On a gloriously-sunny but rather chilly day today we headed south into the Borders to visit Melrose Abbey. Founded in 1136 by King David I, it was Scotland’s first Cistercian abbey and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Now in ruins, the abbey suffered greatly at the hands of English troops who pillaged and burned it over the centuries during numerous Border skirmishes and battles. It still makes for an impressive sight though.
Although now partially-ruinous and open to the elements, the main tower still stands to its original height of 26 metres.
The whole of the abbey is richly-decorated with carvings of plants, flowers, saints and numerous grotesque gargoyles.
Considered to be one of Britain’s most beautiful religious buildings, the ceiling of the south transept is particularly noteworthy, with the central bosses representing various saints.
One of the highlights of a visit to Melrose Abbey is the possibility to climb to the top of the main tower, up a winding spiral staircase. As well as the beautiful views over the town and the surrounding area, it affords the opportunity of a better look at the carvings, which extend to the very top of the abbey despite the fact that they would have been out of sight for most people.
Next to the abbey is the Commendator’s House, a small tower house dating back to the 15th century, and altered in the 16th century.
Originally it would have been the home of the abbot, but it now houses a museum displaying numerous Roman and medieval finds from the area. In the garden of the Commendator’s House we saw a pheasant, its bright plumage contrasting with the dull winter grass.
Looking back at the abbey from a distance it’s easy to see why this Gothic masterpiece receives the accolades that it does.