Jedburgh Abbey - Jedburgh, Scotland (HS)
A majestic building founded by David I in 1138 for Augustinian canons, right at the edge of his frontier with England. The church is mostly in the Romanesque and early Gothic styles and is remarkably complete, given the rough treatment it received over the centuries at the hands of a succession of English invasion forces. The history of the site goes further back than King David however. It is presumed a Christian site from the earliest times and in 850, Bishop Ecgred of Lindisfarne built a church hereabouts, which at some time held a shrine of importance, according to the fine Celtic scrollwork carvings on surviving fragments of stonework.
In the eleventh century, there is record of a church at 'Geddewerde' where the leader of the assassins of Bishop Walcher of Durham was killed and buried. Another glimpse of the history of the church are the finds of the 1984 excavation, now on display in the visitor centre. A beautifully carved ivory comb, dated about 1100, together with other personal effects, were discovered with the upper torso of a man in a sewage ditch eastwards of the Chapter house.
By King David's time, the power of the Church together with the power of the Crown, meant an opportunity to revive the religious life in this part of his kingdom as well as a chance to display his own wealth, piety and status. In his travels, David had seen how in England and Europe, the two powers could co-operate and it was also his aim to loosen the power of the Archbishop of York over the church in Scotland. David was a genuinely religious man and founded many other abbeys throughout his kingdom, not only Augustinian, but also Tironensian at Selkirk and Cistercian at Melrose. In addition to the King's generous endowment at Jedburgh, local landowners added to the wealth and standing of the new priory, among them Ranulf de Soules, the builder of the first stone castle at nearby Hermitage. English noblemen across the border also donated land and parishes so that eventually, Jedburgh possessed about twenty churches. This meant that not only was income guaranteed, but that the Augustinian prior controlled what was preached in the surrounding area. By the mid-twelfth century, Jedburgh's status had been raised to that of an abbey, with dependent priories elsewhere. The nature of the Augustinian order meant that although the brothers took the usual monastic vows, they were not bound to the contemplative life, but went about serving the religious needs of the community.
In 1285, Alexander III married his second wife, Yolande de Dreux, at Jedburgh. Before they could produce an heir however, Alexander died and Scotland was plunged into uncertainty and before long, war. The Anglo-Scottish wars of the late thirteenth and early fourteen centuries took a heavy toll on Jedburgh, sited on the disputed border as it was. In 1296, Edward I of England stayed at the abbey and appointed a pro-English abbot. However, the roof lead was stripped in 1305 for English weaponry and the precarious political situation for the canons meant that they fled to their lands in Yorkshire in 1312.
Once peace had been more firmly established during the later fourteenth century, rebuilding took place at Jedburgh, in common with many of the abbeys and castles in the north. The change in architectural style from Romanesque round arches and zigzag carving to gothic pointed arches and delicate tracery can be seen in the surviving church fabric. The chapter house was enlarged, as was the cloister, but damage was done again in the early fifteenth century. The castle at Jedburgh was destroyed in 1409 and the successive repairs around the abbey continued until the early sixteenth century.
In 1523, the abbey was burned by the Earl of Surrey's army and the roofs were lowered and the church's size reduced by inserting walls. In 1544, Henry VIII's army was sent north to try to force the marriage of the infant Queen Mary with the future Edward VI. The castle was yet again attacked the following year and was occupied by the English in 1547. The following year it was fortified by a French army, but by the Reformation in 1560, not much was left of the once magnificent abbey. The local parishioners continued to use the little church within the crossing up until the end of the nineteenth century. The north transept was walled off by the Ker family in 1681 and used as their family burial place, a practice also visible at Dryburgh abbey, not far away.
Jedburgh now stands overlooking, but also surrounded by the town of Jedburgh. Unlike many abbeys, it was never a remote centre of contemplative prayer, but had always served as the local parish church. It is fitting that now it is the centre of attraction for tourists to the town, whose modern quest is not for religious guidance and succour, but for the fading history of our forebears.
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This information has been researched and published here by:
Jonathan & Clare