Inchcolm Abbey

National Grid Reference (NGR): NT 18970 82670, map


Address

Inchcolm, Fife, Scotland
Inchcolm
Fife
Scotland

Also known as:

  • Augustinian Monastic Priory (1160-1235)
    Changed from a Priory into an Abbey in 1235.

Introduction

Inchcolm Abbey is on the island of Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth. It was founded as a priory in 1123 by David I and, according to legend, the foundation occurred after his predecessor - Alexander I - was sheltered by a hermit on the island. The hermit's cell (site 2144), rebuilt in the fourteenth/fifteenth century can still be seen today in the garden of the abbey. Other features that predate the abbey are the tenth century Scandinavian hogback stone (site 2968)and fragments of a cross excavated in 1850, which are currently in the Inchcolm visitor centre.

The priory became an abbey in 1235 and remained in religious use until the Reformation when the buildings of the abbey were abandoned, although some were later converted to a residence. At the time of writing, the abbey consists of a cloister to the west, with the first church to the north of the cloister and the second church at the north end of the east range of the cloister. The east range of the cloister joins to the chapterhouse, which is a two storey octagonal plan sandstone building with a slate roof, and also features the dormitory and extends south of the quadrangle to connect to the latrine and the ruinous L-plan abbot's residence.

The island of Inchcolm has also served as an important defensive location at various points throughout history, most notably in World Wars I and II when it was use to protect the Forth Rail Bridge and prevent attacks on the naval dockyard at Rosyth.

The Abbey was taken into state care in 1924.


Description

The Abbey buildings are constructed of stone.   They consists of a cloister to the west, with the earlier first church to the north of the cloister and the later second church at the north end of the east range of the cloister. The east range of the cloister joins to the chapterhouse, which is a two storey octagonal plan sandstone building with a slate roof, and also features the dormitory and extends south of the quadrangle to connect to the latrine and the ruinous L-plan abbot's residence.

Hermit's Cell

The Hermit's Cell is in the garden to the north west of the abbey church. The irregularly shaped stone building was originally built in the tenth or eleventh century and was mostly rebuilt during the fourteenth or fifteenth century with a tunnel-vaulted interior. The cell has a small rectangular window on its east wall and on its south wall is a round arched door which was modified when the cell was used a mortuary in the seventeenth century.

Hog Back Stone

This Scandinavian style hog back stone dates from the mid tenth century and is largely believed to be the earliest evidence of Christian occupation of Inchcolm. The stone, originally situated on a hill to the west of the abbey, was moved to the Inchcolm Visitor Centre in 1993 in order to protect its already weathered decoration.

Cross Slab

Fragments of a cross-slab were found to the north-west of the abbey during an excavation in 1850. They are now in the Inchcolm Visitor Centre, having been transferred there in 1998. The fragments form a section of the lower half of the cross slab and feature a weathered pattern.

Abbot's Residence

The abbot's house is on ground sloping downwards from the Abbey, and is connected to the south end of the east cloister. The L-plan building has two storeys and is in a ruinous state.

On the east elevation there is a drop arched door at basement level. To the north side of the door there is a rectangular window at ground floor level and a lancet window above this. On the south elevation the buttressed walls only survive at basement level. There is a turnpike stair connecting the upper floors with the cellars.

The interior of the basement level is barrel-vaulted and there is an oven to the north-east side. On the upper floor of the abbot's residence there is a chimney and fireplace to the southwest. At the southeast corner are square headed windows.

Latrine

The latrine is within the south extension of the east range of the cloister, connected to the abbot's residence to the east and to the dormitory to the north. It was built over a drain which was flushed by the sea. A second drain was built later when the sea no longer flushed the first drain satisfactorily.

Dormitory

The dormitory is located on the upper level of the east range of the cloister and extends southwards of the quadrangle to connect to the latrine in the south and the abbot's residence at the southeast.

Cloister

The cloister is rectangular plan, gabled and ashlar built.   The north east corner of the cloister connects to the choir and tower of the first church. Located above the east range of the cloister is the dormitory extension and the latrine. A door in the east wall accesses the chapter house.   Lancet windows run along the south wall of the cloister. At the west end of the south wall is the stair to the refectory, which is on the upper level of the south range. There are three rectangular windows on the south elevation of stair tower.

The west wall of the cloister extends northwards to join the west elevation of the nave of the first church. On the east side of the west wall is a chimney and there is also a stair that leads to the refectory.

The north walk of the cloister is no longer standing, although the north wall of the cloister is, as part of the structure of the first church.

The interior of the cloister has tunnel vaulted ceilings. Remants of floor tiles survive in parts of the interior and there are remains of painted messages on the walls.

Chapter House

The chapter house is a two-storey octagonal building which is supported by buttresses at its corners. Its walls are built of stone and its pyramidal polygonal roof is made of slate. The two storeys of the building are divided by a string course.

