Scheduled Monument

Dunfermline AbbeySM90116

Status: Designated


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The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Supplementary Information Updated
Ecclesiastical: abbey; burial ground, cemetery, graveyard; chapel; church; claustral remains; cloisters; gateway; monastery; priory
Local Authority
NT 08900 87200
308900, 687200


The monument is the remains of buildings and archaeological deposits associated with Dunfermline Abbey. The buildings include parts of the refectory, dormitory range, latrines, gatehouse, kitchen and royal palace, but not the upstanding parts of the abbey church. The buried archaeological remains include foundations of early churches beneath the abbey church nave and numerous royal burials below the modern church of 1818. Some buried remains may date to as early as the 10th century. Most of the standing structures included in the scheduled monument date from the 13th to 16th centuries. The monument lies 85m above sea level, on the south slope of high ground overlooking Pittencrieff Park.

Queen Margaret established a monastery dedicated to the Holy Trinity around 1070. Excavations in 1916 show that the church was about 26m long, with a west tower, nave and an apse at the east end, resembling Anglo-Saxon church buildings. It was replaced when David I built a new abbey church between 1128 and 1150. Much of the nave of his church survives as a roofed building (the above ground parts excluded from the scheduled monument). The east end collapsed after the reformation, but evidence of the foundations is expected to survive below ground. It was replaced by a new parish church of 1818, designed by William Burn (above ground parts also excluded from the scheduled monument). To the east of the parish church are the lower walls of a small shrine chapel built to house the remains of Queen Margaret and her husband Malcolm Canmore after her canonization in 1251. Two blocks of dark grey stone indicate the site of her tomb.

South of the church, the lower storeys of the south end of the dormitory and latrine ranges survive. They probably date from the later 13th century. The south and west walls of the refectory as rebuilt about 1329 stand to full height, as does the 15th century gatehouse built over the main entrance to the monastic precinct at the southwest angle of the refectory. The core of the guest house, on the southwest side of the abbey's outer courtyard, is of similar date to the refectory. However, this range was probably altered and extended to the northwest around 1500 for James IV and remodeled later in the 16th century for James V.  Around 1589 it was adapted to form a palace for James VI's queen, Anne of Denmark.

To the northwest of the abbey church, where the ground slopes steeply to the west, the monument includes a medieval wall supported by five buttresses, pierced by two levels of rectangular windows now mostly blocked. It appears to be the substructure of a range of buildings associated with the outer courtyard of the abbey church, probably an ancillary building such as a guest house, rather than part of the chapel of St Catherine, as traditions suggests. Excavations on St Catherine's Wynd in 1993 located foundations associated with these walls. Additional structures lie to the south of the monastic buildings, on ground sloping steeply down to the Tower Burn, associated with the watercourse known as  The Lead - the mill lade. These are the remains of three mills in existence by the 16th century, using the system of water courses created for the abbey, and potentially on the site of the abbey's mills.

The monument also includes an area around the standing buildings where other buried remains of the monastery and early post-Reformation structures are expected. The north part of the graveyard may have been in use since the 11th century, while an area to the southeast is the probable site of the monks' cemetery. To the west of the abbey is the site of the 17th century 'Queen's House'. 

The scheduled area is irregular in plan, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling includes the ground beneath the Abbey Church nave and the Parish Church of 1818, but specifically excludes all above ground elements of the present church buildings extending down from the base of the floor slabs and all existing service ducts. The scheduling excludes the above ground elements of the graveyard toolhouse and of the steps leading into the church buildings. The scheduling excludes plots where rights of burial exist and the above ground elements of all gravestones and burial enclosures in the graveyard and the war memorial but does include St Margaret's Shrine. The scheduling excludes the above ground elements of all modern structures including boundary walls, steps, fences, gates, fixtures and fittings, signs, lights and street furniture. The scheduling excludes the top 200mm of all surfaced paths, tracks and yards. In 2017, the scheduling was amended to include the Heugh Mills and the remains in Pittencrieff Glen northwest of the abbey church, formerly separate scheduled monuments (SM9285 and SM9279).

Statement of National Importance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows

Intrinsic Characteristics

This monument is the remains of the first Benedictine monastery built in Scotland. It was founded by Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm Canmore, about AD 1070 and raised to the status of an abbey by David I in 1128. The choir and crossing of the abbey church, an area now lying beneath the parish church, represents the most important of Scotland's royal burial places.

The abbey contains parts of impressive conventual buildings from the 13th and 14th centuries and a major 16th century royal palace. Buried archaeological remains supplement the visible features, indicating the location and form of other structures and offering high potential to understand many details of monastic life. The architectural features in the standing structures can support a detailed understanding of the form and development of the main buildings and their architectural influences. Buried archaeological remains can provide much additional information about the layout, development and character of the site. Some of this potential is demonstrated by the excavations of 1916, beneath the floor of the abbey church nave, which located foundations of two earlier buildings.

Dunfermline Abbey had an extended development sequence. The church and conventual buildings were adapted many times, reflecting changing architectural tastes and the need to rebuild after events such as the destruction of the conventual buildings by Edward I of England. The guest house probably always served as a royal residence, but in the 16th century it was developed as a major royal palace. There is high potential to refine the chronology and understanding of the abbey's development, using scientific dating of buried remains alongside architectural and artefact studies.

The burial ground has potential for graves from the 11th century to the modern era; excavations outside the scheduled area to the north revealed well preserved medieval burials in the garden of Abbot House. There is potential for scientific study of human burials that can inform understanding of diet, disease, stature, age and cause of death over a long time period. The monument offers significant potential to gain a better understanding of monasticism in Scotland, and its relationship with the projection of royal power.

