The Coronation Stone is a large block of red sandstone, with chisel marks on top, thought by some to be the Stone of Destiny.
On St Andrew’s Day 1996, seven hundred years after King Edward the first removed the stone, it was officially returned to Scotland. Now it can be seen in Edinburgh Castle but there are calls for it to move to a new home further north- in Perth. Twenty years on, Elizabeth Quigley looks back on the day she saw the stone come home.
Origin of the Stone
The origin of the Stone of Scone is hard to determine, due to its antiquity, but legends abound. It first appears in ancient Celtic myths concerning an assembly of gods known as the Tuatha de Danaan. One of the Tuatha’s supernatural possessions was a stone that supposedly cried out whenever the rightful king stepped on it. This stone, according to one version of the myth, was taken from Ireland into Scotland. It was probably either by force or as a spoil of victory from a successful battle. In another version, the Tuatha were fleeing from Greece and journeyed to Scotland with the Stone among their possessions.
Regardless of how it arrived in Scotland, the Stone became an important symbol of Scottish rule. It was kept in a variety of places throughout Scotland, finally being brought to Scone by King Kenneth MacAlpin for his coronation in the 9th century.
For centuries Scottish kings sat upon the Stone to be crowned.
The prestige of the stone
The Stone was stolen from Scone Abbyin 1296 by the English King Edward I, ‘Hammer of the Scots’, it is unclear if this was the genuine Stone of Destiny. Geologically, it resembles the local Scone sandstone. The Stone was fitted into a wooden seat called St Edward’s Chair, and placed in Westminster Abbey, London.
During a resurgence of Scottish nationalism in 1950, four Scots students travelled to London, entered the Abbey in the small hours of Christmas Day and nabbed the Stone from beneath the coronation throne. They dropped it by accident and it broke in two. They loaded the Stone into their car boot and brought it back to Scotland – despite road blocks and police searches.
A futile police hunt for the Stone led to a compromise: it was to be left at Arbroath Abbey, site of the famous Declaration of 1320, draped in a Saltire. The Home Secretary stated that it was not in the public interest to prosecute the four Glasgow University students who had stolen the Stone; Ian Hamilton, Alan Stuart, Gavin Vernon and Kay Matheson.
The Stone was returned to Westminster Abbey in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. On St Andrew’s Day 1996 it was returned to Scotland, but it may be ‘borrowed’ for any future coronations at Westminster.
Despite its rather unremarkable appearance, this very ancient block of sandstone has had a turbulent history. It has been hidden, fought over and stolen during the seven centuries. It was important to the Children of Israel and at the same time, the Stone was long associated with the British kings and queens.
Some people suggest the stone in Edinburgh Castle may be not the real Stone of Destiny. When the stone was removed from the Abbey in 1950, there were rumours that copies were made in Scotland.
Another theory is that the stone which Edward I took in 1296 was not the real stone and that the monks at Scone Palace hid the real stone in the river Tay or buried it on Dunsinane hill.
And it doesn’t end here.
The stone will go back to Westminster Abbey temporarily for future coronations – and that might start a whole new story.
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