The Stone of Destiny
July 21, 2007 | 1 comment
There is one common thread that holds most monarchies together. Bloodlines, royal jewels, ceremonies, and associated pomp all boil down to a feeling of tradition that monarchies bring to their subjects. Often one, or more, of these elements become as important as the monarch themselves. The Stone of Scone, sometimes called the Stone of Destiny, can certainly be placed in this class. The Stone has been a part of the Scottish and English coronation ceremonies since at least 847. From looking at the Stone, one could not discern there was any importance to it at all. There is nothing physically remarkable about the stone, it is not jewel encrusted nor is it of any unusual material. As it appears today, it is a sandstone block measuring 26 inches long by 16 inches wide, and 10 1/2 inches deep.
However from the humble outward appearance, the Stone has a remarkable history. The first Scottish King Kenneth Mac Alpin was seated on the Stone of Scone during his coronation. The Stone helped crown all Scottish Kings, and John Balliol, until it was stolen by the English Army in 1296. There it rested in Westminster Abbey nearly tucked under Saint Edward’s chair. With the exception of Queen Mary II, all English sovereigns have used the Stone and Chair in their coronation ceremony. The Stone was finally returned to Scotland in 1996 and presently resides in Edinburgh Castle.
No one knows exactly why this particular stone should have been used in any coronation ceremony. History does not document the reasons behind the use of the Stone. One possible reason might be a connection to the veneration of stones seen throughout the UK. One has to go no further than Stonehenge or any of the other smaller stone circles that dot the country to draw this conclusion. However since no one has an exact answer to why these sites were important and to exactly whom, we’re back at square one.
That’s where tradition and lore come in. The prevalent tradition is that the Stone was used by the Biblical figure Jacob, as a pillow, on the night of his ladder dream. In Jewish tradition, Jacob’s pillow was used as the pedestal for the Ark of the Covenant in Solomon’s Temple. How the Stone got to Scotland isn’t very clear. Some have theorized that the Lost Tribe of Israel ended up in Scotland and brought it with them. Others think the Stone ended up in Ireland and was blessed by Saint Patrick. It was then used in Irish Kingdom of Dalriada from roughly 400 AD until 850 AD, when Kenneth I, the 36th King of Dalriada, moved his capital of his empire to Scone in Scotland.
To further muck up the crypto-history of the Stone are the assertions that the Stone that rests in Edinburgh Castle today is a fake. In 1296, Edward I of England led an army into Scotland to crush the rebellion. After sacking Edinburgh Castle and stealing the Scottish Crown Jewels, Edward made no attempt to hide that his next target was to procure the Stone of Scone. From the beginning of the campaign, Edward took three months to make the way to Scone. This was more than enough time to hide the original stone.
As lore would have it, the monks at Scone Palace did just that. When Edward’s army plundered the Palace at Scone they recovered a Stone, but was it the right one? One legend presented in a recent Scotsman article
asserts that, “The stone is not the original as the original was marble. It was actually the septic tank cover at Aborath Abbey…Generations of English kings have since been crowned while sitting on the medieval equivalent of a lavy pan lid.” It wouldn’t be the first time the religious men of Scotland hid items of importance from the invading English. Bishop Wishart hid the coronation vestments in his treasury until Robert the Bruce was crowned King in 1306.
Supposedly, the monks of Scone hid the real Stone in the River Tay or buried it on Dunsinane Hill. Another tales says that Angus Og Macdonald was given the Stone and hid it either on Skye or in the Hibrides. A descendant of Macdonald’s, Iain Alasdair Macdonald, contacted Scottish historian Nigel Tranter claiming that he was in possession of the true Stone. Add in a few stories of farmers finding a washed out caves that were the hiding place of the true Stone, and you have no discernable proof any of the stories are accurate.
The other twist to the story of the Stone is that it might be a double fake. In 1950, a group of four Scottish college students broke into Westminster Abby to steal the Stone and bring it back to Scotland. The students belonged to a group called the Scottish Covenant Association, whose ultimate goal was to gain public support for Scottish independence from England. On Christmas Day, the three of the group entered the Abbey and removed the Stone. The liberators conducted a near perfect crime; aside from breaking the Stone in half and crushing two toes of one unlucky student.
The group eventually made their way out of England and returned it to Scotland. It remained hidden until April of the following year. The Stone was left on the altar in the Aborath Abbey, fully repaired. Police investigations found that stonemason Robert Gray had repaired the Stone taken from Westminster in the intervening months. Some think that Gray switched the Westminster Stone and helped return a forgery. In the 1930’s Gray had produced a number of replicas of the Stone to sell as a kitsch item.
Now enter the Knights Templar. One knows by now that there can’t be any tale of any historical medieval mystery that doesn’t include the Templars. In 1999 a curious offer was made to the Scottish Parliament. A group of modern day Knights Templar claimed they were in possession of the Stone and would return it if Parliament wished. A 33 pound stone, decorated with a single Latin Cross, had been in the care of Rev Dr John MacKay Nimmo for decades before the Stone’s return to Scotland. Nimmo was a Chevalier of the Knights Templar of Scotland and a Church of Scotland minister and died in 1999. According to his Nimmo’s wife, it was his wish the Stone be returned to the Scottish Parliament. The Templars made the request on her behalf. Where the Nimmo’s stone came from is not quite clear. Nimmo’s Stone was then given over to the Church in Dull, Perthshire for safe keeping.
So the possibility exists that the Stone in Edinburgh Castle is a forgery of the Westminster Stone, which was a forgery of the original Stone. Anecdotal evidence can sway the argument to any of these points of view. There are some early references to the stone being marble and having “strange carvings” across its body. This of course fits with none of the versions of the Stone story thus presented and would lead one to believe the true Stone is tucked away somewhere. And there’s the near dying declaration of Margaret Pearl Cook, one of the founders of the Scottish Nationalist Party, that she knew the Westminster Stone was a fake. Cook also asserted to a nephew that she knew the location of the true Stone, but supposedly never told the whereabouts of it before she passed away.
Interest in the Stone never quite seems to fade away. This month there is an archeological study being preformed at Scone Palace. It will be interesting to see if they find anything that will clear up any of the questions that are out there about the Stone’s history. And if you thought this article was too long, there will be a movie released sometime in the next year about the 1950 liberation of the Westminster Stone.
One thing is a certainty; the Stone of Scone has become a Holy Grail in its own right. Men and women have fought to possess it or to obscure it from those unworthy to lay claim to the Stone. In the end, what could follow the basic theme behind the Grail than that?Brian Kannard is a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason that lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and fellow Grail Seeker Laura, and his son Robert. His keen interest in topics on the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar, and Freemasonry are also chronicled his blog Grail Seekers. Brian can be contacted here at Unexplained Mysteries under the user name of Grail Seekers.