QUEEN EMERGARDE founded the abbey of Balmerino in Fifeshire, in 1229, for monks of the Cistercian order. This lady died in 1233, and is said to have been buried in the church of this abbey, before the high altar. The abbey was demolished by the rabble who followed the Lords of the Congregation on their way from St. Andrews, in 1558. Its last abbot was Sir John Hay – in all probability of the family of Naughton – who was Master of Requests in the reign of Queen Mary. After the Reformation, the lands belonging to this abbey were erected into a temporal lordship, in favour of Sir James Elphinston, designed of Innernochtie, third son of Robert, third Lord Elphinston. In this family they continued till the year 1746, when, on the forfeiture of John, sixth Lord Balmerino, they reverted to the Crown, and were subsequently sold to the York Building company. From this company they were purchased by the late Earl of Moray, and are now the property of Mr. Stuart, cousin of the present Earl.
The existing ruins of the abbey are comparatively trifling, and afford but small evidence of what its grandeur must once have been. The church has entirely disappeared, and its place is now only marked by the foundations of some of the pillars which supported its roof. The portions of the other buildings remaining are an arcade of pointed arches, supported by short strong pillars with ornamented capitals; two vaulted apartments which appear to have been chapels; and a strong stone room, which originally had no entrance but a square opening in the arched roof. The arcade, it is probable, formed a portion of the refectory; and appears to have originally had communication with the chapels. A vaulted apartment, which was entered by an opening from the top, appears to have been a place of confinement for criminals or refractory monks; and a dreadful place of punishment it must have been. Its rude walls, which are of great thickness, are built of large blocks of whinstone; and, as it was without door or window, its wretched inmates must have been unvisited by light, except when the stone which covered the opening at the top was removed. The ruins appear in many places to have undergone alterations during the time the Lords of Balmerino held the lands; and to have been connected with the mansion-house, no part of which, however, except a piece of one of the walls, now remains. The view of the ruins given in our engraving is taken from the east, and shows the windows, and part of the pillars and arches, of what we suppose has been the refectory.
It has often been remarked that the monks seldom failed to select for their places of residence the finest situations in the country, and certainly this observation holds true with regard to the abbey of Balmerino. Its ruins stand at the opening of a fine valley upon the margin of the estuary of the Tay; the Scurr hill shelters it from the cold north-east winds; and a small stream, which runs through a narrow dell between the hill and the abbey, adds beauty to the scene. The surrounding grounds appear the have been highly cultivated, and laid out as gardens and orchards. Some chestnut trees still remain; but time, which has effected so much change upon the ruins, has thinned the number of these trees, and the fruit-trees are now in a great measure removed. The place is still extremely beautiful, and the ruins picturesque and interesting; but when the pinnacles and towers of the church, and other buildings of the monastery were entire, and seen amid the numerous trees which then surrounded them, it must have been a scene of surpassing beauty. The view, too, which this spot commands of the Tay, and its opposite coast, the rich tract of the Carse of Gowrie, with the Sidlaw hills for its northern boundary, and the lofty Grampians rising in the distance, forms a picture of great extent and pleasing variety.