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The Stone of Destiny

Symbol of a Nation

At a secluded spot, at the water's edge of a Scottish river lies a stone, similar to that depicted in the Great Seal of King Alexander II.  Could this be the missing Stone of Destiny? And why would that question even be asked?  This is the story of a nation, to which the legend of the Stone is inextricably linked, and the story of those who seek to maintain the relevance of the Scottish nation in the 21st Century.

Nigel Tranter is credited with bringing attention to the “Stone of Destiny”, referred to for a long period as the “Stone of Scone”, but it was probably W F Skene in his book “Coronation Stone: The Stone of Scone : The Stone of Destiny” in 1869.

Legend has it that the Scots came originally from Greece via Egypt, Spain and Ireland.  There is a reference to the origin of the Scots in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320
"They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today."

As with all legends there is an element of truth here.  Some philologists have suggested “Scot” possibly comes from “Sídhe”, the mythological name of the fairy folk of Ireland from. “Scuith” or “Scyth”, from “Scythia”, the same as the source of “Bean-sídhe” or “Banshee”.  It is generally accepted that the Scots came from Ireland.

Further reference was made to the legend of the origin of the Scots in the second half of the 14th Century “Chronicle of the Scottish Nation”, by John of Fordun, edited by the same W F Skene.  John of Fordun was a  church scholar.  He was probably born in Fordoun, Kincardineshire, and was a priest in Aberdeen Cathedral.  After years of study, visiting monasteries throughout the British Isles he wrote the “Chronica Gentis Scotorum”, using as his sources the sixth-century Welsh monk, Gildas, William of Malmesbury and Geoffrey of Monmouth.  These scholars are more usually associated with the story of King Arthur.

The Chronicle starts with the then received history of the world starting with the descendants of Noah.  Here, as in the Declaration of Arbroath was an argument for Scotland’s place in the world, and its royal status was to come with the story of Gathelus and Scota, Gathelus a Greek Prince, a warrior engaged by Pharaoh, and of his bride, Scota or Scotia.  The time scale is that of Exodus, and starts their journey through North Africa to Spain, on to Ireland, and finally to Scotland.

Gathelus was described as a Greek prince, exiled after incurring his father's displeasure, he and his followers  found refuge in Egypt where their military prowess earned them the Pharaoh's favour and ultimately the hand of his daughter Scota in marriage.  To honour their princess his people were known as the "Scots".  It is said that they took their leave of Egypt when Pharaoh began persecuting the Israelites.

After Gathelus and Scota their people left Egypt, they sailed west across the Mediterranean and on into Spain.  There, Scota bore two sons, Hiberus and Himecus.  In time they became too successful and made too many enemies, and so searched for a new land, finding and settling in Ireland.  Hiberus became popular and for a long time Ireland bore his name, Hibernia.  Gathelus died in Ireland, and many years later, his descendant Rothsay lead his people to the Islands off the West Coast of Scotland where on the Isle of Bute the town of Rothesay still bears his name, and finally to the mainland of Scotland, the country that finally took their name after they defeated the Picts.

Scota was said to be an Israelite princess, who brought with her the sacred object of Jacob’s pillow.  This is referred to in the Book of Genesis Chapter 28, verses 10-18:

10. And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.
11. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
12. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
13. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
14. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
15. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
16. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.
17. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
18. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.”

This pillow of stone later becomes known as the Stone of Destiny, in Gaelic, Lia Fail.

There are further references to this tale. Baldred Bisset wrote in the 14th Century:"The daughter of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, with an armed band, and a large fleet, goes to Ireland, and there being joined by a body of Irish, she sails to Scotland, taking with her the royal seat, which he, the King of England, with other insignia of the Kingdom of Scotland, carried with him, by violence, to England."

 “Wintownis Chironikel”, written in St. Serf's monastery, of Inch, Loch Leven, about 1420 records:

"A gret Stane this Kynge than had
That for this Kynge's Sete was made;
And haldyne was a great Jowale
Wytht in the kynryk of Spayne hale.
This King bad this Simon (Brec) ta
That Stane, and in-tyl Yrland ga,
And wyn that land and occupy
And halde that Stane perpetually,
And make it his Sege thare
As thai of Spayne did it of are,
p. 315
Broucht this Stane wytht in Scotland
Fyrst gwhen he came and wane that land,
And fyrst we set in Ikkolmkil,
And Scune pare estyr it wes broucht tyl;
And there it was syne mony day,
Qwhyll Edward gert have it away,
Nor will I the werd rehars
As I fynd of that Stane in wers;
Ne fallat fatum, Scoti quocung locatum,
Invenient Lapidem, regnare tenentur ibidem;
But gyf werdys faly hand be,
Qwhare euer that Stane yhe segyt se
Thare sall the Scottis be regnand,
And Lorddys hale oure all that Land."

Once again, philologists suggest an connection between language and legend.  The population which moved from Iberia to Ireland were known as Milesians or Goidils.  Their language developed into Gaoidhealg and is now written in English as Gaelic.  The peoples of the North West and West of the Peninsula are Celts, and the country of Portugal some say means the “Port of the Gael”. 

A later work records: "…whereof history relates that it is the stone whereon Jacob is said to have lain his head in the Plain of Luga; and that it was brought to Brigantia (Corunna) in the Kingdom of Spain, in which place Gathol, King of Scots, sat on it as his throne. Thence it was brought into Ireland by Simon Brec, first King of Scots, about 700 years before Christ's time, and from thence into Scotland about 300 years before Christ, and in A.D. 850 was placed in the Abbey Scone."

