Heritage and Culture

The Stone of Destiny

The Stone of Destiny
By Sophie

This week, we're looking at the Stone of Scone. A symbol of the Scottish nation, the Stone was taken by Edward I of England in 1296. On the 3rd July 1996, the Stone was finally returned to Scotland. It has been used in the coronation of 30 British monarchs in its lifetime.

Lia Fail, which means 'the speaking stone' in Gaelic, is a sacred stone upon which all true Kings of Scotland were traditionally crowned. Also known as the Stone of Scone, or the Stone of Destiny, it began its life when it was used as part of the crowning ceremonies of the Scots Kings of Dalriada. This began in the West of Scotland in Argyll.

In 840AD, when the Scots and Pictish kingdoms became united by Kenneth I, the 36th King of Dalriada, the capital was moved to Scone. The Stone of Destiny was moved there too, and all future Kings were then enthroned on the Stone of Destiny at the top of Moot Hill, in Perthshire.

If you observed this stone in passing, you may not realise, as it is by no means a grand statue. The simple, oblong stone block is made of red sandstone and measures 650mm in length, 400mm in width and 27mm in depth. There are chisel marks on its flat top which are visible. With such a simple design, it's a wonder where this intriguing stone came from, and why it holds such an importance in the history of Scottish royalty.

One legend, which dates back to biblical times, states that it is the very same pillow that Jacob used at Bethel. Later, according to Jewish legend, it is believed to have become the pedestal of the ark in the Temple. The stone was brought to Egypt by King Gathelus, who then fled to Spain, following the defeat of the Egyptian army. A descendant of Gathelus then brought the stone to Ireland, where he was crowned on it as the King of Ireland. From here it is believed that the stone moved to Scotland with the invading Scots, to Argyll.

Through all the possible travels of the Stone of Destiny, it is sure that the stone remained in Scone until it was forcibly removed by King Edward. After he was victorious in Scotland in 1296, he took the stone to Westminster Abbey in London.

Currently there is a Coronation Chair, which was created to house the stone in 1301. It was first used by Edward II, at his coronation, and has since been used in the crowning of every subsequent King and Queen of England.

An interesting legend describes how the monks of Scone hurriedly removed the stone, as Kind Edward I approached it, replacing it with another stone of similar size and shape. It is believed that the replacement stone was then taken down to England, which the true stone remained in Scotland. Although this legend is fairly far-fetched, it would help explain why the stone, made of red sandstone, is so similar geographically to the surrounding sandstone commonly found at Scone.

On St Andrews Day in 1996, 10,000 people lined the Royal Mile in Edinburgh to witness the Stone of Destiny's return to Scotland. They were excited to welcome it's return for the first time in 700 years. The Stone was formally accepted, at St Giles cathedral, by Reverand John MacIndoe, a Church of Scotland moderator.

Another twist to this story sees the abduction of the Stone from Westminster by Scottish Nationalists on Christmas Day, 1950. Although the stone was eventually returned by the thieves in the following April, modern myth poses the question of whether the stone returned was in fact the real Stone of Destiny, or whether is was a replacement.

Whether the Stone of Destiny is the traditional coronation stone or not, it is now proudly displayed at Edinburgh Castle and remains a powerful symbol of Scottish independence.