'Antiquities of Scotland' Index

The Abbey of Paisley. Renfrewshire


THE priory of Paisley stands in the town of that name, in the Shire of Renfrew. It was first a priory, and afterwards changed into an abbey of Black Monks, brought from Wenlock, in England. It was founded by Walter, son of Alan, Lord High Steward of Scotland, in the year 1164. It was the common burial place of that noble family, until they became Kings of Scotland; and altho' King Robert II. the first of this race who attained to that dignity, was buried at Scone, yet nevertheless his first Lady, Elizabeth Muir (who has made a great noise in the Scottish History) and Euphemia Rofs, his Queen, were both buried here, as likewise Margery Bruce his mother.


THE monks of this place are supposed to have written a Chronicle of the Affairs of Scotland, called the Black Book of Paisley, from the colour of its cover. This curious monument of antiquity, cited frequently by Buchannan, belonged to the President Spoteswood, and after his death was carried into England by General Lambert, and is now in the King's library, at St. James's.

GEORGE SHAW, abbot of this place, in the year 1484, enlarged and beautified this monastery; he built the refectory, and other offices necessary for the monks, the church and the precinct of the convent, and enlarged the gardens and orchards, which he enclosed with a wall of hewn stone, measuring about a mile in circuit. In one of the corners of this wall, towards the outer side, there was a niche, with a statue of the Virgin Mary, with this distich {A unit of verse consisting of two lines, especially as used in Greek and Latin elegiac poetry.} engraven under her feet;

          Hac ne vade vi; nifl dixeris Ave Maria:
          Sit semper sine v; qui tibi dicit Ave;

{Sorry, I never was any good at Latin!}

One of his successors was John Hamilton, natural son to James, Earl of Arran, who was then Bishop of Dunkeld, and afterwards Archbishop of St. Andrews. The Bishop resigned it in the year 1553, 6to Id. Decembris, with the Queen's consent (reservatis fibi fructibus) in favour of Lord Claud Hamilton, a child of ten years of age, not-withstanding that it is expressed in the Bulls of Pope Julius, that he was fourteen years old. This Lord Claud was third son of James, Duke of Chatelherault, Governor of Scotland. He adhered to Queen Mary's interest, and was at the field of Langside in the year 1568, for which he was forfeited: and Paisley, thus in the hands of the crown, was bestowed by the Regent upon Robert, son to William Lord Semple, heritable Baillie of Paisley, and Justiciary of that regality; but Lord Claud being afterwards restored to his fortune, was, in the year 1591, by the favour of King James VI. created Lord Paisley. His son, James, Earl of Abercorn, A. D. 1593, disposed the abbacy of Paisley in favour of the Earl of Angus, by whom it was alienated, in the year 1653, to William, first Earl of Dundonald; in his posterity it continued till the year 1764, when the present Earl of Abercorn repurchased this paternal inheritance of his family. The abbey church appears to have been, when entire, a very grand building: it was in  form of a cross. The great North window is a fine ruin, the arch very lofty, and the middle pillar wonderfully light, and still entire; only the chancel now remains, which is divided into a middle and two side isles, by lofty columns, whose capitals are ornamented with grotesque figures, and supporting Gothic or pointed arches. Here are two ranges of pointed windows, the upper ones remarkably close to each other. Both the West and North doors are highly decorated with sculpture; indeed the whole outside has been profusely ornamented. In 1789 this building was fitting up for parochial service, with pews and galleries, and when finished will be much the handsomest church in Scotland. Towards the West end there are several other ruins.

THE Earl of Abercorn's burial place here, is said to be famous for a remarkable echo; not having heard of it I did not visit it. It is thus described by Mr. Pennant. "The Earl of Abercorn's burial place is by much the greatest curiosity in Paisley; it is an old Gothic chapel, without pulpit or pew, or any ornament whatever; but it has the finest echo perhaps in the world, when the end door, the only one it has, is shut; the noise is equal to a loud, and not very distant clap of thunder: if you strike a single note of music you hear the sound gradually ascending, till it dies away, as if at an immense distance, and all the while diffusing itself through the circumambient air. If a good voice sings, or a musical instrument is well played upon, the effect is inexpressibly agreeable."In this chapel is the monument of Margery Bruce; she lies recumbent, with her hands closed in the attitude of prayer: over her was once a rich arch, with sculptures of her arms.

MR. PENNANT likewise, in his description of this place, speaking of the garden wall before mentioned, says, "The garden wall, a very noble and extensive one, of cut stone, conveys some idea of the ancient grandeur of this place; by a rude inscription, still extant, on the North West corner, it appears to have been built by George Shaw, the Abbot, in the year 1484; the same gentleman who four years after procured a charter for the town of Paisley : the inscription is too singular to be omitted.

     Thy callit the Abbot George of Shaw,
     About my Abby gart make this waw,
     An hundred,* four hundredth zear,
     Eighty four, the date but weir,
     Pray for his salvation
     That laid this noble foundation."

 (* This is evidently an error, probably a typographical one; it should be a thousand.)

THE revenues of this abbey are thus given in Keith's Appendix, Cluniac Abbey of Paisley, in the Shire of Renfrew. Money 2468 lls. {Scots pounds} Bear 40 c. 12, b. Meal 72 c. 3 b. 3 f. 1 p. Oats 43 c. 1 b. 1 f. 1 p. Cheese 705 ft.

{For definitions on these measurements, see the bottom of the Grose, Kilwinning Abbey page}


Where is Pailsey Abbey?



Notice: Undefined index: manage in C:\xampp\htdocs\ntsayrshire\Grose-PaisleyAbbey.html on line 190