Friday, April 16, 2021

The Historical and Legendary Stone of Destiny

Sometimes while researching story elements, writers stumble on some pretty amazing things. That's how I learned about the Stone of Destiny, a sacred rock with a history that stretches far back into the early UK, and with a legend that reaches back even deeper into our past. 

Here's what I found, with a brief wrap on how it all ties to one of my SFR works-in-progress. 

What is the Stone of Destiny?

It's an oblong block of red sandstone that's been used for centuries in the coronation of monarchs. The stone has had many names--The Stone of Scone, the Coronation Stone, Jacob's Pillow, the Tanist Stone, Lia Fail, and in Scotland Gaelic, clach-na-cinneamhain

What's the significance of the stone? It's complicated.

A Brief History (Short Version)

Legends of the Stone of Destiny's arrival in Scotland date back to about 700 BC. (Yes, 700 years Before Christ! More about that below).

Chapel at Scone Castle, where a replica
of the Stone of Destiny is now displayed.
Historically, we know the sacred stone was kept at Scone Abbey which is located near Perth, Scotland, and is believed to have been brought there from Iona (a small island off the western coast of Scotland) by Kenneth McAlpin in 841 AD (aka King Kenneth I, also referred to as the founder of Scotland). 

For centuries after, the Stone of Destiny was a sacred relic used in the coronation of Scottish monarchs.

Four hundred years later, during a 1296 invasion by King Edward I of England, the stone was moved from Scone to England and began playing an integral part in the crowning of the English monarchs and later, the monarchs of Great Britain. 

But its history in legend begins much, much further back in time. Some claim the Stone of Destiny dates back to biblical times and was once known as the Stone of Jacob and Jacob's Pillow--the very stone Jacob rested his head on when God revealed the ladder of angels to him in a dream at Bethel. Later, Jacob stood the stone on end as a monument to his spiritual experience, as referenced in Genesis 28: 10-22. 

The stone was later believed to have been transported to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah, via Egypt, Sicily, and Spain about 700 BC, and set up at the Hill of Tara, a neolithic site in County Meath where legends claim the ancient kings of Ireland were proclaimed. A few sources refer to Fergus Mor bringing the stone to Scotland more than 1200 years later, around 500 AD.

(Geologists, however, have determined that the artifact was quarried in the vicinity of Scone. But still other stories claim that the actual Stone of Destiny was hidden in a river by monks, or taken to the Isle of Skye, and a replacement stone was offered up to Edward I, so the mystery--and confusion--of its true origins deepens. Like I said--it's complicated--but here's a reference from the World History Encyclopedia if you'd like to read more details.)

Coronation Chair with 
the Stone of Destiny
under the seat.

After the Treaty of Union of 1707, the Stone of Destiny played a role in the coronation of the monarchs of the United Kingdom, where it was placed on a special shelf built under the seat of the actual Coronation Chair, and is part of the ceremony to crown new monarchs, and was last used in 1953 during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, who still reigns today. 

But three years prior to crowning of Queen Elizabeth, the Stone of Destiny had been abducted and spirited away! The proper ownership of the stone has been disputed throughout the years, and this led to a stone-nabbing event by a group of Scottish national students on Christmas Day, 1950, after they broke into Westminster Abbey and made off with the Stone of Scone, believing it was the rightful property of Scotland. 

The sacred relic wasn't in Scotland for long. It was returned to Westminster Abbey four months later. 

In 1996, the Stone of Destiny was finally given back to Scotland with the agreement it will be returned to Westminster Abbey to be used in the coronation ceremony for any future monarchs. The artifact was carefully removed from its special shelf built into the Coronation Chair, a tedious six-hour task that was conducted by conservation experts, and taken by police escort on its 400-mile journey back to Scotland.

 This was a Really Big Deal, as this brief video shows. (Under 3 mins.)  

