Stirling Blackfriars found

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Excavations in Stirling have uncovered the remains of a Dominican (Blackfriars) friary. (IMAGE: GUARD Archaeology Ltd.)

The foundations of the medieval Dominican friary of Stirling – and evidence that the lives of its occupants were far from frugal – have been discovered on the outskirts of the medieval burgh during recent excavations by GUARD Archaeology.

Carried out in advance of redevelopment of the site, the dig uncovered stone walls and finely carved architectural fragments that most likely belong to the Blackfriars complex – built in 1233 and destroyed during the Scottish Reformation in 1559 – which was known to have been located in this area of Stirling. In particular, a boundary wall and structures related to a lavatorium (communal washing area) or kitchen were revealed but, due to the robbing of stones following its dissolution, only part of the layout of the friary could be determined. That did not prevent the team from revealing important information about the friary’s tenure, though.

Members of this order were required to wear a belt with a buckle rather than the rope cincture worn by many other orders; might the discovery of this buckle in a grave on the site hint at the burial’s occupant being a friar? (IMAGE: GUARD Archaeology Ltd.)

‘The approximately 326-year existence of the friary gleaned from historical records is now corroborated by the new archaeological evidence,’ said Bob Will, who led the excavation. ‘Pottery sherds dating to this period derive from cooking vessels and jugs from different British regions, as well as continental Europe. The Blackfriars of Stirling had access to luxury table goods from around the North Sea, foodstuffs such as figs, raisins, and wine.’

Among the remains, the burial of a young man was also uncovered, placed within the foundation trench of a wall. In front of his pelvic area, a 13th-/14th-century bronze belt-buckle was discovered. This suggests that he may have been a Dominican friar, as members of that order were required to wear a belt with a buckle, rather than the rope cincture commonly worn by many of the other medieval religious orders. Radiocarbon dated to AD 1271-1320, this potential friar inhabited Stirling during an eventful time for the area; the battles of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn both occurred within this period.

The full report of the excavations can be found at

This article appeared in CA 345.

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