On 10 April 1273, Devorgilla, a lady of the blood royal of Scotland, signed a charter establishing a new abbey on a site close to where the River Nith flows into the Solway Firth. Her beloved husband, John Balliol, had died four years earlier and the abbey was intended as a lasting memorial to him.
Devorgilla chose the Cistercians for her foundation, a selection that is hardly surprising, She was a direct descendant of David I and of that lord of Galloway who had founded Cistercian Glenluce in 1192. She was a remarkable lady, grand-daughter of David, earl of Huntingdon, whose brothers, Malcolm 'the Maiden' and William 'the Lion', were both kings of Scotland. Her son, John Balliol, was chosen by Edward I of England to rule Scotland when there was a succession crisis following the death of the Maid of Norway in 1290, while her husband John was one of the regents of Scotland during the childhood of Alexander III.
Throughout their married lives Balliol and Devorgilla were devoted to each other. On the death of her husband in 1269 Devorgilla had his heart embalmed and placed in a casket of ivory bound with enamelled silver. She kept this, her 'sweet, silent companion', with her until
she died, aged 80, in 1290. The casket was buried with her in the sanctuary of the kirk of the monastery she had founded. It was a fitting tribute to her undying love that the Cistercian monks chose the name of Sweetheart, Dulce Cor, for the abbey, one of the earliest
uses of the term.
The abbey as it stands today contains many original elements. These include a presbytery, which is the site of the high altar and of Devorgilla's tomb. Of particular note is the fact that Sweetheart possesses the most complete precinct walls surviving around a monastery in Scotland. Truly massive, these walls are formed of very large granite boulders, a tribute to both the brawn and the brain
of those who constructed this remarkable settlement.
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