The Annunciation Stone at Dunfermline Abbey – by Dr Bruce Durie
There is a fair bit of spurious nonsense around, on the internet and in print, about the Annunciation Stone at Dunfermline Abbey and its date. It’s said to date back to 1158, sometimes even earlier, but in fact dates to the mid-1500s, when George Durie was Abbot and Commendator. Here’s why, and how it came to light.
In the first half of 1812 the ruins of the palace were repaired by James Hunt, Esq. the new owner of the Pittencrieff estate (now Pittencrieff Park, also known as Dunfermline Glen), One of the workmen was chipping away at some decayed plaster inside the roof of an upper-storey bay window at the south-eastern end of the palace wall. The plaster fell away to reveal a sculptured stone, which appeared to bear the date AD 1100 in Saxon characters. The sculpture and inscriptions were clearly drawn from Luke i. 28-38, the Annunciation to Mary of Jesus’s birth – hence the stone becoming known as the Annunciation Stone.
The photograph and illustration show:
- on the right is the Angel Gabriel with outspread wings, holding a sceptre in his right hand and a scroll in his left which bears, in old capitals (and upside-down) the inscription: AVE GRATIA PLENA DNS TEC [Dominus Tecum]—that is, Hail [Mary], full of grace (meaning “favour”), the Lord be with you;
- on the left is the Virgin Mary before a pillar-table bearing a book with Mary's answer, in small Roman capitals (and with abbreviations): ECCE ANCILLA DI [Dominum] FIAT MICHI S. V. T. [secundum verbum tuum] —Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Be it unto me according to thy word;
- between and above them is the emblem of God the Father from whom emanate beams of light (or glory) carrying the emblem of the Holy Ghost descending toward the Virgin’s halo;
- a two-handed vase has a lily (the emblem of purity);
- to the right of that is a shield with the arms of George Durie, last Abbot of Dunfermline, which dates the sculpture to 1538-1560;
- below this is the apparent date – 1100 – which caused all the difficulties amongst antiquarians and archaeologists.
Apart from the fact that Arabic numerals were not introduced into Europe until the 1250s, the mystery actually went away in 1859, as a newspaper of the period relates:
In August 1859, Mr. John Ions, photographer, Dunfermline, resolved on taking a camera likeness of the stone, and as its surface was in some places covered with small patches of what he took to be hardened dust, he ascended to the stone to clear such blemishes away. During the process of cleaning, he found that the patch, which lay on the space on the right of “1100,” which had been supposed to cover the letters “A.D.” (anno domini), covered the letters “con” which, when the lime was picked out, stood out sharp and clear. At this stage of the cleaning, the strip of stone at the bottom was found to read “CON1100”; but this reading was as great a puzzle as before, and made him inspect more closely the supposed 1100. He soon discovered that what had been taken for the first unit and the first cipher of the supposed date, were slightly covered with minute patches of plaster, which, on being carefully removed, revealed that the first unit was an F, and the first cipher a D — thus, instead on 1100, it now read “FIDO,” which on “CON’ being prefixed to it, brought out the Latin word confido which signifies “I trust”, and being directly under the shield of George Dury, the last abbot of Dunfermline, may be the motto of the Dury Arms.
Indeed CONFIDO was the armorial motto of George Durie, as can be seen on his seal, and is to this day the motto of the Chief of Durie. This may come from In Domino Confido (the title of Psalm xi), found carved over doorways of many religious houses and other buildings of the 16th to 18th centuries.
It is possible that the finely sculptured Annunciation Stone was taken from the Abbey Church to the roof of the window in the palace, then plastered over with lime to protect it, during the “troublous times” of the Reformation, when Protestants were destroying icons and other “Romish” items. About the same time, Abbot Durie spirited away the head reliquary of St Margaret, for safety.
The stone itself was originally nearly semicircular, with a radius of about 2ft 10in, base 5ft 9in and height 2ft 2in. These measurements are said to “nearly coincide with that of the top of the arch of the innermost or lowest of the receding arches of the great western door of the Abbey, [so] that it is not unlikely that its original place was in the top of this arch.”
References: Annals of Dunfermline A.D. 1069 - 1878 by Ebenezer Henderson, LL.D (1879), entries dated 1812 and 1859.
AUTHOR: Dr Bruce Durie - Contact: email@example.com