Introduction and Prefactory 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 Abbot's Debate with John Knox


Crossraguel's Abbot, old and gray,
   Has set his lance in rest,

And rode forth in his armour
   To challenge Scotland's best.

And who should take his challenge up
   But our Reformer bold; ,

So in Maybole the lists are set,
   The New against the Old.


Back Vennal now looks dark and bare,
   But, on that famous day,

It cock'd its beaver hat a bit
   To witness such a fray;

For Cassillis' lord was there to judge,
   And eighty men so true,

To see the doughty battle waged
   Betwixt the Old and New.

Abbot Quintin he engaged to prove
   The Mass stood plain to see,

When Salem's king brought bread and wine
   To Abraham's company;

But Knox could see nought in that act
   Save hospitality,

And strongly said the Romish Mass
   Was flat idolatry.


For three whole days the strife waxed high
   With meikle noise and din,

And with the usual consequence
   That neither side gave in ;

The Old stuck to Melchizedek,
   Who offered Mass, they cried;

The New would hear of no such creed.
   And stuck by Knox's side.

The great debate has passed away,
   The debaters too are gone,

And all that eager throng are now
   Sunk in oblivion;

But still the echoes of that day
   In Fancy's ear roll on,

When the Abbot old and Knox the bold
   Met in our Maybole town.


In the year 1560 the Scottish Parliament passed an Act, abolishing the Roman Catholic Church within the realm. Not only did they do this, but they decreed the celebration of the Mass within Scotland to be an act worthy, in the first instance, of fine; in the second, of banishment; in the third, of death. Against the passing of this Act only five of the Scottish nobility opposed their votes, and one of these was our own Earl of Cassillis; and he, when asked for his reasons, said that "he would believe as his fathers had believed." The consequence was, that although the celebration of the Roman Catholic worship was pronounced illegal, there were certain districts of the country where it was celebrated in spite of the Parliament. One of these districts was this Carrick of ours. And although once and again notice was taken of the ongoings of the Crossraguel abbot, and warning given him, still owing to the power and well-known opinions of the Earl, no effective steps could be taken to prevent it.


At this time the Abbot of Crossraguel was Quintin Kennedy, uncle to the Earl of Cassillis. He appears to have been a man of a quiet, inoffensive disposition, as well as a man of some learning, as learning went in those days. Dr. M'Crie says of him :—"Though his talents were not of a superior order, the abbot was certainly one of the most respectable of the Popish clergy in Scotland, no,t only in birth, but also in regularity and decorum of conduct." He was the author of several treatises now forgotten,* and died in August, 1564. He is said to have been canonized after his death, but I can find no proof of this.

* The Rev. Mr O'Shaughnessy, our respected R. C. clergyman, at one time thought of republishing the abbot's writings, but I fear the;- would prove "dreich" leading.

John Knox had come from Edinburgh, and was staying for a time at Ochiltree,—courting his second wife, I presume. The abbot seems to have been roused at this near approach of the great Reformer, and preached a special sermon in the Parish Church of Kirkoswald, on the new doctrines of the Reformation, declaring his intention to continue his attack on the following Sunday. John Knox was informed of this proceeding, and accordingly, on the following Sunday, he presented himself, with some twenty of his friends, at the church of Kirkoswald, hoping that he would get a chance of measuring swords with Abbot Quintin. But Abbot Quintin wisely stayed at home, leaving Knox to preach to the congregation himself, as he apparently did on " Knox hill," which stands close by the village. But although Abbot Quintin was daunted, he was not dismayed, and accordingly dispatched to Knox the same da}- the following letter, which, with modernised spelling and grammar, I will quote almost verbatim:—

" |ohn Knox, I am informed that you are come into this country to seek disputation, and, in special, to attack certain articles which were pronounced and rehearsed by me to my flock in Kirkoswald on Sunday last. Truly I will not refuse disputation with you, but most earnestly covet the same, so that it may be to the glory of God and the trial of the truth. Wherefore, if it please you, this day eight days, in any house in Maybole you please, provided always there be no assem¬blage passing twelve or twenty on either side, which is a sufficient number to bear witness between us, I shall enter into reasoning with you, and, God willing, shall defend the said articles by the manifest word of God, and all good reason, as they are written, and, in special, the article concerning the Mass. You shall be sure you shall receive no injury of me nor of any that to me pertains, nor any kind of molestation in word or work, but "familear, formal, and gentill" reasoning. And think not that this is done for putting off time, but by reason I am prohibited and forbidden by my lord of Cassillis, in name and behalf of the Council, to enter into reasoning with you or any other, before his return to this district, whose command I have promised to obey. Besides, I am very desirous to have my lord of Cassillis (as my chief and brother's son) and others to be auditors, by which, if it please God, they may have profit of our reasoning. And so, fare ye well, at Crosraguell, this Sunday, the 6th of September.


John Knox replied to this in his usual forcible way, pointing out that St. John's Kirk in Ayr * would be a better place for holding the proposed debate in, and suggesting that the more who heard them, the better it would be for the truth. But the abbot would not agree to this, and so, after various letters had passed between them, the following terms were agreed upon :—The day to be the 23th of September, 1562 • the place, the Provost's house in Maybole ; the hour of commencement, eight o'clock a.m. ; the number on each side, forty persons, with as many more as the house might well hold, at the sight of my lord of Cassillis.

* Destroyed by Cromwell. What is now called "the Fort" was once its tower. It was the church of Knox's famous son-in-law, John Welch.

