Why King Charles Will Sit on Top of This Ancient Rock at His Coronation

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Diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, and rubies are sure to make dazzling appearances at the coronation of King Charles III this weekend, but a far more precious rock will also play an important, if subtle, role.

Enter the legendary Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone. This 336-pound sandstone slab has journeyed all the way from Edinburgh to London for King Charles's big day. At Westminster Abbey, it will be fitted underneath the over 700-year-old wooden Coronation Chair, which the monarch will sit upon as he is crowned.

So, what's the big deal about the boulder? Read ahead for six major facts about the ancient relic.

Legend says its origins are biblical—but, scientists say otherwise.

According to a Celtic myth, biblical patriarch Jacob used the stone as a pillow over 3,000 years ago; it was the pillow he allegedly rested on when he received visions from angels. The stone thus traveled from Palestine through Egypt, Sicily, Spain, and Ireland, where, at last, Celtic Scots took the coveted rock slab to the village of Scone.

Archaeologists, however, dispute this story. National Geographic notes that it is not possible for the stone to have once belonged to Jacob, since it is made of sandstone instead of limestone, the latter of which forms the bedrock of the Holy Land. It is more likely that the Stone of Destiny was quarried in Scotland.

It has been used in coronations for centuries.

At about 700 BCE, the stone was allegedly set upon Ireland's hill of Tara and used for the crownings of ancient Irish kings. When Celtic Scots seized the stone, it was transported to the Scottish village of Scone (hence the name, Stone of Scone) where it was then encased in a coronation chair for Scottish kings. John de Balliol was the last Scottish king to use the stone for a coronation before England's King Edward I invaded the country and moved it to London.

England stole the stone from Scotland.

Edward I removed the stone from Scotland after conquering the country in 1296. It lied in Westminster Abbey, where he had it fitted into the bottom of a special wooden throne, known as the Coronation Chair. Henceforth, the inclusion of the rock in English coronations was meant to symbolize Scotland's inclusion under the English crown.

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The Coronation Chair and the Stone of Destiny.Susannah Ireland - PA Images - Getty Images

The sandstone rock continues to play an important role in the inductions of British sovereigns today. It was last used in a coronation during the 1953 crowning of Queen Elizabeth II.

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Queen Elizabeth sits on the Coronation Chair with the Stone of Destiny.Fox Photos - Getty Images

Supposedly, a prophecy was once attached to the stone.

According to legend, a prophecy was once written on a piece of metal attached to the stone. There are differing translations to the supposed prophecy. One such translation by Sir Walter Scott reads:

Unless the fates be faulty grown
And prophet’s voice be vain
Where’er is found this sacred stone
The Scottish race shall reign.

Another declares:

If Fates go right, where'er this stone is found
The Scots shall monarchs of that realm be crowned.

The inscription seems to foretell the return of a Scottish ruler. Some Scots thought the prophecy was fulfilled when James VI became king in 1603 after the death of his cousin, Elizabeth I.

Scottish students stole it back in 1950.

On Christmas morning of 1950, four Glasgow students—Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson, Alan Stuart, and Ian Hamilton—broke into Westminster Abbey, dragged the stone across the floor and into their getaway car, and drove away. The Stone of Destiny would turn up three months later at Scotland's Arbroath Abbey, where the Declaration of Scottish Independence was famously signed.

The incident occurred during a contentious period of Scottish nationalism, in which many Scots expressed their desire for self-government.

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The stone is removed from Abroath Abbey in 1951.PA Images - Getty Images

It officially returned home to Scotland in 1996.

Prime Minister John Major returned the stone to Scotland in 1996. It is now currently housed in Edinburgh Castle, and has been transported from Edinburgh to London for King Charles's May 6 coronation.

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