Paisley Abbey - Nave

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



Incidents in its History

She filled the helm, and back she hied,

And with surprise and joy espied
   A monk supporting Marmion's head;

A pious man, whom duty brought

To dubious verge of battle fought,
   To shrive the dying, bless the dead.
          *     *     *     *     *
The monk, with unavailing cares,
Exhausted all the church's prayers.

          *     *     *     *     *
"Avoid thee, fiend!—with cruel hand,

Shake not the dying sinner's sand !—

Oh, look, my son, upon yon sign

Of the Redeemer's grace divine;
   Oh, think on faith and bliss !—

By many a death-bed I have been,

And many a sinner's parting seen,

   But never aught like this."


As I have already mentioned, the Abbey of Crossraguel was not altogether independent. It was to a certain extent under the charge of the Abbey of Paisley. It had to pay into its treasury a certain yearly tribute; and, above all, it had to submit to a yearly visitation from the Paisley abbot. It is in connection with this right of visitation by the Paisley superiors, that an incident occurred which throws a certain degree of touching human interest about the old building, and brings us face to face with the sayings and doings of Crossraguel in the olden time.

It appears that about the year 1370, or 100 years after the Abbey was built, the discipline of Crossraguel had become very loose,* and the fact had reached the ears of Abbot John of Paisley. He, accordingly, issued a mandate, commanding Abbot Roger of Crossraguel to summon all his monks to appear before him, within the chapter house at Crossraguel, on Wednesday, the feast of St. Michael, the archangel. Accordingly, at the time appointed, Abbot John, with his attendants, appeared in the chapter house, and Abbot Roger, with his monks, were convened in his presence; and, there and then, old Abbot Roger, in presence of his convent, resigned his office of abbot into the hands of the Abbot of Paisley. He made no conditions or stipulations—merely assigning as his reason that he was now so burdened by age and debility, that he was not able to govern the flock committed to him; nor was he able to take care of their lands and goods, and other possessions, to their benefit, as behoved the office of a good pastor; for he would rather, he said, " altogether give up the office than, under the name of pastor, have the desolate flock devoured by the greedy wolf." This view of affairs highly commended itself to Abbot John, who at once accepted the resignation, released old Abbot Roger from his duties, and commanded the monks to fix among themselves a certain day for the election of a new abbot, sensibly observing that "it was necessary this should be done, so that the church might not long be deprived of a pastor in spiritual things, or suffer damage in things temporal."

* The common joke at the time was that, instead of being called Crossraguels, they should have been called Crossrascals.

Most of my readers, I presume, have stood within the old chapter house at Crossraguel. There it still stands with its central pillar, and its stone seat running round the walls as of yore. We may see even the abbot's chair placed in the centre, where Abbot John would that day take his place, while the seats around would be crowded with the monks of the Abbey and the visitors from Paisley. It is a long way back—500 years—yet, doubtless, the human heart was the same then as now. And when old Abbot Roger stood up to resign his office, I doubt not it was with moistened eyes and faltering voice, and a sore, sore heart. I don't think this Abbot Roger was a bad man; he only appears to have been a weak one; and weakness with him led to wickedness in others. It was, in fact, the old story of Eli over again. "His sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not." And then, as to Abbot John of Paisley, the story is altogether to his credit. It was a disagreeable business, of course, but it was managed as gently as circumstances would allow. Somebody must come and set this matter to rights; and he was the proper man to do it. And he did it; and all honour be to him for it. It would be a good thing for the world if those whose office it is to bear rule would do so as vigorously and yet as gently as Abbot John of Paisley.

The next incident I would mention connected with the Abbey, brings us down to the time of the Reformation. It appears that Gilbert, fourth Earl of Cassillis, was, as the old historian of the Kennedys says, "ane werry greidy manne, and cairitt nocht how he gatt land, sa that he culd cum be the samin." At this time, the Reformation had made some progress, and the church lands were being spoiled. Now there chanced to be an abbey in Galloway—the Abbey of Glenluce—the rains of which still stand in the Luce valley, about two miles from Old Luce,—:on whose lands Earl Gilbert had cast his eye; and the way he proceeded to acquire them, was sufficiently characteristic of the times. He first bribed one of the monks of Glenluce to draw up a deed in the deceased abbot's handwriting, and to subscribe it with the forged signatures of all the members of the convent. By this means he got the abbey lands into his possession; but dreading that the monk would some day reveal what he had done, he caused, as the historian says, " ane cairill, quhilk thay callit Carnachaine, to stik him ; and thane, for feir that cairll had reweillit, he garit his fader-broder, Hew of Bargany, accuise this cairll for thift, and hang him in Corsragall."

Now, here again, we get a glimpse of another old tragedy connected with the Abbey, although not a very pleasant one. In fact, there is not a redeeming feature about it. First, we have that "very greedy man," the Earl (the same who after¬wards roasted the commendator at Dunure), standing as chief actor. Then we have his uncle, Hew of Bargany, who appears as false accuser. And, finally, we have the " cairill, quhilk thay callit Carnachaine," who "stikit" the forgingmonk at Glenluce (doubtless for a sum of money), and who now stands trembling there at the foot of the gallows-tree. And all this within the quiet, holy precincts of Crossraguel, with nobody looking on save, perhaps, the poor shaven monks, and the rough retainers of that "very greedy man," the Earl. The picture is not very pleasant, certainly, but it is instructive, and may cause us all to rejoice that we live in. happier times.

The only remaining fact connected with Crossraguel I have to mention here, brings in the name of our well-known neighbour, Ailsa Craig. Everybody in this district knows that there is an old castle on Ailsa, situated about 250 feet above the beach; but who built it, or when it was built, or how it came to be there at all, are questions which nobody pretends to answer, except by way of conjecture. Tradition presents two solutions:—First: it. was built by a man called Barclay, of Ladyland, in the interests of Philip II., King of Spain, at the time of the great Armada—but this story, in that form at least, is as nearly as possible unbelievable. Second: it was built for some purpose or other by the monks of Crossraguel, who also possessed a chapel there.

Some years ago, I took the liberty of writing to a friend, who has some connection with the Register house in Edinburgh, asking him if he could help me to unravel the mystery. He took the trouble of searching, and found a charter of certain subjects, including the island of "Ailysay," granted to the monastery of Crossraguel by King Robert III., in 1404. This fixes the fact of the proprietorship of the island. Next, the stone of which the castle is built (red sandstone) must have been brought from the Ayrshire coast, and that too links the building with Crossraguel. Again, the style of building, with its arched ceilings and built-in ovens, is precisely identical with the abbot's house in Crossraguel. And finally, on a stone in the wall not far from the top, there is a coat of arms, consisting of three cinque-foils, which is the armorial bearings of the Hamilton family. Now, if we could discover that one of the abbots of Crossraguel was a Hamilton, the mystery would be solved, as he doubtless would signalise the fact of his being abbot at the time by placing his shield upon it. I have in my possession a list of most of the abbots of Crossraguel, sent me by Dr. Lees; but as they merely sign with their Christian names, it is impossible, thereby, to ascertain whether any of them belonged to the Hamilton family or not. Be that as it may, however, the main fact is plain, that Ailsa Craig at one time belonged to our Abbey, and, doubtless, supplied their table with gulls and solan geese; and that, in order to maintain possession, they had a castle built on it, wherein they might, in times of danger, flee and be safe.




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