DAVID I founded the first reformed-order abbey in Britain at Selkirk in
1113, but in 1126 the Tironensians (or Black Monks) who made up the house
moved to Kelso, where they build one of the most remarkable and puzzling
works of architecture in Scotland. Although a written description of the
abbey survived from the 15th century, it is not clear how the complex
looked. It was double-cruciform in the Romanesque style, having four
transepts instead of the usual two, and two towers instead of one; and it
was surely the most stunning building in the nation at its height. But its
layout and design remain a topic of discussion.
King James II was crowned there in 1437, and so was his son, James III, in
1460. A bishop of St Andrews felt so closely affiliated to Kelso that he
had his remains buried there instead of in his own cathedral.
After much hard use during the Wars of Independence, Kelso had to be
abandoned for a time. Among other attacks the most serious were in 1522,
1545 and 1547. In the 1545 Rough Wooing campaign the Earl of Hertford
massacred 112 men who defended the abbey, including 12 monks.
By the time of the Reformation there were only a few monks left, and they
were allowed to remain in their home once they transferred to the new
faith. By 1587 they were all dead; but the abbey was not abandoned because
part of the church continued in use by the parish
Much of the post-Reformation work was removed by the time the Ministry of
Works took the ruin into care in 1919, but the ravages of time and
stone-robbing means very little remains of Kelso Abbey today. The small
corner of church in existence can only hint at the former majesty of the
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