Although it may sound like a stale tea-time pastry, the Stone of Scone is an ancient symbol of Scottish sovereignty. According to legend, the sandstone slab was used by the biblical figure Jacob as a pillow when he dreamed of a ladder reaching to heaven and then brought to Scotland by way of Egypt, Spain and Ireland. The rock, also known as the Stone of Destiny, was used for centuries in the coronation ceremonies of Scottish monarchs. Following his victory at the Battle of Dunbar in 1296, England’s King Edward I seized the stone from Scotland’s Scone Abbey and had it fitted into the base of a specially crafted wooden Coronation Chair on which English—and later British—monarchs have been crowned inside London’s Westminster Abbey ever since.

Coronation Chair, Stone of the Scone, Westminster Abbey
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The Coronation Chair, with the Stone of Scone, in Westminster Abbey, London, c. 1937.

The Stone of Scone was secretly buried underneath the historic abbey for safekeeping during World War II, and a plan for locating it was sent to the Canadian prime minister. German bombs never damaged the stone, but four University of Glasgow students who broke into Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve in 1950 did. The nearly 400-pound Stone of Scone split in two as the Scottish nationalists dislodged it from the Coronation Chair and brought it back to Scotland in the trunk of a car. Four months after its disappearance, the repaired stone was discovered draped in a Scottish national flag on the high altar of the ruined Arbroath Abbey. No charges were ever brought against the students, and the stone was returned to Westminster Abbey.

Seven hundred years after King Edward I removed the Stone of Scone from Scottish soil, British Prime Minister John Major unexpectedly announced its return, which occurred on November 15, 1996. It now resides in Edinburgh Castle but will be made available for future coronation ceremonies at Westminster Abbey. Rumors persist in Scotland, however, that the rock taken by King Edward I was a replica and that the monks at Scone Abbey hid the actual stone in a river or buried it for safekeeping.