There is also potential to explore how the economy and character of the abbey changed through time. Its function changed at the reformation, when the nave of the abbey church took on a new role as a parish church, and buildings were put up adjoining the west front. Artefacts such as pottery and metalwork together with plant and animal remains can provide evidence for the daily life of the monks and for their economy and trading contacts. There is also potential to study ancillary buildings relating to the monks' use of the site, including mills

Contextual Characteristics

Dunfermline Abbey is one of the most important medieval monasteries in Scotland and has very high rarity value. It predates most other Scottish medieval monasteries, being founded in the late 11th century when true monastic life was almost non-existent. The first monks were sent from Canterbury, and the early church foundations preserved beneath the nave probably reflect this influence. The monastery was greatly expanded by David I, and can be compared with other major abbeys he endowed at Melrose and Jedburgh (Scheduled Monument References 90214 and 13126). David probably used masons from Durham, but the church may reflect the influence of buildings as far away as Selby in Yorkshire and Waltham in Essex (Fawcett 2004).

As well as being an important monastery, Dunfermline has high significance as the chosen burial place of the Canmore dynasty of Scottish kings. It took on the role of Royal Mausoleum after the loss of Iona to the kingdom of Norway. Kings and Queens believed to lie buried beneath the abbey church include Queen Margaret and King Malcolm III, David I, and Robert I. The site is unparalleled in Scotland as a royal burial place, serving this role for over 250 years. After 1371, the Stewart dynasty chose to be buried elsewhere. Dunfermline can be compared with later royal burial places including the abbeys of Holyrood, Paisley and Scone (Fawcett 2004).

The Stewarts retained an interest in Dunfermline however, and James IV, V, and VI were probably responsible for extensive works to the main guest house which continued to serve as a royal palace. This building is comparable with other important palaces of the Stewart Kings and Queens, including Falkland and Linlithgow (Scheduled Monument References SM854 and SM13099).

The Abbey stands on high ground and is particularly impressive when viewed from the south and southwest. It is possible that an early high status residence lay to the west of the abbey in the vicinity of the later medieval stone footings known as Malcolm Canmore's Tower in Pittencrieff Park (Scheduled Monument Reference SM5287). Historical sources refer to an 'oppidum' or small defenced settlement at Dunfermline in 1067/70 when Malcolm Canmore and Margaret were married. A medieval settlement grew just north of the abbey, and Dunfermline became a burgh during the reign of David I (1124-1153). The medieval street plan remains visible today and it is still possible to appreciate the close relationship between the town and abbey.

Associative Characteristics

The form of the monument has been influenced by many historical, cultural and social influences, including the beliefs of the Benedictine monks who built and developed the abbey, and those of the Scottish Kings who endowed it. The abbey buildings had an important role in the projection of Scottish royal power. David I had travelled widely in England, growing up at the court of his brother-in-law Henry I. His aim in developing Dunfermline Abbey was probably to create a complex to rival English monasteries and cathedrals, larger and more sophisticated than any group of buildings in Scotland at the time.

The abbey ruins continue to be impressive buildings and have strong aesthetic attributes, forming a picturesque and Romantic grouping. The palace is particularly imposing when the south-west elevation is seen from Pittencrieff Park. The buildings were portrayed by Slezer around 1693, who shows elements such as the west cloister range that are no longer standing,
Dunfermline Abbey is important in the national consciousness as the burial place of Scottish Kings including David I and Robert I (The Bruce).

Statement of national importance

This monument can make a significant addition to the understanding and appreciation of the past, particularly of medieval abbeys and royal burial places. It contains remains of Scotland's first Benedictine monastery, most important royal mausoleum, and a major royal palace. There are also ancillary buildings and remains of mills with potential to tell us about the monastery's industrial activities. The upstanding buildings retain their structural and decorative characteristics to a marked degree and there are associated buried archaeological remains below and around them with high potential to enhance knowledge and understanding of the site. The abbey buildings would have been dominant in the historic landscape and continue to make a major contribution to today's landscape. The physical remains of the abbey are supplemented by rich documentary and historical records that add to the understanding of the monastery and its development over time. The potential of abbeys to contribute to an understanding of the past would be seriously diminished if the monument were lost or damaged. The remains of Dunfermline Abbey hold a prominent place in the national consciousness as the burial place of Scottish Kings, including David I and Robert 'The Bruce'.



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE IDs 49319, 49323, 49324, 49326, 49337, 49351, 49396, 49407, 49423, 72516, 222731 (accessed on 23/03/2017).

Cowan, I B and Easson D E, 1976 Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, London

Dunbar, J G, 1999 Scottish Royal Palaces, Historic Scotland.

Fawcett, R, 2004 Dunfermline Abbey and Palace, Historic Scotland Official Guide, Edinburgh.

Fernie, J, 1815 A History of the Town and Palace of Dunfermline.

Torrie, P, 1994 The Capital in the Kingdom: The Archaeology of Medieval Dunfermline, Fife Regional Council.

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About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Scheduling is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for monuments and archaeological sites of national importance as set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We schedule sites and monuments that are found to be of national importance using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Scheduled monument records provide an indication of the national importance of the scheduled monument which has been identified by the description and map. The description and map (see ‘legal documents’ above) showing the scheduled area is the designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The statement of national importance and additional information provided are supplementary and provided for general information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within the statement of national importance or additional information. These records are not definitive historical or archaeological accounts or a complete description of the monument(s).

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Dunfermline Abbey, looking southwest towards the Frater Hall on a dull day
Dunfermline Abbey gatehouse on a dull day.

Printed: 18/04/2024 15:09