Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Stone and the Spirit of Independence

The most recent marketing campaign by Angus Council attempting to entice tourists into the county boasts that Angus is the birthplace of Scotland.  How true that may be is a matter for debate and their consciences, but it was doubtless inspired by the fact that the Abbot of Arbroath wrote, or at least sponsored, the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320, addressed to the Pope and expressing the case for Scottish independence and voicing support for their chosen king, Robert Bruce:

From... countless evils we have been set free, by the help of Him Who though He afflicts yet heals and restores, by our most tireless Prince, King and Lord, the Lord Robert.He, that his people and his heritage might be delivered out of the hands of our enemies, met toil and fatigue, hunger and peril, like another Macabaeus or Joshua and bore them cheerfully.Him, too, divine providence, his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our Prince and King.To him, as to the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by law and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand.Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself..Given at the monastery of Arbroath in Scotland on the sixth day of the month of April in the year of grace thirteen hundred and twenty and the fifteenth year of the reign of our King aforesaid.


   It was on the site of the altar of Arbroath Abbey that the Stone of Destiny was surrendered, on 11th April 1951, after having been daringly liberated from Westminster Abbey. The custodian of the abbey, James Wishart, gained a degree of fame in the press for finding the iconic stone, though not to the same extent as those students who brought the slab back from England. Wishart was approached by a group of three men who had carried an object covered by the Scottish flag. He asked if it was the Stone of Destiny and was told it was. The custodian remained with the stone until the police came to recover it. In my possession I have an old Ministry of Works Guide to Arbroath Abbey, with a photograph signed by Mr Wishart, showing the spot where the stone was deposited.

   The Stone of Scone was borne away, ultimately returned to the Abbey. But there were rumours that the stone which was returned was not the original Stone. The mystery of the whereabouts of the relic inspired widespread mystery. For some reason, American reporter Joseph Flanagan believed that the stone had been taken to the island of Iona, and journeyed there to find it, but all he discovered in January 1951 was knowing smiles. Was the rediscovered Stone of Destiny a duplicate and a fraud? Remember that there had been tales which said the stone which Edward I of England was allowed to take from Scone Abbey was a monkish copy.

   Enter the Scottish Knights Templars and the pro-independence 1320 Club, who in the 1970s said that they had access to the ‘real’ Stone of Destiny.  This version of the story says that the stone was taken from Westminister Abbey in the late 16th century and spirited back to Scotland.  It ended up in St Columba’s Church, Logie Street, Dundee (across the road from the ancient Logie Kirk), under thecare of Rev David Nimmo.  The Stone of Destiny (or perhaps it was a copy made in the 1950s to fool the police?) was displayed in the kirk behind bars.  What is the truth and who knows?  The kirk was demolished in the early 1990s and replaced by a nursing home and the Stone was moved away elsewhere.

Programme of the 1950 Pageant at Arbroath Abbey.

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