Turnberry Castle from the East.

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 Founding of the Abbey

The Pope he was saying the high, high Mass,
   All on Saint Peter's day;

With the power to him given, by the saints in heaven,
   To wash men's sins away.


The Pope he was saying the blessed Mass,
   And the people kneel'd around;

And from each man's soul his sins did pass,
   As he kiss'd the holy ground.


And all, among the crowded throng,
   Was still both limb and tongue;

While, through vaulted roof, and aisles aloof,
   The holy accents rung.


The Gray Brother.

Crossraguel Abbey owes its existence to the great Carrick family, who lived at Turnberry Castle. This family came originally from Galloway, but settled down here; and one of the most notable things they did was to build and endow Crossraguel. Their name was M'Dowall; and although I have just said that they originally came from Galloway, that is hardly correct, for Carrick was formerly considered a part of Galloway rather than of Ayrshire. In course of time, one branch of the M'Dowalls settled in Galloway proper, and became lords of Galloway, while another branch settled at Turnberry, and became lords of Carrick.

This Turnberry family were good benefactors of the church. They endowed nearly all the parish churches hereabout. Maybole, for instance, and Girvan, Straiton, Dailly, and Kirkoswald, owed their existence to their munificence. But their great gift to the district was Crossraguel Abbey. This crowned all their other benefactions, and secured permanence to the whole. It was Duncan M'Dowall, first Earl of Carrick, who founded the Abbey, and he did so in the year 1244. At that time Alexander II. was King of Scotland, and the country was gradually pushing its way out of the darkness of the middle ages. One of the favourite ways at that time of promoting the welfare of the people was by founding monasteries. One by one they were beginning to be dotted over the land. Dunfermline led the way, founded by King Malcolm Canmore. Then, amongst others, came Paisley, founded by the ancestors of the Stuart kings of Scotland. And then, after a time, came our own Crossraguel, founded by a family soon after to give a king to Scotland, in the person of Robert the Bruce.*

* Marjory, Countess of Carrick, was in 1271 married to Robert Bruce, Earl of Annandale, of which marriage was born in 1274, the great King Robert.

There was, however, a strange law plea at the founding of the Abbey, which threatened at one time to nip the whole in the bud. It appears that Earl Duncan thought the best way to carry out his intention, would be to employ another monastery to set his own one agoing. And so he went to the superiors of Paisley, giving over to them all the money and lands he had provided, and agreeing with them that they should build the Abbey and provide it with monks. The Paisley people, however, were in no haste to fulfil their bargain. They took the money and lands, built a small chapel at Crossraguel, and kept the rest of the funds to themselves.

At this, of course, the Earl (or his successor rather) was very angry, and appealed to the law. The Bishop of Glasgow was chosen arbiter, and he decided in favour of the Earl. He ordained that the Paisley people should forth¬with erect a monastery at Crossraguel, that the monks should be drawn from Paisley, and that these monks should have, in all time coming, the power to elect an abbot for themselves. He ordained, too, that the abbot and monks of Crossraguel should be free from all interference on the part of the Abbot of Paisley, except that he should have the right of visitation over them once a year. All the pos¬sessions which Paisley had in Carrick were to be handed over to Crossraguel, with the exception of the parish churches of Turnberry, Straiten, and Dailly, and an annual tribute of ten marks.

Very wrathful, one may be sure, was the Abbot of Paisley at the decision of the Bishop of Glasgow. Ten marks a year and the right of visitation, were poor compensation for his goodly possessions in Carrick! He, according^ appealed to the Pope in 1265, stating the enormous lessening his income had sustained by this decision, and praying his holiness for redress. The Pope, however, could not see his way to alter the bishop's decision, and so the gift of the Earl passed away from Paisley, and Crossraguel became to all intents and purposes an independent abbey. The revenues of Crossraguel were not so considerable as some of the other Scottish abbeys, and yet they were sufficiently large to make the inmates tolerably comfortable. They consisted mainly of certain lands, which they let, and drew the rents of. At one time (as I will afterwards show) they possessed the island of Ailsa Craig, although I don't suppose they would draw much rent from that!

There is a curious old Roll in existence which gives the exact income of the various religious houses in Scotland, about the time Crossraguel was built. It is usually called Bagimont's Roll, and was drawn up by a certain Italian named Boiamund de Vicci, whom the Pope sent over to tax the Scotch abbeys, for the purpose of relieving (as he said) the Holy Land. The Scottish abbeys vigorously resisted this taxation for a while, but were at last forced to yield. According to this roll, the yearly rental of Crossraguel was £533 6s 4d, which, of course, would mean a much larger sum in those days. But, at the same time, it did not place it at all in the first rank for wealth, seeing that, in the same roll, Paisley is set down at exactly five times that amount.

Still, even as it was, the gift of Crossraguel Abbey to this district was a great gift for a single man to make. It was, in fact, a small fortune in itself. And when we take a walk out to the abbey, we should not forget to thank old Duncan McDowall, who, in those early days, found it in his heart to provide a seat of learning and place of worship for this part of the land. Sir Walter Scott has told us that over the little well at Flodden, where Marmion slaked his dying thirst, were engraved the words :—

"Drink, weary pilgrim, drink and pray

For the kind soul of Sybil Gray,

   Who built this cross and well."

Similar words might well be written at Crossraguel, in memory of one who, in abounding darkness, cherished the light; and who, in days when learning was precious, sacrificed much of his worldly substance, that others might be benefited thereby.




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