Glasgow Cathedral

Introduction and Prefatory Note


The Name

The Founding of the Abbey

The Building of the Abbey

A Peep within the Walls

Incidents in its History

The Abbot's Debate with John Knox

The Roasting of the Commendator

Present Condition



The Building of the Abbey

 "If thou wouldst view fair Melrose aright,
Go visit it by the pale moonlight;
For the gay beams of lightsome day
Gild, but to flout, the rains grey.
When the broken arches are black in night,
And each shafted oriel glimmers white;
When the cold light's uncertain shower

Streams on the ruin'd central tower;
When buttress and buttress, alternately
Seem framed of ebon and ivory;
When silver edges the imagery
And the scrolls 'that teach thee to live and die;
When distant Tweed is heard to rave,
And the owlet to hoot o'er the dead man's grave;
Then go—but go alone the while—
Then view St. David's ruin'd pile;
And, home returning, soothly swear
Was never scene so sad and fair" !

Lay of the Last Minstrel.

A Roman Catholic church, as everybody knows, is always built, as nearly as possible, east and west,—the idea being that people in worship should face the east, whence the light of the gospel came, and where Christ is expected to appear. The same idea prevails with the Jews, who always pray, like Daniel, "with their windows open towards Jerusalem"; and also with the Mahommedans, who turn in their prayers towards Mecca. We Protestants, of course, don't put any faith in this idea. We build our churches without any regard to the points of the compass, which is very bad, indeed, in high church people's eyes. But surely these people have not yet rightly studied the meaning of those words of the Master—" The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth." In those early days, however, when Crossraguel was built, the practice of worshipping towards the east was a received article of faith. Accordingly, when the plan of the building was drawn out, they would see that the high altar faced the rising sun.*

* In the same way people, long ago, were buried so that they might face the east on rising.

We may, therefore, fancy, on some fine sunny day, 600 years ago, a grand ceremony, attendant upon laying the foundation stone of the Choir, which would naturally be the first part erected. The country folks for miles round would gather to see the spectacle. The grand folks from Turnberry Castle would likewise come, and the rising family of the Kennedys, from their castle at Dunure. All the country priests in the district would be there to assist. The Abbot of Paisley, with his monks, would be of great consequence on that day. And. head of all, the Bishop of Glasgow would be there in his robes of office, with his mitre, crozier, ring, and sandals all complete. And then there would be imposing marchings to and fro, and psalms would be chanted, and banners waved, and holy water sprinkled, and, perhaps, speeches made (if people had got into that bad habit in those clays); and then everybody at the close would go home talking about the grand Abbey that was to be, and what a blessing it would prove to the district.*

* A friend has suggested that the chief ceremonial would rather be at the dedication of the church to the patron saint. Perhaps he is right!

The choir and nave being finished, the builders would next turn their attention to providing accommodation for the monks, as well as apartments for transacting the business of the monastery. Leading off the choir, we have, accordingly, the sacristy or vestry. This room was used as a robing apartment, as well as for holding the various articles used in the service of the church. Next, with an entrance from the cloister, was the chapter house, the room in which the monks held their business meetings. Here they assembled weekly to listen to the rules of their order, and discuss all matters pertaining to their common benefit. We would now-a-days call it a presbytery hall. This is the most handsome of all the apartments in the Abbey. There is a pillar in the centre to support the arched roof, and a stone seat running round it, with a special seat for the abbot, or whoever might act as chairman. Above the chapter house and vestry was a room which may have been used for the scriptorium and library.

Next came that most useful and necessary part of an establishment—the kitchen—where, doubtless, many a savoury mess was prepared on feast days. It stood, probably, on the opposite side of the cloister from the church; while the refectory or dining room, stood in a line with it. The monks here all took their meals together in solemn silence, one of the brethren being deputed to read while the others were eating, so that mind and body might be fed at the same time.

At the extreme corner of the grounds, the abbot's house reared its stately walls. It was three storeys in height, and seems to have been a very comfortable mansion. A strange thing about it was that it had a stream of water flowing right through it, unless, indeed, this has been a modern deviation. In course of time another abbot's house was built. This stands on a different portion of the grounds, and is still in excellent preservation. It is, however, a much smaller building than the other (although quite large enough for a bachelor). It is surmounted by a neat little watch-tower, where, doubtless, in old times, a watchman would be placed to give notice of the approach of strangers. It is just possible, however, that this house may have been the residence of the prior, or other leading official under the abbot.

The cells of the monks, probably, were built over the row of vaults or cellars, which may still be seen stretching from the refectory to the old abbot's house. It is not easy to say how many monks would inhabit them; but from the accommodation provided, there could hardly be more than a dozen, if, indeed, there were so many. Paisley Abbey had only fifteen.

Standing in the extreme west corner of the grounds, may still be seen the ancient dovecot or columbarium. It is shaped like an egg, and has accommodation for a very large colony of pigeons. In all probability, the materials for a good many pigeon-pies were taken out of this oval abode, not to speak of the eggs which might be fried as an accompaniment to their bacon. There is another dovecot of a similar pattern at Dunure Castle.

The only remaining part of the building of which we can speak with confidence, is the cloister, which was simply a square enclosure, with a covered walk round it. The cloister of Crossraguel formed a square of about 70 feet, and may still be traced quite clearly. It was their favourite walk in rainy days; had a well in the centre; and probably a few flowers, in what they called the cloister garth, to refresh the eye.

The architecture of Crossraguel, I must acknowledge, is not very superior. Of course the windows that stood round the altar are now thrown down, and they would, probably, be the finest part of it; but still we may judge pretty accurately of the parts that are gone by the parts that remain. A visitor who has seen Melrose or Roslin is apt to be disappointed with Crossraguel. The building seems paltry, and the carvings coarse. It is like a homely church in the country, after seeing the magnificent temples of the city. Still there is a certain beauty about it too; and the quiet seclusion in which it is placed gives an additional charm to it.

Some time ago the Glasgow Society of Antiquaries visited our Abbey, and I had the advantage of hearing their criticisms. They acknowledged the beauty of certain parts. The window in the nave, for instance, which is still entire, was noticed with pleasure, and some of the carvings at the sedilia, near the high altar, and the workmanship of the sacristy and chapter house; but, generally speaking, I must confess they did not speak so respectfully or admiringly of our Abbey as I could have wished. They seemed to look upon it as the beadle looked upon the old minister's sermon, as "gude, coorse, country wark." Be that as it may, it is our Abbey, and we are bound to stand up for it, with all its faults. It may look paltry in some people's eyes, but it ought never to look paltry in ours. For it is the grandest specimen of antiquity we have; and in early days, "when darkness covered the land, and gross darkness the people," it was a centre of light, and a source of civilisation to all the region around.

It is hardly fair to contrast our unpretending Abbey with the stately cathedral, founded by Bishop Jocelin, at Glasgow, in 1181, and which is exhibited on the adjacent page. They were built with different objects in view. At the same time, Mr James A. Morris, than whom no one has given more attention to the subject, is of opinion that the taste displayed in our Abbey's architecture, is much greater than at first sight appears, or than it usually gets credit for.




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