We didn’t go to the Roman Catholic Cathedral where the relics of St Andrew are now housed. We were here to see the ancient places where they had once been… lost now to time, buried perhaps somewhere in the vast graveyard of the precinct by a devout monk determined to save them from those who would despoil them… or perhaps taken secretly to Rome for safe keeping.
A memorial cross of Celtic design was framed between the points of the tower as we walked up to the Abbey. We were pleased by this… the crosses had turned out to be a major part of what we were doing and had been so, if we thought about it, since a foray with the camera before Christmas. Back then, we didn’t really realise… now, we were beginning to. This trip had proved itself to be all about the stones and we were about to find stones enough to keep us occupied for quite some time…
“It’s a ruin.” The disappointment in my Companion’s voice was patent. We’re not all that much into ruins… unless there is something inherently special about them. Although, technically, many of the sites we love are ruins; the old stones of the circles thrown down or removed, the landscapes reshaped by the plough. But somehow where the land itself still makes its presence felt, it doesn’t matter.
The monumental skeletons of Abbey and Castle do not attract us as much as the continuous history we find in the little churches and the flower-decked circles that we find where the touch of the sacred is still warm in the stones. There is a sanctity in the earth itself that makes itself known to those who come with open heart and mind.
We entered the precinct, still the most imposing and complete monastic enclosure in Scotland, recognising at once the Romanesque arches of the twelfth century. The tall tower still remaining and looking like some medieval space ship, shows how magnificent this place must have been… and how visible it would have been from land and sea.
The Abbey was begun around AD1160 and work continued over the next hundred and fifty years. The dedication was held 1318, in the presence of King Robert I… Robert the Bruce… who was buried at Dunfermline where we had been the day before. It was by far the largest church in Scotland at that time. You could see that even today… the place was huge.
The ruins themselves are beautiful and much remains, including the eastern gable of the presbytery where the relics of St Andrew were once kept in reverence. The relics had probably been brought to Britain by St Augustine in AD597, though legend says that it was St Rule who brought them from Patras in Greece to the little town of Kirrymont, later named St Andrews in honour of the first-called of the Apostles.
The shrine became a major place of pilgrimage, second only to Compostella, thus assuring its place in both spiritual and political history. Yet the Abbey buildings we now explored had not existed at that time, and we were, all unbeknownst to us, about to walk back through even further centuries of faith and history.