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What became of the nuns of Haddington? Scholar calls for investigation into Scotland’s lost archaeological treasure

A farm in East Lothian could hold the secrets of one of Europe’s most important Cistercian nunneries, according to an expert at this week’s International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds.

Dr Kimm Curran, who holds a PhD in medieval Scottish history from the University of Glasgow, says that the remains of the nunnery at Haddington are of “great historical significance for Scotland, and also for Cistercian history.”

With a taxable income of £226 English pounds a year, Haddington was one of the wealthiest convents in medieval Britain and Ireland. Aerial photographs of the site, now known as Abbeymill Farm, show that the convent’s precincts could be the largest in Britain and Ireland – but on-site investigation is needed to verify this.

‘Investigating the site would contribute to the wider understanding of the role of Scottish medieval convents, but also put Scotland’s nunneries in league with those on the continent and beyond,’ says Dr Curran.

Surviving documents from the later Middle Ages show that the nunnery was founded around 1159. The nuns also owned the teinds of four parish churches and five granges, upon which the nuns cultivated crops and kept livestock. A network of local patronage ensured the convent survived as late as the 1570s.

It is not known if the current owners of the site are aware of the historical importance of the site, but Dr Curran emphasised that none-intrusive investigative methods, such as geo-physics surveying, could be used to avoid damage to the farmland.

‘The recent excavation at Kilwinning Abbey in Ayrshire shows that local people have a real appetite for learning about history through archeology,’ says Dr Curran. ‘An investigation at Abbeymill would show the people of Haddington that they too are living on the doorstep of a great archeological treasure. ’

Dr Curran urged East Lothian Council Archaeology Service, Historic Scotland and the Royal Commissions for Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland to look at the feasibility of a geo-physics survey.

Source: University of Leeds

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