Scottish Medieval Towns: Elgin, Moray
12th century

"My church was the particular ornament of the fatherland, the glory of the kingdom, the joy of strangers and incoming guests, the object of praise and exaltation in other kingdoms because of its decoration..."

Elgin (or Eilginn in Gaelic, Ailgin in Scots) is a town, former cathedral city, and Royal Burgh in Moray, Scotland. Elgin was created a royal burgh in the 12th century by King David I of Scotland and first documented in Moray’s Cartulary in 1190 AD.

During David’s reign, the castle was established at the top of what is now Lady Hill. The city was a popular residence for the early Scottish monarchs that held court there and hunted in the royal forests: David I, William I, Alexander II, and Alexander III. Alexander II established the two religious houses of the town, the Dominicans or Blackfriars on the west side and the Franciscans or Greyfriars on the east.

The  Elgin Cathedral was completed sometime after 1242 but was destroyed by fire in 1270. In August 1370, Alexander Stewart descended from his castle on an island in Lochindorb. He burned much of Elgin, including two monasteries, St Giles Church, the Hospital of Maison Dieu, and the cathedral. Although the Cathedral was rebuilt, much of it has since crumbled away due to the stone’s inferior quality.

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Medieval Elgin: Top 5 Attractions

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral was established in 1224 on land granted by King Alexander II and dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Unaffected by the Wars of Scottish Independence, it suffered extensive fire damage in 1390 following an attack by Robert III’s brother Alexander Stewart and in 1402 by the followers of the Lord of the Isles.

Duffus Castle was a motte-and-bailey castle in use from c.1140 to 1705. At the time of its establishment, it was one of the most secure fortifications in Scotland. At the death of the 2nd Lord Duffus in 1705, the castle had become totally unsuitable as a dwelling and so was abandoned.

Medieval Elgin: Duffus Castle
Medieval Elgin: Pluscarden Abbey

Pluscarden Abbey

Pluscarden Abbey is a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery 6 miles south-west of Elgin. It was founded in 1230 by Alexander II for the Valliscaulian Order. In 1454, the Priory became a benedictine House. During the 17th century, the priory was used as a quarry to rebuild St Giles Kirk in Elgin.

Spynie Palace

Spynie Palace (or Spynie Castle) was the fortified seat of Moray’s Bishops for about 500 years. The first castle was a wooden structure built in the late 12th century. The stone buildings first appeared in the 13th century to establish what was thought to have been a chapel and which had colored glass windows.

Medieval Elgin: Spynie Palace
Medieval Elgin: Birnie Kirk

Birnie Kirk

Birnie Kirk is a church situated 4 km south of Elgin and built c. 1140. It became the first cathedral of the Bishop of Moray and is is one of the oldest churhces in Scotland to have been in continuous use. While the nave was shortened by a few feet in 1734, the remainder is the original 12th-century structure. 

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