King David I founded the Augustinian priory on the banks of the Jed Water in 1138 (or possibly earlier) to demonstrate to his own subjects - and to those in England - that he could create a magnificent building in the southernmost part of his kingdom. Its position, on the steeply sloping banks of the river, allowed the monks to create the huge cross-shaped plan of nave, presbytery and transepts in a prominent position while the cloister, chapter house, cellars and other accommodation could be built on lower levels - leaving the flowing arches of the nave to dominate the site. The model of a monk shown in the graphic to the right is dressed as in the Augustinian Order.
Construction - and Destruction
Made from local stone, it took over 100 years to complete the abbey. In the same century as it was completed, the devastation of the "Wars of Independence" swept through the Borders (and beyond) as King Edward I and his successors regarded destroying castles and abbeys alike as ways of demonstrating who was in charge. Like the other Border abbeys of Kelso, Melrose and Dryburgh, Jedburgh was badly damaged and rebuilt several times. The final crunch came in the 1540s when King Henry VIII demanded that his son, the future Edward VI of England (aged 10) should marry Mary Queen of Scots (then aged 5) - a time known as the "Rough Wooing". In 1547 the English army defeated the Scots at Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, near Edinburgh. It is estimated that 15,000 Scots were killed, 1500 captured and English losses amounted to only 500.
Immediately after the damage inflicted by the English army at that time, Scotland went through a period of religious reformation which saw an end of the dominance of the Roman Catholic church - and all its symbols, including abbeys and monasteries. So Jedburgh and many other similar buildings were never rebuilt. However, it was used as a parish church. In the late 19th century, when a new parish church was built on the other side of the Jed Water, the Marquis of Lothian paid for major repairs to be carried out and when the great abbey was taken into State care in 1913, it was in better shape than many of its sister abbeys in the Borders.
Jedburgh Abbey Today
Jedburgh Abbey is now in the care of Historic Scotland who are to be congratulated not only on the preservation work which they have undertaken but also creating an excellent visitor centre in the grounds with displays and information. This is carefully situated so that it does not intrude in the many photographs which are taken of this magnificent building.
The illustration on the right shows how the abbey may have looked in its prime.
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