Legend and mystery of Scotland’s Stone of Destiny

For some it is a symbol of national pride and others just a lump of rock but The Stone of Destiny attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

Stone of Destiny

Photograph by: HESStone of Destiny

Kings have feared it and men have died for it but its true origins remain a riddle, shrouded in mystery and wrapped in legend.

Said to be the rock used as a pillow by the biblical Patriarch Jacob when he dreamed of a ladder to heaven, as described in the Book of Genesis, how it got to Scotland nobody knows. One story claims the original stone arrived via Ireland with an Egyptian princess who fell in love with a Celtic prince.

Little more than two feet long and weighing 336 pounds the oblong red sandstone artefact was used to anoint Scotland’s monarchs for centuries, until it was stolen by England’s Edward I in 1296 as a spoil of war and transported to Westminster Abbey.

He believed if he sat on the stone he could claim to be Scotland’s king. He had the rock built into his throne and it has been used in the coronation ceremonies of every monarch of England and Great Britain since.

For more than 650 years it sat secure in Westminster Abbey until Christmas Day when 1950 four Scottish students – Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson, and Alan Stuart – broke in with the intention of stealing it back for Scotland.

The escapade, which was turned into a movie in 2009, resulted in a frantic nationwide police hunt. Despite the best efforts of the authorities the Stone was not discovered until four months later, in April 1951, when it was left on the alter of Arbroath Abbey, the location of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.

The stone was quickly taken back to London where it remained until 1996 when it was symbolically transported to Scotland, on condition it is returned to Westminster Abbey for the next and all future coronations of monarchs of Great Britain.

On St Andrews Day 1996 thousands of people lined the streets of Edinburgh to see the Stone complete a 400 mile journey, under armed police escort, from Westminster Abbey in London of Scone to Edinburgh Castle.

Apparently months of highly detailed, secretive planning went into the repatriation, following an announcement in Parliament on 3 July 1996 by the then UK Prime Minister John Major.

Records reveal the centuries old Stone of Destiny was winched out of the Coronation Chair inch by inch, taking collection and conservation specialists more than six hours in total to complete the operation. Transportation of the Stone within the Abbey required a specially designed hand barrow based on the type used by medieval stonemasons. It was measured and built to allow two men to carry the 152kg Stone by hand over the narrow footbridge leading from St Edward the Confessor’s Chapel.

The whole operation was carried out at night under the watchful eye of an armed police guard out of sight of the public.

After the Stone was removed from the Coronation Chair it was inspected and cleaned, revealing a hidden message dating from the 1970s. Inside a small lead tube, sealed into a crack, was part of an official authentication document put there to prove the Stone’s authenticity if it was ever taken again.

However, many people still have doubts the stone is authentic. Faced with an invading English army in 1296 the abbot of Scone is said to have buried the real stone and switched it with a fake to fool King Edward.

Whatever the true origins of The Stone of Destiny it remains a truly unique symbol of power and history which continues to captivate and intrigue visitors to Edinburgh Castle in equal measure.