border

Religion in Twelfth Century Scotland

Melrose Abbey, Melrose, Scotland
Christianity first entered Scotland when Irish monks established religious communities in the sixth century. By the ninth century, most of the population of Scotland was Christian. But the Irish Church developed separately and was quite different from the Roman Catholic Church. Priests and monks were free to marry if they wished. They also lived in their own houses rather than in religious communities, and their offices within the Church were often passed from father to son. Attitudes toward women and sex were also less rigid.  

Roman Catholicism gradually moved into Britain through England. After the Norman Conquest, the impact of the Church of Rome grew, as the Normans brought their religion and clergy with them. The Anglo-Saxon royal family which had ruled England went into exile in Europe just after the Conquest. One of the daughters of this house, Margaret, was raised in Hungary. She returned to Britain and married the king of Scotland, Malcolm III (called Malcolm Canmore) (1057-1093). Queen Margaret introduced many European customs to Scotland. She had wished to become a nun when she was younger and was particularly interested in reforming the Scottish Church so that it conformed more closely to Roman Catholicism. She worked to impose celibacy upon clergymen, to encourage them to live together in religious communities, to adopt the Roman Catholic calendar and saints, and she was quite successful. By the time Margaret died in 1093, the Scottish Church was much more like the Roman Catholic Church.  For her efforts, Queen Margaret was canonized after her death, becoming St. Margaret in 1251, largely due to the efforts of her great-grandson William the Lion, who was known as William de Warenne during his youth.
For an overview of their lives, you can visit this Discover the History of Scotland web page Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret.  

Three of  Malcolm Canmore's sons would become kings of Scotland. The youngest, David I was raised in the court of the king of England where his sister, Maude, was queen.
David had not been particularly religious in his youth, until he was almost killed by an elk during a hunt. Just at the moment when he was sure he would die, he saw a vision of a flaming cross and was spared. After that, he came to share the piousness of his mother, Margaret, and his sister, Queen Maude of England. David returned to Scotland with many Norman ideas. During his rule, from 1124 to 1153, he invited a number of European religious orders to set up communities within Scotland, granting them large tracts of land. The Roman Catholicism of the Scottish Church begun by Malcolm Canmore and his queen, Margaret was completed during the rein of David I.  To find out more, visit the BBC's webpage, The Reformed Orders and King David I.

During the twelfth century, the Church achieved a powerful place in the lives of ordinary people and religious communities flourished. The religious enthusiasm of the time had its downside, leading to the crusades on Moslem lands in the Middle East, and to the rise of anti-Jewish sentiments. But the Church was also responsible for important advances in music, architecture, medicine and many other forms of learning.

This is a photo of the church at Jedburgh Abbey, (pronounced Jedboro) which was founded by David I in 1138. His grandson, Malcolm IV, called Malcolm the Maiden, died at Jedburgh at the age of 24  in 1165. In the twelfth century,  the abbey was run by the Augustinian Order. They took their guidance from the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo
, who had died in the year 430 AD. The Augustinian were unusual because they were all ordained priests, living together in a monastic community. Most monks were not ordained priests. Unlike monks, however, they did not isolate themselves from ordinary people, often leaving the abbey to work as parish priests. But they did share vows of poverty, chastity and obedience common to monastic communities, and, like monks, they did not eat meat unless they were ill and required a more strengthening diet.  You can find out more about Jedburgh Abbey on the BBC's Jedburgh Abbey and Kelso Abbey Fact Sheet.


Broomfield Abbey in An Earthly Knight is based very loosely on the Cistercian monastery at Melrose.
The photo at the top of this page shows Melrose Abbey as seen from nearby Priorwood Garden.  The Cistercians who ran Melrose Abbeywere a more orthodox monastic community. You can find out more about this abbey by visiting the BBC's Melrose Abbey Fact Sheet.

Melrose Abbey did not have a healing shrine. I added that to the story because I wanted to look at medicine and healing in the 12th century. You can find out more about this topic by visiting my page on Medicine in 12th Century Scotland.

The abbey at Rowanwald in An Earthly Knight is based on the Augustinian community of twelfth century Jedburgh. 


Return to An Earthly Knight main page.