Dundrennan Abbey was established in 1142AD as a Cistercian religious house. It was founded by King David I of Scotland, possibly in collaboration with Fergus, Lord of Galloway. It is believed that the first colony of monks were from Rievaulx Abbey, although no firm evidence exists to support this theory.
During its early life, Dundrennan Abbey prospered. Lord Fergus made endowments of land, along with sites for two daughter houses and a convent. The monks maintained their own fleet of ships at the nearby coastal harbour of Abbey Burnfoot, allowing them to engage directly in trade with mainland Europe.
Dundrennan Abbey escaped relatively lightly during the Scottish wars of independence. Although it suffered financially, its buildings escaped the ravages inflicted upon some of the other border abbeys.
Dundrennan Abbey was entering a long period of decline by the start of the sixteenth century. From 1523AD, its abbots were replaced by administrators appointed by the crown. By 1529AD, many of the monastic buildings had fallen into a state of ruin, and the abbey's annual assessed annual incoming suggests that it may have been the poorest Cistercian house in Scotland at that time.
At the time of the Reformation in 1560AD, the abbey still supported a community of twelve monks, and these were allowed to live out their remaining days at Dundrennan. The last temporal administrator was appointed in 1598AD.
The abbey church continued to be used as a place of worship by the local community into the early part of the seventeenth century. However, the building fell into decay, and by the time it was adopted by the state in 1842AD, much of the fabric had been extensively plundered for building materials and little remained but ruins.
Today, Dundrennan Abbey nestles peacefully in relative solitude, slightly inland from the Irish Sea, surrounded by lush greenery, and set back slightly from the relatively quite road that passed through the village above it. The most remains are the transepts of the church, and the well-preserved entrance to the chapter house.
This part of Scotland is quiet, and even at the height of the summer there are few visitors compared to similar English sites (or even compared to the busier border abbeys). This is a beautiful and tranquil location, typical of the settings favoured by Cistercian monks.
On the 15th May, 1568AD, Mary Queen of Scots was welcomed at the gates of Dundrennan Abbey, following her defeat at the Battle of Langside and subsequent escape from Lochleven Castle. The following morning, she boarded a boat setting sale from Abbey Burnfoot, fleeing for England. She never set foot in Scotland again.