Royal relic to be moved from Edinburgh Castle to Westminster Abbey

Operation Stone of Destiny: Sacred Royal relic to be moved from Edinburgh Castle to Westminster Abbey in secret amid fears of hijacking plot ahead of King’s coronation next month

  • Stone of Destiny will be moved from Edinburgh Castle to Westminster Abbey
  • But there are fears it could be hijacked by republicans or Scots nationalists

A cloak-and-dagger operation is under way to transport the sacred Stone of Destiny from Edinburgh Castle to Westminster Abbey ahead of King Charles’s Coronation next month.

The Stone has had huge significance in coronations for centuries and is steeped in controversy – which is why exact timings of the carefully planned military operation to move it are being kept secret.

There are fears the relic, also known as the Stone of Scone, could be hijacked by republican groups or angry Scottish nationalists.

Although officials have declined to discuss specific threats to the Stone’s journey south, many nationalists have openly urged disruption. One wrote online: ‘They only want it under the throne to exercise their ownership of Scotland. I would love the fact it was shown on TV and we stopped it. Oh the joy of it.’

Another added: ‘What is needed is an insider at Edinburgh Castle to tip the wink.

A cloak-and-dagger operation is under way to transport the sacred Stone of Destiny (pictured) from Edinburgh Castle to Westminster Abbey ahead of King Charles’s Coronation next month

‘However it’s removed, there must be a massive protest making clear it’s without the approval of the Scottish people, tarnishing the Coronation in Scotland.’

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the 24st block of sandstone, measuring roughly 26 x 16 x 11in, will be put into a special container and head to its temporary London home in the last week of April.

On arrival, the Stone will be placed beneath the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey, where it sat for most of the past 700 years after England’s King Edward seized it from Scotland in 1296.

On Christmas Day 1950, four Scottish students removed it from the Abbey – taking it away in a less-than-regal Ford Anglia – and three months later it turned up 500 miles away at the high altar of Arbroath Abbey.

Although it was returned to Westminster Abbey, then Prime Minister John Major later unexpectedly announced that it should be returned to Scotland for permanent display.

In November 1996, the Stone was winched up and out of the Coronation Chair using a running pulley. It was then lowered on to a purpose-built hand barrow, based on the type used by medieval stonemasons, and driven from London to Scotland using both police and Army vehicles before being paraded in front of a 10,000-strong crowd up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle.

King Charles is reported to have said he would have been perfectly happy with the Stone of Destiny staying in Scotland, but Downing Street insisted it travel south to Westminster Abbey.

The Stone has already undergone an extensive assessment by conservation experts at Historic Environment Scotland (HES), who now have responsibility for it.

Space constraints in the Crown Room at Edinburgh Castle, where it is kept alongside the Scottish Crown Jewels, mean it will need to be removed using a special mechanical gurney.

An insider explained: ‘It’s just too heavy to move by hand, given the space available.’

Officials have declined to reveal exactly how the Stone will be transported south, but it is understood to involve a multi-agency team including the Army, police and HES.

Once back in London, it will need to be inched into place in a delicate operation to ensure that neither the priceless stone nor Coronation Chair is damaged. It is understood a scaffold will be erected around the Coronation Chair, which will support a block-and-tackle pulley system.

A spokesman for HES said: ‘The Stone will be placed into the Coronation Chair using a similar method to that used in 1996 for its removal, but with enhancements where techniques and technology have improved. Our specialist teams from HES and Westminster Abbey will work collaboratively to achieve the installation to ensure the safety of both objects.’

Officials remain tight-lipped about the Stone’s journey south, saying only that details and timings of the move will not be made public for security reasons.

Some time after his Westminster Abbey Coronation, King Charles III will take part in an elaborate ceremony at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh – site of a vigil for Queen Elizabeth following her death in Balmoral last year – where he will receive the Honours of Scotland: a crown, sword and sceptre dating from the late 15th Century.

The last time they were used for a coronation was to crown Charles II at Scone in 1651.

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