The chapter house is joined to the east range of the cloister on its west wall. On the east, southeast and south sides it has pointed arch windows, except on the first floor at the south-east side there is a small rectangular window with a hoodmould above it (which shows signs of considerable modification).

The interior of the chapter house has a vaulted ceiling with the ribs meeting at a central boss, which has a hole in it to allow a light to be lowered. There is a round arched doorway leading to the cloister and there are stone benches along the walls. On the east side there is a blind arcade denoting three stone seats.

First Church

The first church is on the north of the cloister. It consists of a nave, tower and choir, although the structure of the church was considerably altered due to a change in usage when the later church was built.

The nave of the church is ashlar built and has three bays. The exterior of the church shows evidence of its many alterations as there is evidence of blocked windows and on the south wall there are traces denoting where a round headed door once was. A string course runs along the upper section of the exterior of the nave and the building is roofless.

The east elevation of the nave joins to the tower of the church. The south elevation of the nave joins to the north and west ranges of the cloister. The west elevation of the nave is gabled and is partially obscured by its join to the west range of the cloister. On the north elevation there is a small window to the west and a doorway to the east. The nave has a tunnel vaulted interior.

The choir is to the east of the tower and only the foundations remain apart from the south wall of the choir, which forms part of the cloister's east range, and is only part of the choir that remains standing.

Later Church

This church was built in the early fifteenth century to replace the first church. It is cruciform in plan and is east of the first church. The remains of the church are mostly foundations although a large section of the south transept and sections of the south walls of the choir and the presbytery are still standing.

There is a large altar slab, originally found in the south transept, which marks the site of the altar. In the south wall of the presbytery there is the remnant of part of sedilia.

Warming House

The warming house is situated on the first floor of the chapter house building, having been added to the building in the fourteenth century. It has a vaulted interior with a fireplace on its north wall and the interior walls have many fragmentary latin inscriptions.

Tower

The tower of the first church is between the nave to west and the choir to the east. It is in four stages, each stage divided by a string course. The tower has a turnpike stair at the southeast and is connected to the north section of the east range of the cloister at this point.

There is a round headed arch at ground level on the east elevation of the tower. Above this is a squareheaded window and on the fourth stage of the tower is a pointed arch window with a hoodmould.

On its south elevation the tower has a rectangular window next to a blocked lancet window on its third stage and on its fourth stage there is a rectangular shaped blocked opening.

The west elevation of the tower is joined to the nave of the church, which obscures all but the fourth stage of the tower, which has a pointed arch window.

The north elevation of the tower connects to a two storey gabled extension, which obscures the first two stages of the tower. The extension has a rectangular window in the gable. On the third and fourth stages of the tower there are lancet windows with hood moulds, which were originally in pairs but the east windows have now been blocked.

Tomb Recess

The recess is situated on the south wall of the choir of the abbey church. The back wall is painted with a scene of a group of clerics. This was probably the monument to the Bishop of Dunkeld, who was buried on the south side of the choir in 1266.

South Transept

The south transept is believed to have constructed in 1402 and is the most complete part of the abbey church, although it is in a ruinous state. The transept has a tunnel vaulted interior and there is a piscina and aumbry in the south wall and a second piscina in the east wall.

 

 


People / Organisations:

NameRoleDatesNotes
King David I of ScotlandFounder1123Originally to be founded by King Alexander I of Scotland after he reputedly took shelter in the hermits cell after a storm. His death the following year (1124) meant that duty fell to his successor David I King of Scots.
Saint ColumbaDedicatee11
Augustininan FriarsDenomination1123

Events:

