The Stone of Scone doesn’t look like much. It is a simple red sandstone block 26 inches in length by 16.75 inches wide, and 10.5 inches deep with chisel marks on its flat top. There is also a carved cross and iron rings on each end. However, it has been used in the coronation of Scottish Kings since the time of the kingdom of Dal Riata (Dalriada). Legend says it was the rock that pillowed Jacob’s head in Bethel after he wrestled with angel, and was later used as the pedestal for the Ark of the Covenant. Then it ended up in Scotland by way of Spain and Ireland. The Celtic name of it is An Lia Fàil or “the speaking stone”. In legend, it was supposed to proclaim the rightful king.
In 574, St. Columba used the Stone as a coronation seat when crowning Aedan as King of Dal Riata. From there a tradition was born. When Kenneth I moved the capital to Scone in Perthshire around 840, the Stone came too giving it one of its names. The traditional site of the coronation moved to Moot Hill near Scone Castle. There it stayed for over 400 years.
In 1296, Edward I, the self proclaimed Hammer of the Scots, had the Stone removed from Scone and taken to Westminster Abbey. The Stone was then fitted into bottom of a wooden throne known as King Edward’s Chair. All subsequent English monarchs were crowned using this chair, symbolically cementing their triumph over Scotland. The Treaty of Northampton in 1358, guaranteed the return of the Stone to Scotland, but crowds descended on Westminster Abbey rioting against its removal. It was left in the coronation chair, and after the ascension of James I it became a Moot point.
Still, the Scots were not thrilled at this bit of theater and it continued to grate some of them long after the Act of Union. Christmas Day 1950, Scottish nationalists stole the Stone. It was returned by April of the next year, but questions abound. Was it the same Stone returned?
The mystery deepens as legends say Edward I did not take the real Stone to England in 1296. Monks at Scone were thought to have hidden the true stone in the River Tay or buried in Dunsinnan Hill near Scone or sent for safekeeping to the Isle of Skye or the Hebrides. Geologists confirm that the Stone is “old lower red sandstone”, similar to the type quarried around Scone. Earlier descriptions say the Stone was a darker color, possibly marble or basalt. This theory has some prominent adherents, including former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond. In an interview in 2008, he said, “If you’re the abbot of Scone and the strongest and most ruthless king in Christendom is charging toward you in 1296 to steal Scotland’s most sacred object and probably put you and half of your cohorts to death, do you do nothing and wait until he arrives or do you hide yourself and the stone somewhere convenient in the Perthshire hillside? I think the second myself.”
Forgery or artifact, the Stone kept at Westminster Abbey was returned to Scotland on November 30, 1996. On that St. Andrew’s Day, 10,000 watched the Stone solemnly process up the Royal Mile to be formally accepted back by Scotland in a service at St. Giles Cathedral. A powerful symbol of Scottish independence was home.