Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Lady Dervorgilla and Sweetheart Abbey

 From Medievalists:

In addition to owning and maintaining these vast areas of England and Scotland, Dervorgilla used some of her wealth to establish prominent buildings and structures throughout the land. Balliol College at Oxford University is named after her and her husband. John de Balliol, in 1255, established an almshouse in Oxford for 16 poor scholars who were to receive an allowance of 8 pence a day. It was not John, however, but Dervorgilla who actually turned this almshouse into the college that still stands today. Nearly thirty years after the almshouse was founded, Dervorgilla created the permanent endowment and statutes necessary to turn it into the official Balliol College at Oxford University.

In Dumfries, there is a bridge over the River Nith known as ‘Devorgilla’s Bridge’. This seventeenth-century construction is named after a bridge that was said to be constructed by Dervorgilla in the 1230s, however, since it was likely made of wood, no trace of the original bridge remains. Also in Dumfries, Dervorgilla established the Friars Minor, a house for Franciscan friars, and further down the road in Wigtown she established a Dominican house of Friars. In Dundee, she founded the Franciscan Friary.

Dervorgilla’s marriage to her husband John must have been one of true love, for when he passed away in 1268, Dervorgilla was devasted. She commemorated her husband in two ways: one traditional, for a woman of her wealth and status, and one not so traditional. In John’s memory, Dervorgilla founded New Abbey, a Cistercian sister-house of Dundrennan Abbey, in her homeland of Galloway. Curiously, she also had John’s heart embalmed so she could carry it with her wherever she went. She had an expensive case made for the heart, decorated with silver, enamel and ivory. This unique way of mourning her husband made such an impression on the monks of New Abbey that they renamed their abbey Dulce Cor, or Sweetheart, in her honour.

Sweetheart Abbey is in remarkably good shape for a building that is nearly 800 years old. Although it was left to fall into ruin after the Reformation in the late sixteenth century, its red sandstone walls still stand, and you can visit the site in the quaint town of New Abbey, Dumfries. (Read more.)


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