Religion in Twelfth Century 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
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
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
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
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.