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A FACT OR FANTASY?; Mystery of our nation's ancient stone.

John Major may be sending us a FAKE Stone of Destiny.

For the symbol of Scotland's heritage, used to crown our ancient kings, has a chequered and mysterious history.

There are thought to be at least FOUR different stones which have been called the Stone of Destiny.

And X-rays could hold the key to revealing which is genuine.

Legend has it that the original Stone of Destiny was made of black marble and covered in ancient writing.

But the rock stolen from Scone in 1296, by the hated King Edward I of England, was made of SANDSTONE.

The Abbot of Scone, where Scotland's ancient coronations were held, is said to have hidden the real stone in a cave and carved a replica for Edward to seize.

It's claimed the genuine article was taken out of hiding for Robert the Bruce's coronation in 1306, and hasn't been seen since.

Edward took his prize to Westminster Abbey. He considered it a symbol of his power over the Scots.

It should have been returned in 1328, when England finally signed a treaty recognising Scots independence in the wake of Bruce's victory at Bannockburn. But they broke their word and held on to it.

For centuries, it was used in the coronations of English, then British, monarchs. But in 1950, four Scots students decided to take it back.

Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Alan Stewart and Kay Matheson stunned Scots and English by dragging the 400lb stone from the abbey on Christmas Eve.

Kay smuggled it north, avoiding a nationwide police hunt. And the stone was taken to the late Robert "Bertie" Gray, a joint founder of the SNP who was also an expert stonemason.

The stone was damaged - some say the students did it by accident, others blame Suffragettes who invaded the abbey decades before.

Gray fixed it with two bronze bolts. And, crucially, he also made two copies.

In April 1951, King George VI promised there would be no charges if the stone was returned.

And a stone was left at Arbroath Abbey, where Scotland had declared its freedom from England six years after Bannockburn.

But was it the genuine article, or one of the fakes?

Ian Hamilton, now a QC, insists the real one was sent back. Last night, he added: "John Major must be hard up for votes to return something that England has held on to for 700 years.

"He insults our country by denying us the only badge of nationhood worth having, the right to run our own affairs."

But Kay Matheson claimed: "None of us have ever talked about whether an original or a replica was left in Arbroath."

So if the stone Edward I stole didn't go back to London, where did it go?

One theory was put to Major yesterday by Dundee East Labour MP John McAllion, who said the stone spent years hidden in a church in his home city.

He asked the Premier: "Are you aware that the stone you are intending to return to Scotland is a fake?"

McAllion was talking about a stone which mysteriously appeared outside Parliament House in Edinburgh in 1970.

And the Rev John Nimmo, who claims to have looked after the Edinburgh stone after it was moved to St Columba's Church in Dundee, backed the MP.

He said: "Robert Gray assured us it was the real thing, and he knew what he was talking about."

After Mr Nimmo's church closed in 1989, the stone was moved to a tiny church in Dull, Perthshire.

The church is owned by the Knights Templar, a religious group founded at the times of the crusades. And the stone remains there to this day.

Kay Matheson believes that only X-rays can clear up all the confusion.

She says that when the stone she helped steal was repaired by Robert Gray, a message was hidden inside. And if the message is found, at least part of the mystery will be solved.

Scots Secretary Michael Forsyth yesterday insisted he could prove the stone in the abbey is genuine.

He told McAllion: "The stone was submitted to a number of tests, and I shall ensure files are released which show it is authentic."

But historian and author Nigel Tranter, who had links to the 1950 plotters, insisted: "The London stone is a worthless sham whose only value is that 700 years of royal bottoms have sat on it."

He is sure the real stone was hidden from Edward I.

The stone's legend dates back to Biblical times.

The prophet Jacob is said to have used it as a pillow.

A colony of Jews eventually took the stone to Spain, before they fled to Ireland.

There, it was used in coronations. And when Irish king Fergus gained control of the west of Scotland, he had it moved here.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Aitken, Vivienne; Neville, Richard
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 4, 1996
Next Article:No regrets over raid on Abbey.

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