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3 November 2014
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Coldingham Priory
Coldingham Priory
The roots of Coldingham Priory lie in another religious house built on the shore of Coldingham Bay at the dawn of Christian Scotland. However, the fall in disgrace of this original establishment was to give new zest to the builders of the new seat of the Church in the area.

The first religious establishment in the Coldingham area was the nunnery of St Ebba, founded sometime after 642AD. The young Ebba, from a royal family had had to endure internecine power struggles within her family for most of her early life, and had been forced into exile with the Scots at Dalriada for several years.

However, once her brother Oswy assumed the Northumbrian throne, Ebba returned and established her mixed nunnery and monastery on the isolated bay. The community survived until it was burned down in a fire in 683, shortly after the death of Ebba. The locals viewed this as an Act of God, punishing the loose morals of the nuns and monks, although this is perhaps applying the morals of a later Church when in fact the behaviour of those in the early Christian communities was not so strictly controlled.

Not wishing to go against what they perceived as a clear signal from the Lord, the residents of the area did not attempt to re-establish any form of religious community on the site. However, 400 years afterwards another royal feud was to bring about the founding of another monastery at Coldingham.

Renovated church at Coldingham
Renovated church at Coldingham

Edgar, the son of Malcolm III had been deposed by his uncle and had gone into exile in England. However, he managed to raise an army in England of 30,000 soldiers and marched north. He had also received a vision of St Cuthbert who promised him victory if he carried with him the holy banner from the Durham convent.

All that the Saint had promised came to pass, and Edgar regained the Scottish throne. In gratitude he established a Benedictine monastery on the site here at Coldingham in 1098, which grew successfully to become the focal point of the area.

The Priory became a centre point of the wool trade, and also a seat of learning writing a life of St Ebba around 1200. However, in 1560, the Reformation signalled the death-knell of monasticism in the country, and the lands belonging to the Priory passed to the local landowner.

The destruction of the priory was completed by Oliver Cromwell, when, after his victory at Dunbar, he used cannons to dislodge some Royalists who were hiding in the priory. A new church was built around the ruins, and renovated in the 19th Century, but the archway in front of the modern church serves as a reminder of the presence of the Priory and its chequered past.

Directions: Retrace your steps to the nature reserve visitor centre, from here follow the road to Coldingham, stay on this road through the village until you come to a junction with a petrol station at it, if you turn to your left, away from the road, Coldingham Priory is here.

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