Scheduled Monument

Isle of May PriorySM838

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
Ecclesiastical: burial ground, cemetery, graveyard; priory
Local Authority
Anstruther Wester
NT 65878 99014
365878, 699014


The monument consists of the upstanding and excavated remains of the Benedictine priory of the Isle of May, which is traditionally said to be on the site of a community established by St Ethernan or Adrian in the ninth century. The structure now known to have been the west range of the priory was scheduled as St Adrian's Chapel in July 1958, but recent excavations on behalf of Fife Regional Council and its successor, Fife Council, have revealed the plan and parts of the structures of much of the rest of the complex, and the scheduled area has to be extended to encompass these.

The main upstanding part of the monument, the west range, still stands to two storeys and survives through having been adapted for domestic occupation after the abandonment of the rest of the priory. Its adaptation involved the addition of a three-quarter round south-western tower and an internal floor and subdivisions.

The church, on the north side of the cloister area, was a rectangular structure in its final state, though evidence has been found of at least two earlier underlying structures of more complex two-cell plan. The east conventual range was presumably of two storeys; at its lower level it had a chamber (the chapter house?) next to the church, with an undercroft divided longitudinally by columns to the south. The south range, which was presumably the refectory, is the most fragmentary part of the complex. South of the junction of the east and south ranges evidence was found for the mouths of a drain, which presumably served the reredorter on the upper floor.

There are indications of further structures south of the main complex and of an extensive burial ground to the north.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, defined along its east and west flanks by existing field boundaries. The southernmost point is on the west field wall, 62m south of the change in angle of that wall. From there the southern limit of the area passes 55m in a north-easterly direction to meet up with the east field wall. It then runs 58m in a north-westerly direction along the wall to its change of direction, and then runs a further 22m northwards with the wall. From there it crosses westwards for 30m to meet up again with the west field wall, and thence southwards along that wall to join the starting point. The walls themselves are excluded from scheduling. The area to be scheduled is marked in red on the accompanying map extract.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance as one of the best illustrations of the ways in which the ideals of monastic planning might be adopted to meet the needs of a poorly endowed religious community on a marginally viable and relatively inaccessible site. It derives added significance from the fact that it was a site hallowed by its associations with early religious recluses and with early missionary activity in eastern Scotland. Although now extensively excavated it is likely that further investigations of the area around the priory itself carry the potential for greatly enhancing our understanding of the economic background of monastic life on such sites.



Cowan, I. and Easson, D, 'Medieval Religious Houses, Scotland', 1976, p. 59-60.

Duncan, A. A. M., 'Documents relating to the priory of the isle of May', Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot. 1956-7, 52-80.

Stewart, J. (ed.), 'Records of the priory of the isle of May',1868.

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).

The format of scheduled monument records has changed over time. Earlier records will usually be brief. Some information will not have been recorded and the map will not be to current standards. Even if what is described and what is mapped has changed, the monument is still scheduled.

Scheduled monument consent is required to carry out certain work, including repairs, to scheduled monuments. Applications for scheduled monument consent are made to us. We are happy to discuss your proposals with you before you apply and we do not charge for advice or consent. More information about consent and how to apply for it can be found on our website at

Find out more about scheduling and our other designations at You can contact us on 0131 668 8914 or at


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