Friday, August 20, 2010

Recording Gravestone Inscriptions at Coldingham Priory – 3rd Visit

After our successes in transcribing the stones at Stobo and Jedburgh Abbey earlier in the summer, last weekend we turned our attention to Coldingham Priory. In many ways this proved to be the most challenging of all. While the stones have weathered reasonably well this is a very large graveyard with approximately 1000 stones (we have still not yet done a final count) and with a very large number of older stones – Cargill, in 1969, recorded 279 pre-1855 stones.

The week-end did not get off to too auspicious a start as the weather on Saturday was cold and overcast but what a difference on Sunday when the clouds had cleared, the wind had dropped and the sun shone -  such a day when recording can be such a delightful pastime.

While support from our own members could have been better we were delighted to have along to assist on both days a number of members from the Friends of Coldingham Priory who joined in with considerable enthusiasm.

In all we recorded and checked approximately half of the stones although this included probably the majority of the older stones.

The general feeling, having gained a momentum, was that we should press on and we have arranged a further transcribing day on Saturday 28th August from 10 am to 4 pm. Anyone who would wish to join us do please come along (even for a couple of hours). Further details from Ronald Morrison via our Contacts page, using the contact type Gravestone Recording.

Coldingham Priory has a rich and colourful history being one of the many hidden gems of the Borders. It has s been a site of worship since 1100 when Edgar, King of Scots was present at the dedication of a stone church to St Mary, St Cuthbert and St Ebba. The latter had founded a religious community in the 7th century at St Abbs Head nearby. From 1098 successive charters were granted to the Benedictine monks of Durham who established the priory in the early 12th century. The priory estates “Coldinghamshire” stretched from the boundaries of East Lothian to Berwick on Tweed and into the Merse at Swinton and provided strong revenues. A replica of the first charter is on display in the church porch.

The first church was destroyed by the English King John in 1216 and rebuilt as a much larger cross-shaped church. The north and east walls of the choir are still forming part of the present day church. Monastic remains of the cloisters and south transept can be seen outside. The priory was frequently attacked, and plundered for its wealth until in 1650, Cromwell succeeded in blowing up the major part of the church which  Scottish troops supporting the King were using to store gunpowder and as a stronghold. In 1662 two walls of the choir were rebuilt to form the structure in use today. Further alterations took place in the mid 19th century to repair some of the damage and neglect of the past which enables the fine carved stonework of the interior to be seen.

The Friends of Coldingham Priory which is a registered charity was formed in 2000 following the celebration of its 900th founding charter in 1998. Today this grade 1 listed building is a living church belonging to the Church of Scotland. Friends can belong to any denomination or none.

Their main aim is to promote public awareness of the Priory as a site of historical and architectural importance which is closely linked to the early Christian sites at St Abbs Head, Lindisfarne and Durham.

They do this by welcoming visitors at open afternoons in the summer and at occasional concerts and exhibitions. Friends can act as volunteer stewards at these times and also help to raise money to support the local congregation in improving the physical appearance of the Priory.

Since 2006, the Friends have been partners with Scottish Borders Council, Tweed Forum and Archaeology Scotland in a project  to conserve, stabilise and interpret the monastic ruins. They have undertaken the creation of a wild flower garden with fruit trees and shrubs in a walled area south of the refectory. This project will culminate in October 2010 with the creation of a flag stoned entrance to the graveyard and new paths to enable all abilities to enter the ruins and the garden. Headland Archaeology has carried out surveys and supervised all archaeologically sensitive sites during these works.

In May 2009 the Friends gave a film presentation at Queen Margaret’s University as part of the first Scottish conference for community archaeology. In September 2009 the Friends organised a local history weekend at which our Society was present to give local people an opportunity to enjoy and share material on display and an attendance of well over 300 showed much interest.

The Friends number about 35 but only a dozen or so are active and are struggling a bit at present to keep going and would welcome new members with new talents and experience. There is an annual subscription of £5.00. For further information contact the Friends of Coldingham Priory Secretary, Julia Carter. 

More details about the Parish of Coldingham.

This blog by Ronald Morrison.

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