Sweetheart Abbey – Built in memory of true love

Sweetheart Abbey – Built in memory of true love

Heading south out of Dumfries, Scotland, driving approximately 5 miles you come to the beautiful village of New Abbey. You cannot fail to notice there is one landmark towering above all in the skyline. The ruins of Sweetheart Abbey. A shell of a building that is packed full of intrigue, history, and a story of true love.

sweetheart abbey near new Abbey

The Sweetheart Story

The story begins in 1268. Lady Devorgilla of Galloway had just lost her husband John Balliol (Snr) and her love was so strong she could not live without him.

She had his heart embalmed and placed in an ivory box. This box she carried everywhere she went.

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She also, in his name, ensured the permanence of Balliol College, Oxford University by giving money and laying the statutes, that still survive today.

But also, in his memory, in 1273 she had built another Abbey a few miles south of Dumfries, and at the time it was a New Abbey, and of course, that is how the village of new abbey got its name……

arches and shadows of the ruin
old Cistercian Abbey

The Cistercian monks of the Abbey named it ‘Dulce Cor’, latin for Sweetheart in recognition for all the lady did in the name of love for her husband. Lady Devorgilla herself died in 1290, and was buried in a tomb in front of the altar, with the embalmed heart buried with her.

tomb of Lady Devorgilla

Lady Devorgilla’s son John Balliol (Jnr) became King of Scotland when Edward I had to choose between 13 pretenders to the throne, upon the death of Margaret, Maid of Norway (Queen of Scots).

Wittled down to the final two of John and Robert Bruce (Grandfather of Robert ‘The’ Bruce), John Balliol was chosen to be Edwards puppet King of Scotland.

History shows that this didn’t end well, and also shows that Lady Devorgilla maybe missed out on being Queen of Scotland by nine months.

sweetheart abbey in scotland

Notable residents

It wasn’t long before the Wars of Independence started and Edward I stayed at the Abbey during his battles in Galloway.

The Abbey did start to fall into disrepair at this point though, that is until later in the 14th Century when it came under the protection of Lord Galloway (Archibald the Grim).

window in the abbey ruins

The Reformation

The Protestant Reformation in the 1560s of course sounded the end for Sweetheart Abbey. Even though it took longer here to take effect than most places. The Abbey was at this time in the care of a Catholic, Lord Maxwell. The last abbot was Abbot Gilbert who continued to defy the new religion and carried on preaching. He was jailed for a short period in 1603 and exiled in 1608.

Dumfries, Sweetheart abbey inside

The Abbey Today

When visiting, and as you can see in the pictures, the church element of the Abbey is structurally standing tall and proud still. The cloisters etc and much of the walls have fallen to real ruin. We often think of historical conservation as a modern thing, however much of the building remains due to the fact that in 1779 the local community got together to conserve what remained as a monument to the local area.

full view of sweetheart abbey
looking up from within

The Abbey is now under the care of Historic Scotland and thanks to hundreds of years of luck and care there is much of the Abbey left to see. You can pay to go literally inside or you can walk around the outside of the wall from the car park and still get a good feel for the place.

The Graveyard

The path leads to the graveyard that gives great views of the Abbey too. As you enter there is the plaque reminding you that William Paterson, the Scot that founded the Bank of England in 1694 is buried somewhere here at Sweetheart Abbey, in an unmarked grave.

sweetheart abbey from the graveyard
window to the sky

Dumfries and Galloway is an area packed full of beautiful landscapes, seascapes and history. Sweetheart Abbey is one of the stops you should make in this remarkable area.

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2 Comments

  1. I do enjoy your historic stories. A story of strong passion indeed. Lovely to see the mown grass and walls standing.

    1. Paul Steele says:

      thanks kindly. yes it is a very well kept historical site that

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