The Stone of Destiny in Modern Media

The Stone of Destiny has had movies made about its adventures (The Stone of Destiny, 2008) or been referenced on the big and small screen, such as The King's Speech and Highlander: The Series and two episodes of Hamish McBeth (Destiny, Part I and II). It was the central focus of a "stone-nabbing attempt" in the 2008 novel Rommano Bridge, and Terry Pratchett borrowed from its legend in creating the Scone of Stone involving the coronation of dwarf kings in his book The Fifth Elephant (Discworld Series). 

Stone of Destiny, Meet Stone of Tixor

Imagine my surprise when I discovered the existence of the Stone of Destiny in a documentary in 2021. Turns out, my future novel Draxis (working title) has it's own Stone of Destiny, called the Stone of Tixor (pronounced TIKE-soar), a rock that also plays an important role in the confirmation of monarchs. 

Originally, the idea of the Stone of Tixor evolved from a different legend--The Sword in the Stone--another rock that played a role in determining a future king. (One account--probably fictionalized---claims the Sword in the Stone and the Stone of Destiny are one and the same.)

Strangely, the Stone of Tixor has some very eerie parallels to the Stone of Scone--even though I'd never heard of it at the time I penned the original draft. The Stone of Tixor is a historical artifact that confirms the claim of a High Queen--a term which has a particular meaning and significance in this civilization. And it does so by reacting to the presence of mitochondrial DNA in an individual who carries ancient royal blood, so to speak. 

This doesn't happen by magic. The structure of the rock was altered at the molecular level by advanced scientists in the distant past so that it reacts in a specific way to a person who carries the maternal lines it was created to "sniff out." 

Problem is, if a candidate is presented to the Stone of Tixor for confirmation and the rock fails to validate their claim as a descendant of this special line, they face summary execution. Immediately. Would-be impostors, be gone!

And this creates a dilemma for Katrina Wells, a woman who has been abducted from her home and brought to Draxis to be declared High Queen, apparently in a case of mistaken identity. The first order of business foisted on her by her abductor is that she must pass the Test of Tixor. If she fails, she's dead. But if she refuses the test, she's just as dead.

For Katrina, it's the very definition of a no-win situation. 

Brief excerpt from  WIP:

Scene set-up: Katrina has been taken to the Hall of Tixor by an advisor to face her test.


Katrina turned a slow circle, taking in her surroundings. Skylights lit the gleaming floors of polished marble. More than a dozen ivory columns rose like silent, watching sentinels to the high ceiling. At the front of the room, a half-moon shaped dais surrounded a large, milk-white boulder. Katrina moved closer to get a better look. It seemed an ordinary rock with a rough surface, several inches taller than her height of five foot seven.

            “The Stone of Tixor,” her advisor said.

Spying a black device in an alcove on the opposite wall, she frowned. The object formed a giant X with silver glinting at the topmost points of two diagonal supports, looking malignant and…hungry.

            “What is that?”

            He followed her gaze and waited a beat before he spoke. “It is a tantier.”  

            “A tan-teer? What does it do?”

The advisor’s voice lowered. “In your words, it is a guillotine.”

            Katrina shrank back. “Why is it here?”

            He dropped his head. “It is here in the event you fail the test.”

            Katrina’s hand flew to your throat. “I’ll...I’ll be...beheaded?”

            “Only in the event you are not the rightful queen.”

            “But I’m not! That's what I've been telling you. I never made any such claim and I can't be who you think I am.”  She stared at the tantier, swallowing down cold horror. "You've made a mistake, and it's going to cost me my life."

            “Have faith,” he insisted quietly.


Until next time.




4 comments:

  1. Ah, history. Such a wonderful resource for science fiction writers.I like the premise, Laura, and all the best with the story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Greta. This manuscript was my last Golden Heart finalist, but it's a complicated tale and I'm still working to get it to the published stage.

      Delete
  2. Ooh! What an exciting scene! Thanks for the teaser. Wishing you many sales!

    ReplyDelete

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