THE old Abbey stands by the highway side,
Facing the wind and rain,
Its days of pomp are over now,
Its ruins alone remain.
The monks who paced its cold nagged floor,
And taught their lips to pray,
Have gone and left their places now
To silence and decay.
Its belfry still, with cross o'er-topped,
Looks into the empty air,
But no bells within ring the vespers now
Which summon the good to prayer.
The chapter-house is seated still,
The brethren ready to greet,
But no abbot is there to claim his chair,
Nor monk with unshod feet.
The cloister-well is there as of yore,
With steps leading down to the brim,
And the sacristy still seems waiting to hear
The sound of the evening hymn.
And the abbot's tower looks as fresh as though
Its master had just gone away,
And the dovecot sounds with the rustling of wings
As it did on a former day.
But no shaven monk, with coarse black robe
And cowl to cover his head,
Is seen hovering now these ruins around
With silent, solemn tread.
And no abbot comes from his castle door,
Or paces the cloister square ;
And no incense is flung, or hymns are sung,
Or voices go up in prayer.
For the altar high is broken down,
And Masses are said no more;
And the holy fonts are swept aside,
And the green sod paves the floor;
And the blue-bell springs from each crevice and chink,
And the starling builds in the wall,
And the winds and the rain still moulder amain,
And the strong tower nods to its fall.
And the lesson it teaches to all who pass,
Is plain and clear to see,
That error is transient—truth alone
'Dures to eternity.
Man's little systems live their time,
And then they pass away;
They perish, like Crossraguel's pile,
By slow but sure decay.
About two miles south of the town of Maybole,
although included within the parish of Kirkoswald, stand the ruins of
Crossraguel Abbey. It stands close by the wayside, in a natural
hollow, down which runs a small burn. The high¬way in former times ran
along the brow of the rising ground to the right, and crossed the line
of turnpike a little farther on at a place called Willholm. It is from
this rising ground that the best view of the abbey is to be obtained.
Although now standing roofless for more than
300 years the building is wonderfully complete. Robert Chambers says
of it—" There is no ecclesiastical ruin of the kind in Scotland where
the cloisters and other domestic buildings are so entire." And that
this is the case, every one who has visited our Scotch abbeys will
acknowledge. The abbot's tower merely needs a roof to render it
habitable ; and the chapter-house does not need even that, but seems
waiting, with abbot's chair, and stone benches all round, to receive
its former occupants.
Billings, in his "Ecclesiastical
Antiquities," draws attention to the somewhat incongruous character of
the buildings at Crossraguel. He calls it a " half baronial, half
ecclesiastical ruin, in which the rough square tower, such as those
from which the moss-troopers issued to their forays, frown over the
beautiful remains of some rich and airy specimens of the middle period
of Gothic work." And this, too, must be acknowledged to be just. The
aspect of Crossraguel speaks of days when ecclesiastical rulers
wielded other swords than the Sword of the Spirit, when man's life was
greatly insecure, and when the church had begun to forget that
Christ's kingdom was not of this world.
It is of this Abbey I purpose here giving a
popular account. I shall trace its history so far as known, give a
peep into its internal arrangements, point out the probable use of the
buildings still remaining, and narrate one or two incidents connected
with its history. Crossraguel never became famous in any wide sense of
the word, nor do we read of it much in general history, but it was of
supreme importance in this southern district of Ayrshire, where it
formed the central influence both as to learning and religion. I am
only sorry that the original documents are so scanty. Every monastery
in old times kept three books— a Chartulary for its charters of
property, an Obituary for its deaths, and a Register for passing
events. Not one of these documents regarding Crossraguel can now be
found. They were in existence, it is believed, some years ago, but
have now disappeared. But even if found, it is not supposed they would
throw much light on interesting topics. Crossraguel was, after all, a
comparatively small establishment. It was a country monastery, doing
good work, doubtless, in its place, but not shaking the world. Its
story, therefore, need not be looked forward to with any degree of
excitement, but on that account may prove the more interesting and
profitable. It is common thought and common everyday work that make
the world what it is.