FORT AUGUSTUS ABBEY
Over the doorway opposite the Chapel of the Relics may be seen an extremely interesting and valuable early Roman stone relief, presented to the Abbey some years ago by Mrs Turnbull of Hailes (Midlothian), into whose garden wall it had been built centuries before. The relief, part of which is in perfect preservation, represents, seated in front of an altar or shrine, the figures of the three " mother-goddesses," or matres campestres, whose cult was widely spread in certain districts during the first and second centuries of the Christian era. Altars with these triple figures have been found in various localities in Germany, France and England ; but the extraordinary and unique interest of the Hailes relief is that it is the only one known to exist in Scotland. The central figure holds in her hand a large bunch of grapes—an almost certain proof, experts believe, that the shrine was designed and wrought by sculptors from the Rhine-land. The relief is duly scheduled in the lists of H.M. Office of Works (Scotland) as a monument of national importance.
The stately staircase, with its carved and panelled dado, which runs round three sides of the entrance hall, is the chief approach to the guest rooms above. Carved figures of birds, placed at intervals upon the balustrade, are emblematical of the virtues demanded of his sons by St. Benedict in his Rule, when they entertain guests. The owl signifies vigilance; the pelican, self-denial; the dove, gentle courtesy. The raven, with the bread in his beak, besides typifying hospitality, bears an allusion to St. Benedict's pet bird, more than once spoken of by his biographer.
The staircase leads immediately into a hall of considerable size, floored with parquetry, and divided into two compartments by a wide arch. The part nearest the stairs was originally the armoury of the fort. A graceful little statue over the high, carved stone mantel-piece, represents St. Benedict, his hands extended in welcome to his guests. Some medallions of stained glass in the window heads of this part of the building were specially designed by Pugin; they refer to incidents in St. Benedict's life.
The great chairs (temp. William and Mary) in this room came from Costessie Hall, Norfolk, the seat (now demolished) of the Jerninghams. Barons Stafford. Lord Lovat, whose mother was a Jerningham, presented them to the Abbey. From the broad window of the inner apartment a good view is obtained of the quadrangle below, and the granite walls and ornate windows of the cloisters running round it. The building opposite is that of the monastery proper—the dwelling-place of the community.
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