One large chunk of sandstone that traces its history from biblical Egypt to Scotland, then to England, has become an important symbol of royalty and patriotism. Called the Stone of Scone, this rock is so important that it has been locked away to protect it from war only to have it stolen by a group of college students. Here is a brief history of the Stone of Scone.
The biblical character, Jacob, gave us our first references to the Stone of Scone in Genesis. According to the story, Jacob laid his head on the stone, using it as a pillow as he slept. That night, he had his famous dream about a ladder that linked heaven and earth. After he awoke, Jacob was certain he was in the presence of God so he took the stone he had used as a pillow and consecrated it with oil and dedicated it to God. Jacob said, “The Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house.” Because of Jacob’s dream, the Stone of Scone acquired its mythical status.
The stone made its way out of Egypt to Spain and then to Scotland, where it was revered as a symbol of the Scottish crown. The Stone of Scone was housed at the Scone Abbey, a medieval priory that was constructed between 1114 and 1122 AD. Evidence shows that the Abbey was built on the site of an older center for worship and was an important place even before the Stone of Scone was brought to the area in 841 AD by Kenneth MacAlpin, 36th King of Dalriada. From that moment until the late 13th century, the Stone of Scone was the coronation stone for all the Scottish kings.
In 1296, English king, Edward I, attacked Scotland as a way to retaliate against the Scottish king, John Balliol, because he would not support the English in their invasion of France. After defeating the Scottish, King Edward I ordered that the Stone of Scone be removed from its place in the Scone Abbey and taken as a prize of battle back to England.
After its removal from Scotland in 1296, the Stone of Scone was taken to England’s Westminster Abbey. The wooden Coronation Chair was built around the Stone of Scone so that all the British monarchs that were crowned in Westminster Abbey would be sitting on the sacred stone during the coronation ceremony.
When World War II broke out and the Germans became a bombing assault on London, the Stone of Scone was removed from the Coronation Chair and hidden in a secret location safely beneath the Westminster Abbey. The only person privy to the details about where the Stone of Scone was hidden, aside from the people who hid it, was the Prime Minister of Canada. Information about the Stone’s whereabouts was sent to the Canadian capital for safe keeping.
After the end of World War II, the Stone of Scone was returned to its place beneath the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. It resided there until Christmas Eve of 1950. The Stone of Scone was the target of Scottish nationalists who sought to return the sacred relic to Scone Abbey. In the process, the Stone was broken.
Ian Hamilton and three of his fellow students from the University of Glasgow, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson, and Alan Stuart, hatched a plot to recover the Stone of Scone and return it to Scotland. All four students were members of the Scottish Covenant Association and supported home rule for Scotland. They viewed the removal of the Stone of Scone from Scone Abbey by Edward I as theft and they wanted to recover the stolen property. They drove the 18 hours to London and made their way to Westminster Abbey. In the night, they crept into the Abbey and pulled the Stone from the Coronation Chair. The 400-pound Stone was heavier than they anticipated. They dropped the Stone and it cracked in two.
Now in two pieces, the students used Hamilton’s coat to drag the biggest piece to the waiting car, while Hamilton was able to carry the smaller one. Stuart and Hamilton hid the biggest chunk of the Stone in a field in Kent and Matheson hid the smaller part. The four students then traveled back to Scotland. As soon as the theft of the Stone of Scone was discovered, the border between England and Scotland was closed…the first time this happened in 400 years.
The students waited a few weeks for the heat to die down, then they retrieved the two pieces of the Stone of Scone. In Glasgow, they took the pieces to an expert stonemason, Robert Gray, and tasked him with putting the pieces back together again. Gray used a brass rod to fuse the two pieces together. According to legend, Gray inserted a piece of paper in the brass rod, but what it says, no one knows.
A year and a half after the Stone of Scone went missing, police learned that it was at the Arbroath Abbey. It was this site that, in 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath made the case for Scotland as its own country. Upon its discovery, the Stone of Scone was returned to Westminster Abbey. The four students were brought in for questioning. Stuart, Matheson, and Vernon all confessed to their part in the theft, but Hamilton refused to confess. In the end, however, it didn’t matter. Authorities decided not to press charges against the students because they feared the political backlash that would create.
On November 15, 1996, John Major, the British Prime Minister, suddenly and unexpectedly declared that the Stone of Scone would be officially returned to Scotland. The Stone of Scone is now located in Edinburgh Castle but, according to the agreement between England and Scotland, the Stone of Scone would be loaned out to England and brought to Westminster Abbey’s Coronation Chair anytime there was a new monarch to be crowned.