  • Isolated burial: Build/construction (0900)
  • Cell: Build/construction (1000 to 1100)
  • Cross: Build/construction (1000B)
    This type of early Christian cross slab was common amongst sites in Scotland in and around the first century. Its presence suggests Christian activity on Inchcolm centuries prior to the establishment of the abbey itself.
  • Tower: Build/construction (1100)
    In the late twelfth century the tower was erected.
  • Monument: Founded (1123)
    Originally founded as a priory, the status of the settlement at Inchcolm changed to abbey in 1235.
  • Church: Build/construction (1160)
    A small church and chancel were built.
  • Cloister: Build/construction (1200)
    Work began on the cloister after Inchcolm became an abbey in 1235.
  • Chapter house: Build/construction (1200)
    The building of the chapter house began around the time that the status of the priory changed to an abbey.
  • Church: Build/construction (1200)
    The first church was considered to be too small and the chancel was converted into a retrochoir and a tower was build above it.
  • Burial vault: Build/construction (1200)
    Dates from the late twelfth century when the choir was built as an extension to the choir of the first church.
  • Church: Alteration/conversion (1235)
    The choir was extended to twice its previous length and a north transept was added when the priory was changed to an abbey, in order to meet the growing demands placed on it.
  • Cell: Restoration (1300 to 1400)
    Restored and rebuilt by the canons of the abbey at some point in the fourteenth or fifteenth Century.
  • Reredorter: Build/construction (1300 uncertified)
  • Dorter: Build/construction (1300)
    Likely to have been constructed in the second phase of the cloister building.
  • Cloister: Build/construction (1300)
    The building of the cloister was continued in the fourteenth century.
  • Cloister: Alteration/conversion (1300)
    The nave and retrochoir of the earlier church were converted to the north ambulatory of the cloister.
  • Chapter house: Addition (1300)
    Addition of an upper floor (warming house) to the chapter house.
  • Chapter house: Build/construction (1300)
    Added as an upper floor to the chapter house.
  • Monument: Damage (1385)
    The abbey was attacked by English forces.
  • Abbot\'s house: Build/construction (1400)
  • Church: Alteration/conversion (1400)
    At the start of the fifteenth century the nave and retrochoir of the church were converted to the north ambulatory of the cloister.
  • Church: Abandonment (1400)
    At the start of the fifteenth century the church was abandoned for worship and was replaced by a new church to the east.
  • Church: Destruction/demolition (1400)
    In the early fifteenth century the north transept was demolished and replaced by a smaller accommodation block when the church was abandoned.
  • Church: Alteration/conversion (1400)
    fifteenth century barrel vault inserted within original nave walls, exposing the fragmentary remains of the twelfth century west door opening.
  • Church: Build/construction (1400)
    A new church was built to the east of the earlier church at the start of the fifteenth century.
  • Tower: Addition (1400)
    Extension on north side of the tower.
  • Tower: Alteration/conversion (1400)
    The interior of the tower was altered, the second floor becoming a doocot.
  • Tower: Destruction/demolition (1400)
    The north transept was demolished and a small two storey, slab-roofed accommodation wing was built to the north.
  • Transept: Build/construction (1402 uncertified)
    The south transept was built.
  • Dorter: Alteration/conversion (1500)
    Alterations to the extension of the dormitory.
  • Cloister: Addition (1500)
    Addition of stairtower at west end of south range of cloister.
  • Tower: Addition (1500)
    Addition of stairtower to the south east.
  • Monument: Closure (1560)
    The dissolution of the abbey occured during the Reformation, although some canons remained at the abbey until 1578.
  • Church: Abandonment (1570)
    The abbey was abandoned at the Reformation but some canons were allowed to remain on the island until the late 1570s.
  • Transept: Abandonment (1570)
    The abbey was abandoned during the Reformation but some canons were allowed to remain on the island until the late 1570s.
  • Cloister: Alteration/conversion (1580)
    The cloister buildings were converted into a residence where James Stewart the commendator of the Abbey lived.
  • Monument: Destruction/demolition (1581)
    The church was partially dismantled and the salvaged materials sold to the Town Council of Edinburgh for the rebuilding of the tolbooth.
  • Church: Destruction/demolition (1581)
    The church was partially dismantled and the salvaged materials sold to the Town Council of Edinburgh for the rebuilding of the tolbooth.
  • Cell: Alteration/conversion (1600)
    The door on south was altered when the usage of the cell changed.
  • Cross: Excavation (1850)
    Excavated from the mound to the north-west of the abbey.
  • Monument: Custodial Transfer (1924)
    Placed in government care.
  • Cloister: Restoration (1927)
  • Chapter house: Addition (1931)
    Weathervane added to roof of chapter house.
  • Isolated burial: Excavation (1993)
    At the time that the stone was moved indoors the area around the stone was excavated.
  • Tower: Installed (2007)
    A platform was added at the top of the tower to allow visitors to the abbey to see the view from the top in safety.
  • Monument: Alteration/conversion (A1560)
    After the Reformation the conventual buildings of the abbey were converted into a residence for James Stewart, the commendator of the Abbey.

Archive References:

NameReferenceNotes
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 50895
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 50898
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 50896
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 50897
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 3573
Scran - Online databaseReference: 000-000-025-597-CResearch and image by Edwina Proudfoot
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 2144Hermit's cell
CSA: Inventory of Scottish Church Heritage - HardcopyReference: 02144
Scran - Online databaseReference: 000-000-025-659-CImage and research: Edwina Proudfoot
CSA: Inventory of Scottish Church Heritage - HardcopyReference: 4657
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 2968Cross slab and hog back stone
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 2968Cross slab and hog back stone.

Bibliographic References:

NameAuthorDateNotes
Buildings of Scotland: FifeGifford, J1988pp. 241-246
Notes on a Peculiar Class of Recumbant MonumentsWalker J Russell1885p406
Inchcolm Abbey and IslandHistoric Scotlandpp. 2-25
Discovery & Excavation, Scotland 2010.Paul Fox2010Page 75