The Stone of Destiny, otherwise known as the Stone of Scone, has left Edinburgh for the first time in over a quarter of a century to fulfil a promise made when it was returned to Scotland. The careful journey of this ancient symbol of Scottish power is a reminder of a long and controversial history that continues to cause debate today.
The ancient symbol of Scottish sovereignty is an unassuming rectangular stone, made of sandstone, weighing 336 pounds and it’s only marking is a Latin cross.
According to Celtic legend, the biblical figure Jacob rested his head on the stone in Bethel. During his rest, he dreamed of angels and a ladder (Jacob’s ladder) reaching to Heaven. The stone was brought through Egypt, Europe and eventually arrived in Ireland around 700 BCE.
Ancient kings of Ireland were crowned on the stone till 840 BCE when Celtic Scots invaded and the stone landed in Scone, Scotland. It was the Scots who first created a Coronation Chair for the Stone of Scone. Kings of Scotland were crowned on the stone until 1296 when King Edward I invaded and took the stone to England. He had the stone placed in Westminster Abbey and a special Coronation Chair was built for the stone to fit under it. To this day, British monarchs are crowned in the Coronation Chair with the Stone of Scone underneath.
Or are they? There is a mystery if the current Stone of Scone is the real one. The stone is made of the same material as the Scone Palace, which begs the question: how could it have been quarried in the Holy Land? There is a rumour that the monks hid the real stone from Edward I. It is a rumour he may have believed, because he had Scone Abbey looted in 1298. The monks also could have had a copy made when they heard the English were coming, which would explain the local sandstone.
But that is not the end of the story.
In 1914, suffragettes detonated a bomb under the stone and chair. During World War II, the stone was secretly buried underneath Westminster Abbey to protect it from bombings. Nazis were never able to get the stone, but four university students did.
On Christmas Eve in 1950, four University of Glasgow students broke into Westminster Abbey, stole the stone, which split in two and took it back to Scotland in the trunk of their car.
It was found four months later, on the high altar of the ruined Arbroath Abbey, repaired and wrapped in the Scottish national flag. There is also a theory that this was a replica Stone of Destiny. No charges were ever filed against the students and the Stone of Scone was returned to Westminster Abbey.
In the mid-nineties, calls for Scottish Independence grew. Prime Minister John Major unexpectedly announced the return of the Stone of Scone to Scotland with the deal that the stone would be returned for coronations. Ahead of the Coronation of King Charles III, Alex Salmond, former First Minister, said he didn’t think the stone should be returned to London given the current state of discussions around holding a second independence referendum.
Today the Stone of Destiny is on display with the Scottish Crown Jewels at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. The Coronation Chair is under glass at St. George’s Chapel.
On April 27th 2023, the Stone left Edinburgh Castle for the journey to Westminster Abbey.
King Charles III will be crowned sitting on the Stone of Destiny in the Coronation Chair on May 6 2023.