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The ancient nunnery of St Ebba, founded during the Church's early conflicts with Northern paganism, stood on the sea-beaten rock, named after its foundress, where the storm and gloom of precipice and ocean were in conformity with the stern purpose, the danger, and the self-mortifying humility of the devotees. When the ecclesiastics grew rich and powerful under the patronage of the munificent Normans, they descended from the wild rock into the fertile sheltered vale. Thus, a few miles inland from the scanty remains of ancient St Abb's, and of other relics of religious houses built along the rocky coast of Berwickshire, are the ruins of the church of Coldingham Priory. They are but a few magnificent remnants, owing their preservation through the last century and a half to a sort of friendly amalgamation with the somewhat uncongenial structure of a modern Scottish parish church. Ecclesiologists have heartily abused this structure for the " sordid motives” which suggested it; but it has served its part better than more ambitious restorations, for it has afforded its vulgar protection to the venerable remains of its august senior, without offending the observer by holding out a particle of pretension to occupy any artistic rank. If restorations are not very perfect, it is perhaps as well that they should not come within the category of architecture at all.
The fragments of this building will be seen, from the accompanying engravings, to be of an extremely interesting character. Along with some other Scottish edifices within the bounds of the ecclesiastical influence of Lindisfarne, they show a peculiarly graceful mixture of the later and less stern features of the Norman, with the earlier indications of the pointed style. This is not like the instances where an architect of the earlier style has been succeeded by one of the later, who thinks it necessary to make his work as unlike as it can be to that of his predecessor, in order that its superiority may be seen; but it is as if one mind, acquainted with both types, or at all events artists working in harmony, and desirous of producing a symmetrical general effect, had drawn on the resources of both styles. The work is that of no copyist—it indicates a fertile mind, conscious of its own resources, and not condescending even to be uniform with itself, since the decorations are characterised by eccentric variations, especially in that department where an inventive mind finds its chief temptation to luxuriate—the foliage. There is of course none of the full richness of foliage to be found in the later pointed architecture—the reason, probably, why the author of " Descriptive Notices of some of the Ancient Parochial and Collegiate Churches of Scotland” says, “ The foliage, although better developed and more varied in design than is usually to be met with among early semi-Norman structures, is yet awanting in the prominence, and that peculiar freedom and sweetness of turn, so conspicuous in the herbaceous forms of the matured first pointed period."
This religious house having been a cell of Durham, its history is to be found in the monastic annals of the north of England. Dugdale and others, founding on a semi-legendary statement of Bede, carry the foundation of the institution as far back as the middle of the seventh century, when Eibba, the aunt of Egfrid, King of Northumberland, chose for its site the rock called St Abb’s Head.* An Ebba appears to have been the head of the religious house two centuries later, of whôm one of the ordinary legends, peculiar to the time, is preserved. It imports that she and her nuns, to defeat the dishonourable intentions of a host of Danish pirates, cut off their lips and
* See Caley and Ellis's edition of the Monasticon, vi. 1149. COLDINGHAM PRIORY, 1--2.