The Scottish Borders was a magnet for monks in medieval times – truly men on a mission. In a region with ancient Christian traditions and lured by the promise of royal patronage they set up four mighty monastic institutions at Jedburgh, Melrose, Drybrough and Kelso.
There is nothing quite like a great ruin for visitor appeal and Jedburgh’s 12th century Abbey in the Scottish Borders ranks alongside the best of them.
It provides a breathtaking welcome for those arriving in the town from the south.
In the years before he was crowned King of Scotland, David 1 (1124-53) masterminded a plan to set up monastic centres throughout the Borders and was responsible for populating them with colonies of monks from England and the Continent.
The priory originally established in Jedburgh was home to Augustinians from the Abbey of St-Quentin, at Beauvais north of Paris. They had set out for a new life in the Borders in 1138 – a sort of early twinning arrangement – and served a royal castle located in the town.
Subsequently given large bequests of lands and fisheries by David 1 the priory and its monks, not surprisingly, prospered. The men of the monastic orders were every bit as good at business as they were in upholding the faith. David 1 raised the priory to abbey status around 1154.
Jedburgh Abbey was built from designs inspired by Europe’s finest churches and the area was a favourite with the Scottish Royal family.
David’s successor, Malcolm, died at Jedburgh Abbey in 1165 and Alexander III was married there to Yolande of Dreux, another notable French connection.
The visitor centre displays some exceptional carved stone fragments such as crosses and a sarcophagus. These date from the 700s and are similar in style to Northumbrian work from the time. Another highlight is the ‘Jedburgh comb’, an intricately carved ivory comb dating to around 1100.
As the gateway to the Borders and Scotland, Jedburgh bore the brunt of many unwelcome visits from invading English armies.
During the Wars of Independence under Robert the Bruce the abbey was devastated by the English under Sir Richard Hastings and suffered again in 1410, 1416, 1464 and 1523. In the 1540’s Jedburgh was reduced to ruins by Henry the Eighth’s armies, a time that became known as the ‘rough wooing’ and resulting from the Scots refusal to ratify the betrothal of the infant Mary Queen of Scots to his son Edward, then at the tender age of seven.
The Protestant Reformation of 1560 led to Jedburgh’s final demise as a monastic institution. It is still used for major traditional events in the town.
Today the Abbey, run by Historic Environment Scotland, attracts thousands of visitors from the UK and overseas.
A short walk into town, just past the Co-op, will bring you to what was Jedburgh Friary , a site used by the religious order of St Francis.
The Franciscians were know as the Grey Friars and they developed close links with local people, providing services such as tending the sick and teaching.
The site was excavated in 1982 and the present garden is based on historical research and has been laid out as the Grey Friars garden.
More information at www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/jedburgh-abbey/history/