Robert the Bruce’s ‘lost tomb’ finds home in Dunfermline Abbey

A 3D reconstruction of the tomb of Robert the Bruce is to go on display at Dunfermline Abbey Church.
A 3D reconstruction of the tomb of Robert the Bruce is to go on display at Dunfermline Abbey Church.
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A three-dimensional reconstruction of the “lost tomb” of Robert the Bruce is to go on permanent display at Dunfermline Abbey, the last resting place of the medieval Scots monarch.

Bruce’s tomb was destroyed during the Reformation, although fragments of the structure were later discovered alongside Bruce’s remains in 1817, before being excavated the following year.

Robert the Bruce

Robert the Bruce

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While the skeletal remains were reinterred beneath the Abbey, with the grave sealed with a thick layer of molten bitumen so as to ward off the advances of graverobbers, what remained of the tomb itself was preserved at sites across Scotland, with fragments held by the National Museums Scotland, Abbotsford House, Dunfermline Museum, and the Hunterian in Glasgow.

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After a painstaking six-year project, those disparate pieces have been gathered together and scrutinised so as to allow modern history enthusiasts a chance to glimpse the ­“magnificent” gilded white marble tomb where Bruce was laid to rest.

Although the artefact has long since vanished, the use of modern software has resulted in a “cutting edge” exhibit that will become a permanent feature in the historic abbey, having toured various venues across the country.

3D laser scanning was used to record 19 of the fragments, which were then physically recreated using 3D printers. The modern fragments were then analysed by an advisory board of experts so as to create a reconstruction of the original structure.

The reconstruction work, largely based on surviving contemporary French royal tombs, allowed specialists to create a half-scale 3D digital model. The fruits of their labour was presented to the Abbey yesterday by Alex Paterson, chief executive of Historic Environment Scotland (HES).

Dr Iain Fraser, archives manager at HES, said “I am delighted to see the model of the lost tomb of Robert the Bruce installed here in Dunfermline Abbey Parish Church. This fulfils a project that started six years ago – among the first of its kind in Scotland to use cutting edge 3D scanning.

“The project would have been impossible without the active and willing contribution of a wide range of partners and as a result, the public can now see what Robert the Bruce’s tomb would have looked like, alongside his final resting place.”

Reverend Maryann Rennie, minister at Dunfermline Abbey Church, said: “It is exciting for the congregation here to receive the ­model of the lost tomb of Robert the Bruce. It allows those visiting to connect the 19th century brass plaque to the more ancient burial cask of Robert the Bruce.

“We hope those visiting also experience why this site was important to Robert the Bruce and to the many pilgrims who have travelled here looking for a sense of peace and rest.”

After Edward I badly damaged Dunfermline Abbey in 1303, Bruce financed its rebuilding with a programme of work which led to the creation of the monks’ refectory.

On his death in 1329, Bruce’s heart was removed so that it might posthumously be taken to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. However, it never got further than Spain.

It was returned to Scotland and in accordance with his wishes, it was then buried at Melrose Abbey. His internal organs were embalmed and placed in St Serf’s Chapel in Dumbarton.