Abbey, a Cistercian monastery situated on the south
bank of the River Tay in North Fife was founded in 1229
by the widowed queen of William the Lyon, then destroyed during
the Reformation. A Spanish Chestnut tree here is one of the
oldest of its kind in the country.
Balmerino Abbey, was the landing-place of the Lady Ermengarde
--second wife and widow of William the Lyon, daughter of the
Earl of Beaumont, and great-granddaughter of the Conqueror,
mother of Alexander II, and ancestress of the succeeding sovereigns
of Scotland -- when, out of gratitude for the health and the
peace she had found at 'Balmurynach '--there is a choice of
36 ways of spelling the name--she resolved to plant here a house
of Cistercian monks, dedicated to the Virgin and to her relative
'the most holy King Edward,' the Confessor.
This resolve, made sometime at the beginning of the second quarter
of the thirteenth century, was promptly carried into execution,
and on St Lucy's Day, 1229, a company of monks from Melrose,
under Alan, their first Abbot, were able to enter and take possession.
The Abbey was a monument of sacrifice, as well as of gratitude,
for the foundress had first to purchase with a thousand marks
the lands representing nearly the whole of the present parish,
to which the Abernethies of Carpow had succeeded as Lay Abbots
of the Culdee seat of Abernethy. It was built of a red stone
from Nydie, beyond the Eden. In its great days it must have
been a beautiful habitation of peace, with a plan conforming
to the Mother Church of Melrose, in having the cloister on the
north side of the sanctuary and in other details.
Ermengarde and her son Alexander, another great benefactor,
visited here repeatedly. They would ferry over from Dundee,
or from Invergowrie, when coming from the royal palace at Forfar;
for the Queen much affected the haunts, as well as the religious
example, of her grandmother-in-law, the saintly Margaret. In
1234 the body of the foundress was laid to rest here.
But, like other landmarks of Balmerino, the grave will be looked
for in vain. Her stone coffin, containing her skeleton, was
supposed to have been found, on the spot indicated by the records,
by the tenant of the farm while, in the summer of 1831, he was
engaged in 'carting away hewn stones from the piers and south
wall of the church' to build a house in St Andrews. It was covered
by a graveslab, which was 'broken in pieces,' while the bones
found within were 'dispersed as curiosities through the country.'
Mary Queen of Scots was certainly a visitor here in 1565, and
more than likely lived in the Abbot's House as a guest of Sir
John Hay, the first Lay Commendator of the Abbey. Later the
lands were erected into a barony, in favour of Sir James Elphinston
of Barnton, the first Lord Balmerino, who after being sentenced
to death, died quietly of a 'fever' at the Abbey. The more ill-fated
Arthur, the sixth lord, who suffered for his part in the 1745
rebellion, is supposed to have hidden in the ruins, after an
earlier adventure in 1715, and before he escaped to a vessel
in the Firth of Tay which took him to France.
Of the Church itself there remains above ground only portions
of the walls of the nave and north transept. Enough of the Chapter-House
is left to show how endowed it was in ornament and proportions.
What remains of Balmerino Abbey is kept now kept in good order
and condition. Although Daniel Defoe, who visited it in 1727,
saw 'nothing worthy of observation, the very ruins being almost
eaten up by time,' it is well deserving this reverent care,
if only for the ancient trees that are gathered around it. Chieftains
among these are a magnificent old Spanish chestnut and a walnut
of like or superior age. Another reason to visit Balmerino is
the beautiful views of the Firth of Tay, the Carse of Gowrie,
and the Sidlaw range of hills, with glimpses of the more remote
Grampians, including Ben Voirlech on Loch Earn - a distance
of about fifty miles in a straight line.
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