The day then having arrived, and the apartment being filled with the eighty persons aforesaid, and as many besides as pleased my lord and his friends, " John Knox addressed himself to make public prayer, whereat the abbot was sore offended at the first, but when the said John would in nowise be stayed, he and his gave audience; which, being ended, the abbot said, ' Be my faith, it is weill said.' " This is the opening of the debate, and its quaintness has always tickled my fancy. First, we have "the said John" insisting, in his well-known masterful way, on opening the meeting with prayer, and carrying his point too. Then we have honest Abbot Quintin acknowledging the excellence of the prayer in words which will hardly bear strict theological criticism, but which at least shew him to have been of an open, hearty disposition. And then, finally, we have " the said John " setting all this down in cool blood afterwards, compliment and all, so that posterity might know how he was praised even by his enemies.

The debate then proceeded, but I cannot enter into it; and, in fact, it is not worth entering into. The whole three days' debate turned upon this point, brought forward by Abbot Quintin. Did Mechizedek offer Mass when he brought forth the bread and wine to Abraham? Abbot Quintin said he did. John Knox said he did not. Abbot Quintin asked—" If it was not the Mass he offered, what was it ? John Knox said it was not his business to prove what it was, but supposed it must have been for a refresh¬ment. Abbot Quintin said it could not have been for refreshment, as Abraham had all the spoils of Sodom in his hand. Knox replied that he might not have had bread and wine among the spoils; and, even if he had, a man is often served with refreshments out of courtesy. Abbot Quintin said that it was Melcizedek alone who is said to have brought forth bread and wine, and a single man could never have supplied refreshment for the three hundred and eighteen persons who were with Abraham. Knox replied that a man is often said to have done by himself what was done by his orders. And so the wearisome debate went on. Knox tried hard to get out of this rut, but Abbot Quintin held him fast. He stuck by Mechizedek whatever might happen; and the end was, that after three days' debate, the company broke up, evidently disgusted at the whole business.

Among other conditions, Knox had stipulated that there should be reporters present, who should take down an account of the proceedings; and from their report, Knox, in the following year, drew up a history of the debate, which was published. Strange to say, however, every copy of that book seems to have perished except one, which, somehow or other, was preserved in the library of the Boswells of Auchinleck. In 1812, the Boswell family allowed a reprint of their copy to be made, and we have it now in paper, print, and binding exactly the same as the edition issued by Knox himself in the year 1563.

Such, then, is a short account of the famous Maybole debate between John Knox and the last Abbot of Crossraguel. It is said to have been on the doctrine of the Mass, but in reality, it was simply on the meaning to be attached to Melchizedek's bringing forth bread and wine to Abraham. The abbot held that this was a prefigurement of their doctrine of the Lord's Supper, and Knox denied it. That is the sum and substance of the whole. Of course, to plain common-sense minds, the assertion of the abbot is absurd; but it is found very difficult in practice to argue with an absurdity. An absurdity is above and beyond the power of reasoning—" familear, formall, gentill," or any other kind—and we need not be surprised, therefore, if even John Knox's eloquence was thrown away upon such a man as Abbot Quintin.*

* Although Abbot 'Quintin was not canonised, his argument has been so, as in the Calendar, at March 25th, is written, " Melchezedek sacrifeit breid and wyne in figure of ye bodie, and bloud of our Lord, whilk is offerit in ye messe."

Everybody in Maybole knows " John Knox's house,"' where the debate was held. It stands in what is called the Back Vennal, and, like many a better mansion in this country, was turned into a public house in its day, which rejoiced in the name of "The Red Lion." It has now, however, more appropriately resumed its position as a private dwelling. This house was formerly the residence of Andrew Gray, Provost of the Collegiate Church of Maybole; and on a house behind it, is the only instance remaining in the town of a very common practice of our forefathers—the carving of a pious motto on the lintel of the door, which in this case reads, " God's providence is my inheritance." The house itself is in good preservation, but much modernised in appearance; and the only relic in it is an old panel over the fireplace, representing some scene, which it is not easy now to make out. A few years ago, the house adjoining was demolished, and a lintel stone, with the following, inscription on it, brought to light:—

Three Ds, three Ls, wanting ae I.
Hard yier for Kings, Duks, Lords, and me.

This couplet had evident reference to the date of the erection of the house to which it belonged, and is to be interpreted in accordance with the Roman numerals, as under:—D.D.D.L.L.L—1650—deduct I and we have 1649, which, as the year of the execution of Charles I, and the proclamation of the commonwealth, under Cromwell, was, indeed, a hard year for kings and nobles. The inscription was held by some to belong to Knox's house itself, and to prove that the present building was only erected on the foundation of the original one. But it is sufficient, surely, to say that the stone belonged to the adjoining house—not to this one—and the inscription merely serves to prove the antiquity of the Back Vennal generally.

Dunure Castle, depicted on the adjoining page, is one of the most massive ruins in this locality. In which of its vaults the commendator was roasted, it may be difficult to say, as there are several quite likely enough for the purpose. The conical building to the right is the dovecot, similar to the one at Crossraguel. This ruin was the original seat of the Kennedys, once so powerful in this district. They were " Kings of Carrick," and their despotic rule is pithily represented in the well-known lines:—

'' Twixt Wigtown and the toon o' Ayr,

And laigh doon by the cruives o' Cree,

Nae man shall get a lodging there,

Unless he court wi' Kennedy


R. L.




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