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Stone of Destiny

The Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, and the Coronation Stone, is a block of sandstone historically kept at the now-ruined abbey in Scone, near Perth, Scotland. It is also known as Jacob's Pillow and as the Tanist Stone.

In Celtic mythology, the Lia Fail was a magical stone brought to Ireland by the Tuatha de Danaan. When the rightful King of Ireland put his feet on it, the stone was said to roar in joy. This is believed to be the origin of the Stone of Destiny.

Traditionally, it is supposed to be the stone which Jacob used as a pillow. It was originally supposed to have been used as the Coronation Stone of the early Dalriada Scots when they lived in Ireland. When they invaded Caledonia, it is said to have been taken with them for that use. Certainly, since the time of Kenneth Mac Alpin at around 847, Scottish kings were seated upon the stone during their coronation ceremony. At this time the stone was situated at Scone, a few miles north of Perth.

In 1296 the Stone was captured by Edward I as spoils of war and taken to Westminster Abbey where it was placed under the Coronation Chair on which English sovereigns sat in order to symbolise their dominion over Scotland as well as England. However, there is some doubt whether Edward I captured the real stone - it has been suggested that monks at Scone Palace hid the real Stone in the River Tay or buried it on Dunsinane Hill. If so, it is possible that the English troops were fooled into taking the wrong stone, which could explain why historic descriptions of the old Stone do not apparently fit the Stone now thought to be the real Stone. If the Monks did hide the real stone, they hid it well, as it has never been found. (Although the Knights Templar claim to have the original stone in their possession).

In 1328, as part of the peace treaty between Scotland and England known as the Treaty of Northampton, Edward III agreed to return the captured Stone to Scotland. However this was never done.

On Christmas Day, 1950, a group of patriotic students led by Ian Hamilton decided to appropriate the Stone from Westminster Abbey. In the process, they dropped it and it broke into two pieces. After hiding the stone in Kent for a few weeks, they risked the road blocks on the border and returned to Scotland with the Stone, which they had hidden in the back of a borrowed car. The Stone was then passed to a senior Glasgow politician who arranged for it to be professionally repaired and securely hidden. A major search for the stone was ordered by the British Government, but this proved unsuccessful. In early April, the Scots, assuming that the Government would finally bow to Scottish public opinion and not return the Stone to England, symbolically left it in the safe keeping of the Church of Scotland, on the altar of Arbroath Abbey on April 11, 1951. But once the London police were informed of its whereabouts, the Stone was unceremoniously rushed back to Westminster, further damaging Anglo-Scottish relations. Afterwards, rumours circulated that copies had been made of the Stone, and that the returned Stone was not in fact the original.

In 1996 the British Government decided that the Stone should be returned to Scotland, and on November 15 1996, after a handover ceremony at the Border between representatives of the Home Office and of the Scottish Office, it was transported to Edinburgh Castle where it remains. While the Stone is back in Scotland, Edinburgh Castle is the military headquarters of the British army in Scotland, and some Scots argued for the Stone to be kept in a less symbolic location. Provision has been made to use the stone at Westminster Abbey when it is required there for future coronation ceremonies.

See also History of Scotland.