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Scotland prepares for the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath

Historic Environment Scotland has announced a £300,000 investment at Arbroath Abbey visitor’s centre, as part of the celebrations for the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, a document outlining Scotland’s independence in the fourteenth century.

The Declaration of Arbroath (originally known as the Barons’ Letter) was  sent to Pope John XXII from Robert the Bruce and his barons, asserting Scotland’s independence from England and asking the Pope to recognise Bruce as the lawful King of Scotland. Dated to 6 April 1320, it is believed to have been written in the Arbroath Abbey by Bernard of Kilwinning, then Chancellor of Scotland and Abbot of Arbroath.

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A new exhibition will be held at Arbroath Abbey, opening on 6 April 2020, which will tell its story through a mix of digital technology and traditional crafts. The exhibition will explore the history of the Abbey from its founding in 1178 to the present day. A new short animated film has been created to visually tell the story of the history and content of the letter.

As part of the exhibition, National Records Scotland (NRS) have gifted a facsimile of the surviving document, created by internationally renowned conservator and restorer, David Frank. This facsimile is almost indistinguishable from the surviving document, with every detail considered and replicated using the same methods and materials as the original.

The exhibition will also present the Arbroath Tapestry, which will be unveiled to the public for the first time. Designed by Andrew Crummy, whose previous works include the Great Tapestry of Scotland, the artwork was hand-stitched by local embroiderers to celebrate the Declaration’s 700th anniversary and tells its story through a triptych of intricately sewn panels.

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Other highlights for visitors at Arbroath Abbey include medieval artifacts that relate to the site. These include arrowheads from the Wars of Independence era, a royal tombstone and a book that records 200 years of events at the Abbey. Other exhibition features include a new digital model of the Abbey as it once was, and an on-screen resource about the barons who supported the sending of the Declaration.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is marking the anniversary day by opening the new exhibition and offering free entry to the site from 11am – 5.30pm on Monday 6 April 2020. Alex Paterson, Chief Executive of HES, commented,  “We are delighted to be providing this new investment in the Arbroath Abbey visitor experience as part of the wider commemorations for the 700th year anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath. The anniversary is a reminder of the important role Arbroath Abbey played in shaping Scotland’s history – and this creative exhibition offers new ways for visitors to engage with the Abbey’s story.”

As part of the commemorations, HES has been working alongside partners, including Angus Council, Creative Scotland, Visit Scotland and the Arbroath 2020 Group, on a programme of community-led events to highlight the anniversary.

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In addition to the opening of the visitor centre, a series of events will take place across Arbroath over the weekend of Saturday 4 – Monday 6 April. These include a concert with a choir of 200 at the Abbey on the evening of Saturday 4 April, with music composed specially to commemorate Arbroath 2020 by Paul Mealor, and libretto written by poet Grahame Davies.

Sunday 5 April will see the Arbroath 2020 Declaration Pageant Procession take place, including a recreation of the Declaration’s journey after its signing. This will include a procession leaving the Abbey and finishing at the harbour where, following a reading of the Declaration, a copy of the historical document will depart on a boat. A medieval living history event will also take place inside the Abbey grounds on Saturday 4 April, involving re-enactment groups, falconry and archery.

“I welcome this investment from Historic Environment Scotland, which will help to enhance visitors’ understanding of Arbroath Abbey and, in particular, the Declaration of Arbroath as we celebrate its 700th anniversary,” says Scotland’s Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop. “This visitor centre will be yet another reason to visit Angus and Arbroath, not least to see the new Arbroath Tapestry and to appreciate the craft of Andrew Crummy and local embroiderers in bringing it to fruition.”

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To learn more, please visit the Arbroath 2020 website.

Top Image: Arbroath Abbey and its visitor centre – photo by Tom Parnell / Flickr

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