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Thomas: Why have you brought me here? Two slabs of grey rock? Doesn’t look too big a deal to me.
Fiona: Well, yes, that’s maybe all you can see now, but it turns out this was a big deal 750 years ago and in fact, it still is. If we go inside the railings and get a bit nearer, can you see anything else?
Thomas: Hang on, it looks as though there aren’t just the slabs, but something around it, some decoration on the surrounding stones, maybe.
Fiona: Decoration fit for a queen actually, though I admit it is a bit of a stretch of the imagination. This is what’s left of the shrine of St Margaret and it’s here because one of our medieval queens, Queen Margaret, was made a saint in the middle of the 13th Century. Her great, great grandson, Alexander II, who was by now King of Scotland, persuaded Pope Innocent IV – are you keeping up with the numbers here? – he persuaded the Pope that she should be made a saint because she had led such a virtuous and devout life and because so many miracles were attributed to her.
Fiona: There are some historians who suggest that the Abbot here at the time was also only too happy to have a saint attached to the Abbey. In the middle ages, people wanting to lead a good and religious life would travel huge distances to visit the shrine of their favourite saint. And the church and the town wanted to encourage the extra trade and income from a steady stream of travel-weary pilgrims!
Fiona: Coming back to the shrine, when it was built, in 1250, it was probably highly decorated, painted in bright colours and surrounded by pillars and arches. Look, you can see some of the pillar bases around the edge, still here after all this time.
Thomas: It’s amazing you can see so much detail, and even touch and feel the stonework. But what’s it doing outside? Can’t have been very important if it’s not even inside the Abbey.
Fiona: Well, it did used to be inside, when the Abbey was originally built. It was placed at the high altar, the most important place in the church. But then in 1560, Scotland had a Reformation, and many of the symbols of the Roman Catholic Church, including this shrine, were defaced or destroyed. Fortunately, some of Margaret’s followers managed to spirit away her remains but the building and the shrine didn’t do so well, eventually, this part of the church fell down. 200 years ago, the Church of Scotland decided to rebuild and when it did, they probably decided to leave the shrine outside the new building so that anyone who wanted to visit it was able to do so at any time of day.
Thomas: I see. What’s that shape, set in the stone wall? It looks like a sort of bowl.
Fiona: I don’t think anyone’s really too sure, perhaps a place for the pilgrims to wash themselves or their offerings.
Thomas: But there is one bonus, now it’s outside. The bowl gets regularly replenished by Scotland’s generous natural resources!!
Thomas: Okay, if this was as big a deal as you say it is, who was this Margaret and how come she got to have this whole fancy shrine all to herself.