It might not look like much, but Soutra Aisle is all that remains of Scotland’s largest Medieval hospital. This burial vault for the Pringle family was built out of the ruins and without it, there would be no sign this enormous institution had ever existed.
The Holy Trinity at Soutra was founded at some point before 1164 when it was mentioned as already functioning by King Malcolm IV. It was granted huge swathes of fertile land to support it financially and the hospital flourished.
Not just thanks to those farms, but from plenty of charitable donations too. This was a European-wide famous hospital and the rich and powerful that were treated here made sure to leave hefty gifts in thanks.
Soutra was built at the highest point on the Royal Road, the quickest route between Edinburgh and the rich Border Abbeys. It was part of the Roman Dere Street that once allowed legionaries to march from York right up to the River Forth.
They weren’t the only soldiers to use this route. Many armies both Scottish and English marched this way on their regular invasions. Either in victory or defeat, the battered troops would have given the monks at Soutra Aisle plenty of work on their way home again.
It might come as no surprise that the downfall of this lifesaving hospital was due to one man’s greed. Stephen Fleming, the Master of Soutra was caught skimming hospital cash off the top for himself. As punishment, the King confiscated most of the hospital lands into the crown estate instead.
Fleming isn’t entirely to blame, he wasn’t the first or last here to be caught with his hand in the piggy bank. If anything, it was a sign that the royal coffers were in need of topping up. This was just the excuse that the King needed to get his hands on some lucrative lands!
That was the beginning of the end for Soutra Aisle and before long, it had gone from the equivalent of an international superhospital to a local GP office.
Archaeologists have discovered fascinating things about medieval medicine from under the ground at Soutra. Ingredients from all around the world were found here, including opium poppy, probably used as an 800 year old anaesthetic!