William Wallace Kirk links uncovered in Selkirk

From the BBC website (29th April 2016):

Archaeologists believe they have uncovered the remains of the medieval Borders kirk where William Wallace was appointed Guardian of Scotland.  The historic event occurred after he defeated English forces at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.  A ceremony took place in front of gathered nobles and clergy in the Kirk o’ the Forest in Selkirk.

A geophysics survey in the ruins of the town’s 18th Century Auld Kirk has revealed remains of a medieval chapel.  The investigation was expected to find traces of its 16th Century predecessor but instead it showed remains which could pinpoint the spot where Wallace was honoured.

It is a scene which was depicted in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.  The church itself was demolished and later churches built on the site.

Dr Chris Bowles, Scottish Borders Council’s archaeologist, said: “The association between William Wallace and this area is quite well documented, with Wallace using guerrilla tactics to fight the English from the Ettrick Forest.  “We knew vaguely that this site was associated with Wallace, and that the Scottish nobles made him Guardian of Scotland at the Kirk o’ the Forest in recognition of his military successes.

“We had been expecting the geophysics survey to uncover a 16th Century church that we know to have existed and which was a replacement to the medieval church, but the only evidence in the survey is in relation to the medieval church.”

He said they found the “foundation footprint of a medieval chapel” within the footprint of the 18th Century church. “There are certainly wall lines forming an east-west aligned rectangle,” he said.  “The measurements are similar to St Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh Castle and point to it possibly being a Romanesque chapel.  If it is the Kirk o’ the Forest, it is where Wallace was honoured. He went on to become the legendary figure he remains today.”

‘Limited investigations’

Dr Bowles, who commissioned the survey by the University of Durham in conjunction with the Selkirk Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (Cars), said the site could now become a visitor attraction.  “While these geophysics results suggest a medieval chapel beneath the later church, we are very restricted by the burials in the area to allow any excavation,” he said.

“But in the future it may be possible to conduct limited investigations in areas where there is no evidence of burial.”

Gary Stewart, convenor of the Society of William Wallace, hailed the discovery as “a rare physical link to the hero”. It is hoped the site could become a visitor attraction

He added: “This is a fantastic discovery, and another piece in the jigsaw of Wallace’s life.  “It lets us know the exact place where Wallace was appointed as Guardian.”

Colin Gilmour, Selkirk Cars project manager, said the discovery could draw tourism to the town.  He said: “There is nothing currently signposting people to the Auld Kirk site, but with this latest discovery it could become a major attraction and assist with the regeneration of the town centre.  We hope to work with the community to make the most of this fascinating discovery and the tourism potential it has.”

Scottish Borders councillor Ron Smith said the discovery strengthened the links between William Wallace and Selkirk.  A re-enactment of Wallace’s appointment to guardianship could be held at the site later this year.