17 years ago today the Stone of Destiny returned to Scotland – or did it?

On 15th November 1996, a large lump of sandstone was placed in Edinburgh Castle after spending 700 years under the coronation throne of England. This roughly hewn lump of rock was removed from Scone Abbey by King Edward I in 1296 and taken to England as a trophy to signify his taking over of the throne of Scotland following his deposition of King John Balliol.

He and his followers believed that this was the Stone of Destiny, upon which the Kings of Scotland had been crowned since the depths of antiquity. Many legends are associated with the Stone. Amongst these are that it was the rock used by Jacob as a pillow when he dreamed of a ladder reaching up to Heaven, and when God revealed himself. It is claimed that the Stone was later transported to Ireland, and from there to Scotland where it was used for crowning the early Dalriadic Kings, whose line eventually came to rule Scotland.

However, the stone taken by Edward to England is a lump of Perthshire sandstone, and therefore local to Scone, and not very likely to have been used in Dalriada, let alone ancient Israel, and doubts as to its true identity have persisted. Arguably, it is quite possible that the Abbot of Scone hid the real stone and that Edward was duped into taking something worthless away to London, and even if he was aware of this, he was unlikely to admit that he was tricked. He certainly returned to Scone Abbey and sacked it in 1298. Was he searching for the real stone?

According to a letter to the Morning Chronicle from the Dunsinane Estate Office on 2nd January 1819, workmen discovered a large meteoric stone weighing about 500 pounds and two round tablets, one of which was engraved with a reference to Bethel, the traditional site of Jacob’s dream. This was buried in a vault amongst ruins near the Mains of Dunsinane, and then taken to London for investigation, although a letter to the Caledonian Mercury five days later denied this, saying the earlier letter was a hoax. There are certainly no records of what happened to this stone.

The eminent Scottish author Nigel Tranter believed that the sandstone block in London was not the original Stone of Destiny, recounting the story that Angus of the Isles hid the Stone in the Isles to prevent Edward getting his hands on it, and describing it as a block of meteoric rock, richly carved and used by Columba as a portable altar. Certainly it seems more likely that a stone of such symbolic importance would be carved and an object of beauty, and that the Scots would have tried to hide it from Edward.

So where is the real Stone? Did it leave Scotland in 1296, or was it hidden? Was the Dunsinane Stone the real one, now hidden in London by some conspiracy? Alex Salmond certainly believes that the sandstone block is not the original Stone of Destiny. What do you think?