In 1296, after defeating William Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk, Edward I of England removed the Stone from Scone Abbey and had it installed in the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey.

There it stayed, even though the Treaty of Northampton in 1328, by which England recognised the legitimacy of the the Kingdom of Scotland specifically provided for its return. until 1950, when, early on Christmas Morning, as reported in a BBC Radio Documentary in 2007, it was removed by four Scottish students, Ian Hamilton, Kay Matheson,
Gavin Vernon and Alan Stuart, and hidden in Scottish Knight Templar, Baillie Robert Gray’s stonemason’s yard off Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.  At least one copy was made.  As the police started to close in, in  April 1951, the Stone was left draped in a Saltire on the ruined altar of Arbroath Abbey, recovered, and returned to Scotland in 1996 and is now on display in Perth Museum.  Ian Hamilton subsequently confirmed that the Stone returned was the original and not a copy.  The copy that remained in Baillie Gray’s yard become an embarrassment.  It appeared one morning in 1965 Parliament Square in Edinburgh, and after the authorities showed no interest, it was taken into the care of Church of Scotland Minister and Scottish Knight Templar, the Reverend John Mackay Nimmo, who installed it in 1972 in his Church, St Columba’s in Dundee.  A plaque placed on the iron cage protecting it read: “LIA FAIL The Stone of Destiny has been set here. An appropriate place for a symbol so venerable and significant in Scottish history. It has been given into the keeping of the Minister and Kirk Session of St (Columcille) Columba's Parish Church, Dundee, by the 1320 Club in association with Baillie (Municipal Officer and Magistrate) Robert Gray, of Glasgow, who helped to place the (fake) Stone in Arbroath Abbey on 12th April, 1951.” In 1989, when Church was to be demolished as a result of dry rot, a group of Scottish Knights Templar removed it to the Church at Dull in Perthshire, which they owned, but since it was sold, it has been in the care of a Member of the Order.  This has given rise to the modern myth that the Scottish Knights Templar are the true Guardians of the Stone of Destiny.

It has long been suggested that King Edward I was deceived into taking the sandstone cover of a mediaeval cess pit to London with him, rather than the true stone. 
One well known illustration of the Stone is in the Seal of King Alexander II.  It is interesting to note that the Stone that long resided in Westminster Abbey does not match the Stone in the Seal?  Perhaps this is why the Scots did not insist on the return of that Stone after the Treat of Northampton in 1328 specifically provided for its return.  Studies on behalf of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1996 and 1998 describe the stone as approximately 0.670m x 0.420m x 0.265m (
26in x 16in x 11in)weighing 152kg (336lb) and an analysis of its compostion indicates it composed of sandstone quarried in Perthshire.  John of Fordun describes a marble chair (Iona Marble?) and the older tales speak of a basalt pillow or pillar.
W F Skene, in his1869 work “The Coronation Stone: The Stone of Scone : The Stone of Destiny" came to the conclusion that there was no evidence to support the legend that the Stone was Jacob’s Pillow, and if such a Stone existed, it is lost forever, though perhaps it was hidden where we found it, amongst others stones at the edge of a river? 

Significantly there is no representation of the Westminster Abbey Stone in Great Seal of Scotland.

A mixture of fact and legend suggests that there were several stones in Scotland that could be termed “Coronation Stone” or “Stone of Destiny”, and a number of people claim to know of its secret location.  We can identify two, the one in Perth Museum, and the copy in private care, which still insist is the original , but the strongest possibility is that the Stone now in Edinburgh Castle was a good piece of deception by the Scots in 1296.  The real importance of the Stone in the modern period was as evidence of the nationhood of the Scots.  Part of the reason for the revival of interest now is that for a variety of reasons the sense of Scottish nationhood is reviving again.  In the latter part of the 14th Century there was no need to recover the Stone from Westminster.  It had served its purpose then, Scotland had become recognised as an independent nation and it has a place in the world today that belies the size of its population and its geography.  The children of Scota, the world over remember their origins, and the influence of this cradle of culture and democracy reverberates around the world.  In short, there will always be times when we will need our Stone to remind us who we are, and where we come from.


BBC Radio 4 The Archive Hour: The Stone of Destiny,
Saturday 5 May 2007 20:00-21:00
Bruce's Secret Weapon by Archie McKerracher The Scots Magazine June 1991
Chapter 6, Common Law among the Irish
Columba of Kells and Iona by JAH
Hansard, House of Lords Debates 11th March 1952
Scottish History Genealogy True Identity http://www.scottish-history-genealogy-true-identity.co.uk
The Chronicle of the Scottish Nation by John of Fordun, 1363, edited by William F Skene, 1871-1872 ISBN
The Coronation Stone: The Stone of Scone : The Stone of Destiny by
William F Skene, 1878 ISBN 0899791018

The Lia Fail, or The Stone Of Destiny.
The Mythology of Ancient Britain and Ireland, Chapter I, The Celts and their Mythology
The Stone of Destiny, Artefact and Icon edited by Richard Welander, David J Breeze and Thomas Owen Clancy, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Monograph Series Number 22 ISBN 0-903903-22-9

The Wee Magic Stane
Ian Hamilton on Stone of Destiny: I felt I was holding Scotland's soul - Telegraph

Stone of Destiny (2008)
Ian Hamilton QC Ian Hamilton's Blog