Scottish myths 12

The Stone of Destiny

The old Coronation Stone of Scone (referred to in Scottish myths 10) was last used in Scotland in 1292 for the coronation of John Balliol as king of the Scots. The English King, Edward I, known as the hammer of the Scots, (and persecutor of the Scottish hero William Wallace) invaded Scotland in 1296. Amongst other treasures he took the Stone which he considered was too strong a symbol of Scottish sovereignty. Perhaps he thought it held some power that could be put to better use in England. In any case it was decided that it should be taken to Westminster Abbey.
The famous Coronation Chair of Edward I was thus made, also in order that the Stone of Destiny be lodged beneath the seat of the throne. 

Although later in the 14th century King Edward III of England promised to return the Stone after the treaty of Northampton was established in 1328, the promise was never fulfilled.
British Prime Minister John Major, with the approval of Queen Elizabeth II, arranged that the Stone be finally returned on November 15th, 1996,  700 years later.

There are several legends however, which question the authenticity of the Stone. Some say it never left Ireland. Others say that it was originally white marble, beautifully carved with decorative figures. To further complicate the issue, copies have been made throughout the ages. Perhaps the most favourite Scottish allegation was that in the first place, Edward I triumphantly hauled away a fake.

I recently came across a story supporting this claim in Collins' A Book of Scotland, published in 1950. As such it seems a fitting addition to Scottish myths.

Ironically it could even be that the English accorded even more importance to the Stone than the Scots. Hence its being proudly retained and used for 700 years as part of the Coronation Chair of King Edward I.
As mentioned previously, the Stone of Destiny is an oblong block of red sandstone, weighing 152 kg. It measures 26 inches by 16 inches and is 10.5 inches deep. Chisel marks are still apparent on the flat top of the stone.

Tradition has it that the same Stone was the pillow of Jacob at Bethel. It was then presented as a pillar and anointed with oil. Jewish tradition then affirms that it became the pedestal of the ark in the Temple. The Stone was transported from Syria to Egypt by Gathelus, who following the advice of Moses who warned him of the plague and advised him to sail from the Nile (with his wife as well as the Stone) to Spain. Gathelus brought the Stone to Ireland after having invaded the country. It was later brought to the Abbey of Scone in Scotland where it was used for coronations of the 'Kings of Alba' and kept there until 1296, the year of England's invasion and the stone's confiscation by Edward I, and the British monarchy for 700 years.

According to the Earl of Mansfield whose family were the owners of the lands of Scone for more than three hundred years, the traditional belief for several generations was that between 1795 and 1820 a young farm labourer had been exploring with his friend in the region of Dunsinnan, where the site of Macbeth's castle was. There had been a violent storm, and the deluge had caused a landslide which revealed a deep fissure in the hillside. On seeing this the two youths managed to make torches they lit, in order to be able to explore the cave further.
They eventually came to the remains of a wall of an underground chamber. There was a stone stairway in one corner blocked by a mass of roots and debris, but in the centre of the chamber they came across an oblong stone covered with hieroglyphs. It was supported by four small pillars of stone.

Because there were no treasure chests or bejewelled medieval arms, the young men never realised the importance of their discovery. If they mentioned it at all, those they spoke to must have been just as unimpressed.
Years later however, one of them learnt of the story of the monks hiding the real Stone of Destiny and substituting it with another similar sized slab of stone found in the Annety Burn that Edward I jubilantly carried away. It then dawned on him the enormous importance of the discovery he had made with his friend.

As soon as he realised this he returned to Dunsinnan HIll, but perhaps the passage of time hindered his memory, or maybe there had been further land-slides that had changed the landscape and hidden the cavity. Whatever the cause, he never succeeded in finding the hillside opening again.

The obvious question was, why did the monks of Scone never return the 'real' Stone of Destiny to the abbey? But tradition explains that the risk of allowing the English to know that they had been tricked was considered far to great. Retribution was then cruel and enduring.
Naturally the secret of the monks was handed down, but landslides of circumstances somehow caused it to be eventually buried along with them all for posterity.

Nevertheless the story and tradition would also explain why the Coronation Stone, avidly held in Westminster Abbey for 700 years, is geologically similar to the stone one commonly finds in the region of Scone..
Scottish myths 13
Scottish myths 11

Forward and retelling © Mirino. Source- A Book of Scotland. Collins. Image- the Coronation chair of King Edward I (unknown photographer). With thanks. February, 2012

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