uncovered a significant cemetery, with over 50 burials and Anglo-Saxon coin hoard. The archaeological investigations at St Michael's Knowe work also uncovered a series of linear and curvilinear ditches, pits and stone-built features. These remains are thought to represent potential prehistoric activity, Anglian period ecclesiastical buildings and graveyards and later medieval or post-Medieval agriculture activity.

Geophysical survey of Glebe Field revealed evidence of a penannular enclosure, interpreted as prehistoric in date but which could relate to medieval activity. An additional geophysical survey was undertaken in Abbey Yards Field (immediately west of Glebe Field) which suggested the presence of a prehistoric enclosure (Johnson 1999). Excavations to the north of Abbey Yards Field in 2000 revealed three ditches all on the same alignment, the earliest of which was radiocarbon dated to the 7th or early 8th centuries AD. These excavations also found a later medieval phase of burials, and evidence of industrial activity. Further work in 2002 uncovered several more human burials (Stronach 2005).

Geophysical survey was carried out in the Glebe Field (Archaeological Services Durham University 2014) which revealed the presence of several boundaries and enclosures which were thought to represent successive phases of activity. One of the boundaries was on the same alignment as the ditches excavated in 2000 and appears to be a continuation. Targeted excavation was carried out in 2018 (Caswell et al 2019) which confirmed the presence of the early medieval boundary ditch as well as range of other features including walls, rubble spreads and ditches. Pottery found during these excavations suggests that these features primarily dated to the medieval period, however, some pottery dating between the 7th and 10th centuries AD was also recovered suggesting other early medieval activity. The nature of the features was primarily agricultural and would be in keeping with what might expected within a wider precinct area of a priory.

The buried archaeology has potential to tell us about the construction, and abandonment of structures of differing function within an ecclesiastical centre over an extended time period. In each period, we know that there were clusters of burials on St Michael's Knowe and within the Abbey Yards field. Surviving graves may date from the earliest phases of ecclesiastic use in the late 6th or early 7th centuries to the 15th / 16th century and can provide information on the population over an extended time period. Antiquarian discoveries of cists suggest there is also the potential for prehistoric burials. The burials may enhance our knowledge of status and burial practice, but can also reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death, and perhaps place of birth and the types of activities people undertook during life. The enclosures and buildings in the Glebe Field have the potential to provide further information about many diverse aspects of an ecclesiastic community over a long time period. Archaeological deposits should enable a better understanding of the period of Anglian occupation of the site, its Northumbrian influences and links to the wider Christian community.

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

Coldingham, has long been associated with the location of an influential Anglian monastery known as Colodaesburg, founded by St Aebbe between the late 6th and early 7th century AD. St Abbs Head has also been identified as the site of Colodaesburg but archaeological work in the vicinity of Coldingham Priory has provided evidence of ecclesiastical activity and burial during this period (Stronach 2006, Caswell et al 2019, Johnstone 2022) suggesting that Coldingham was an early Christian centre at this time. Archaeological work at St Abbs Head indicates that it was perhaps more likely to have been a fortified secular settlement.

Aebbe was the sister of Oswald, King of Northumbria and founder of the Anglian monastery at Lindisfarne. Aebbe's monastery is known to have been visited by St Cuthbert, who was at that time the Bishop of Lindisfarne. The monastery is listed among the possessions of the See of Lindisfarne in AD854 and is recorded by the Venerable Bede as being a 'double house' occupied by both male and female residents (Bede, Book IV. 19–25) and was also home to at least one other member of Anglian royalty, Etheldreda, wife of King Ecgfrith of Northumbria and Aebbe's niece. Although the status of the monastery is unclear, the presence of royalty within the community coupled with its close ties to Lindisfarne, would have afforded a great deal of wealth and influence to the monastery (Archaeology Services Durham 2014). According to Bede, the monastery was relatively short lived as it was burnt to the ground shortly after Aebbe's death, sometime around AD680, and was abandoned by most of its inhabitants (Bede Book IV. 19–25). Historical sources suggest that monastery was rebuilt only to be destroyed by a Norse raiding party in AD870.

