Arbroath Abbey is located on the east coast of Scotland, 17 miles northeast of Dundee. It’s easily reached by taking the train (2 hours from Edinburgh), and then just a 10-minute walk to the abbey.
Once there you’ll find an outstanding visitor center with a variety of interpretative displays and a viewing gallery overlooking most of the abbey. There is a lot to take in, and while some structures are in ruins, some are surprisingly well maintained and offer various displays and photo-friendly viewpoints. In addition to the abbey itself, there’s the church, cloisters, gatehouse, and Abbot’s House.
Arbroath Abbey is now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland. If planning a visit be sure to visit their site for more information on ticketing and to check for unexpected closures:
Check this handy planner for routes around Scotland, by all modes of transportation. https://www.travelinescotland.com/
Arbroath Abbey was founded by King William the Lion in 1178 for Tironensian Benedictine monks from Kelso Abbey. King William bestowed many favors upon the Abbey, and it became the richest in Scotland. King William was buried in the church by the high altar in 1214.
Declaration of Abroath
The Declaration of Abroath was signed on April 6, 1320. Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath, who was also Chancellor of Scotland under Robert the Bruce, oversaw the drafting of the document. This declaration of independence is thought by many to be the most important and influential document in Scottish history. It was signed by the nobles and clergy of the kingdom of Scotland and sent to the pope, asking him to recognize Scotland’s independence and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country’s lawful king.
“As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
Excerpt from the Declaration of Arbroath
The Tyninghame copy of the Declaration is the only one known to have survived over the centuries and is kept in the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh.
The Stone of Scone
Note: The Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny is more than worthy of its own post, and while that is planned for the future, this bit describes its connection to Arbroath Abbey.
The Stone of Destiny was used for enthroning Scottish monarchs at Iona, Dunadd, and Scone until it was captured in 1296 by the English King Edward I. The stone was then taken to Westminster Abbey, fitted beneath King Edward’s Chair and has been used during most English monarchs coronations ever since.
On Christmas Day 1950 four Scottish university students; Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Alan Stuart and Kay Matheson traveled from Glasgow to London and reclaimed the Stone from Westminster Abbey.
Even though a massive search for the stone was conducted by the British Government, it was not found. On April 11, 1951, the Stone was left at Arbroath Abbey. This location was highly symbolic and significant since it was here in 1320 the Scots signed the Declaration of Arbroath, pledging to fight for freedom. Perhaps it was thought that the church would protect and keep the Stone in Scotland, however, the London police were informed of its whereabouts, and the Stone of Scone was removed and taken back to Westminster.
In 1996, the stone was officially returned to Scotland. Today, it is one of the priceless treasures on display in the Crown Room, visited by millions of people each year. The stone will only leave Scotland again for a coronation in Westminster Abbey.
Here’s a trailer for the 2008 movie that tells the story of the daring reclamation of the Stone of Destiny.