Stone of Destiny

Legend has it that no-one could reign in Scotland unless they sat on the Stone of Destiny when they were crowned. So long as the stone remained in Scotland the Scots would possess the land or alternately that wherever the stone lay the Scots would rule. It has long been an important symbol of Scotland and has a strange and colourful history.

The Stone of Destiny has been known by a variety of other names including the Stone of Scone, Lia Fail (Gaelic for Stone of Destiny), the Coronation Stone and Jacob's pillow. It is an oblong block of red sandstone 650mm long, 400mm wide and 27mm deep and weighs 152kg.

According to an old origin myth the stone was brought to Scotland by Scota, the daughter of an Egyptian pharaoh who is supposed to have given her name to the country. It was thought to be Jacob's pillow (the stone which Jacob had used as a pillow when he saw the angels in a dream at Bethel).

It was used in the coronation ceremony of Scottish kings for centuries and possibly by Dalriadic kings before that. The stone was used at Iona, Dunadd, Dunstaffnage and then eventually housed at Scone near Perth. Lulach sat on it in 1057 when he was crowned king and it continued to be used until Edward I took it to Westminster in 1296. Edward installed the stone in a coronation chair and nearly all subsequent English monarchs were crowned upon it. It continued in use after the 1707 union and most British monarchs have also been crowned upon the stone.

In 1996 the stone was returned to Scotland on St. Andrews Day amidst much pomp and ceremony and it was agreed the stone would reside at Edinburgh castle. Thousands lined the Royal Mile to watch the stone being transported from Holyrood palace to the castle. It is to return to Westminster for all future coronations.

The Stone of Destiny has long been the subject of debate. There are claims that Edward I was duped and the monks at Scone hid the real stone giving him a fake (a medieval toilet seat lid). Some descriptions of the stone describe it as black rather than sandstone. In 1328 the peace talks with Edward III included an agreement to return the stone but for some reason this was never formalised in the Treaty of Northampton and the stone remained in England.

In 1950 on Christmas day the stone was stolen by four nationalist students (Ian Hamilton, Alan Stewart, Gavin Vernon and Kay Matheson). They broke into Westminster Abbey with a crowbar and broke the stone into two pieces trying to remove it. They hid the pieces and then smuggled them back to Scotland later with the country gripped in a media explosion and the police desperately searching for the relic. The stone is supposed to have been repaired by a Glasgow stonemason. There are also stories about them switching it for a copy but the truth is unknown. It was found again four months later in Arbroath Abbey draped in a saltire and returned to Westminster.

Whatever the truth the Stone of Destiny is an important symbol of Scottish nationhood and can possibly be seen at Edinburgh castle depending on whether you believe it is the genuine article.