There have been other archaeological excavations in the vicinity of this monument adding further context to the site. Excavations to the north of the monument on a site on Fisher's Brae revealed a broad ditch aligned east-west which was identified as being part of a vallum, an earthwork marking the boundaries of a major medieval ecclesiastical site. Other work as part of a house extension revealed the presence of burials to the north-east of the priory. 

Early historic monastic settlements known to have surviving physical remains are rare in Scotland. Nevertheless, archaeologists have excavated significant areas within the early Christian monastic enclosures at Hoddom (scheduled monument SM2690), Portmahomack (scheduled monument SM12793) and Iona (scheduled monument SM12968), as well as remains at Whithorn (scheduled monument SM12992), Applecross (scheduled monument SM2802) and on the Isle of May (scheduled monument SM838). These sites share many characteristics with Coldingham including continued ecclesiastical use of the site into the medieval period, evidence of Christian burial and the enclosure of the site. They allow researchers to set the findings from Coldingham in context, enhancing their significance. There is great potential to characterise the influences displayed by individual Scottish monastic sites and to chart how they varied over time. Coldingham is especially important because it appears to show continuity of monastic life, through periods of Anglian and Norse influence, up to a time when it became home to a house of Benedictine monks in 1098, during the reign of Edgar, King of Scots. Coldingham is likely to have been an important destination on the east coast pilgrimage route to St Andrews and as such we can compare this monument with other monastic centres that lay on this pilgrimage route from the south.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

The monument has significant associations with historical figures and events. The monument is associated with early Christian saints, Aebbe and Cuthbert and played an important role in the spread of Christianity through the south and up the east coast of Scotland.

In the medieval period Coldingham was also closely associated with the Benedictine Order and was the site of the first "reformed" monastery in Scotland which was founded during the reign of Edgar, King of Scots.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE IDs 60156, 142738, 186213, 342557 and 344918 (accessed on 01/11/2022).

Caswell C, Forster M and Noon S (2019). Beyond Bede. The Lost Monastery of St Aebbe. Community based archaeological evaluation at Glebe Field, Coldingham Priory. DigVentures Archaeological Reports | Coldingham Priory ( (accessed on 02/11/2022).

Conolly, R (2002). 'Abbey Yards Field, Coldingham, Scottish Borders (Coldingham parish), watching brief, in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, vol. 3, 2002. Pg. 100.

Craw, J H (1923). 'Early types of burial in Berwickshire', in History of the Berwickshire Naturalists Club, vol. 24, 2, 1920. Pg. 182.

Dent, J (1994). 'The Bield (Coldingham parish): burial ground', in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, 1994. Pg. 5.

Ellis, C (2002). 'Abbey Yards Field, Coldingham, Scottish Borders (Coldingham parish), cemetery', in Discovery Excavation in Scotland, vol. 3, 2002. Pg. 100.

Johnson, P (1999). Abbey Yards Field, Coldingham Priory. Unpublished report 707, GUARD

Johnstone, N (2022) 'Glebeland, Scoutscroft, St Abbs Road, Coldingham, Scottish Borders. Archaeological Monitored Topsoil Strip. Unpublished data structure report. AOC Archaeology.

Mudie G (2001). 'Fisher's Brae, Coldingham, Scottish Borders (Coldingham parish): watching brief' in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 2001. Pg. 82.

Okasha, E (1998). 'The Anglo-Saxon Inscribed Stone from Coldingham' in History of the Berwickshire Naturalists Club Vol 44, Pt. 2, pgs. 82-85.

Stronach, S et al. (2006). The Anglian monastery and medieval priory of Coldingham: Urbs Coludi revisited in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol. 135, pgs. 395-422. (accessed on 02/11/2022)

(The) Venerable Bede (completed AD731). Ecclesiastical History of the English People. London, George Bell and Sons 1907.

Wood, J (1887). 'On cists filled with tough clay, found in Coldingham parish', in History of the Berwickshire Naturalists Club Vol. 11, I (1885–6), pgs. 192–3.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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