Melrose Abbey was founded in 1136AD as a Cistercian religious house, at the request of King David I of Scotland. An earlier monastery was founded some time in the 7th Century, but was located at a different site, two miles to the east of Melrose Abbey. This was destroyed by Kenneth Mac Alpin and in 839AD. King David favoured the earlier site, but the monks were insistent that the land was too poor to support their farming requirements.
Melrose Abbey was founded by twelve monks from Rievaulx, and the main church was dedicated a mere 10 years later, in 1146AD. It was usual, however, for the dedication ceremony to take place long before building was complete, and work continued for the next fifty years. In 1322AD, Melrose Abbey and the surrounding town were attacked by the English army, under the command of Edward II. The abbey was severely damaged, with many buildings being completely destroyed. Many of the monks were put to the sword. It was attacked again in 1385AD by the army of Richard II, whose forces burned down the church. Reconstruction took place over a period of a hundred years, and the abbey remained unfinished at the time of James IV's visit in 1504AD.
Melrose Abbey was again attacked in 1544AD, during Henry VIII's "rough wooing" - a campaign intended to force marriage to his son upon Mary Queen of Scots. The church was badly damaged, and was never fully repaired.
Melrose Abbey escaped the ravages of the English reformation, which proceeded at a slower pace in Scotland. The monastery escaped dissolution when the monks embraced Henry VIII's reforms in 1560AD. However, the fabric of the building was in poor repair, and the abbey in a protracted period of decline. The last monk died in 1590AD, and Melrose ceased to exist as a religious house.
In 1610AD, part of the nave of the Abbey was converted into a parish church. It continued to serve in this capacity until 1810AD, when a newer building replaced it.
Today, Melrose Abbey is a ruin, although the shell of the abbey church remains mostly intact. Located at the edge of Melrose town, the abbey is a popular tourist destination. It's a busy site, with many coach parties stopping off during the course of the day. The striking architecture makes it well worth a visit, and the site is notable as the resting place of Robert the Bruce’s heart - which is marked by a commemorative carved stone plaque within the abbey grounds.