Crypt of 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



Present Condition


"Why sitt'st thou by that ruined Hall,

   Thou aged carle so stern and gray?

Dost thou its former pride recall,

   Or ponder how it passed away?"


"Know'st thou not me?" the deep voice cried;

   "So long enjoyed, so oft misused—

Alternate, in thy fickle pride,

   Desired, neglected, and accused!

"Before my breath, like blazing flax,

   Man and his marvels pass away:

And changing empires wane and wax,

   Are founded, flourish, and decay.

"Redeem mine hours—the space is brief—
   While in my glass the sand-grains shiver,

And measureless thy joy or grief
   When TIME and thou shalt part for ever."

                         Sir W. Scott.


At what time the partial demolition of our Abbey took place, we are not quite sure. I find in Knox's History of the Reformation, that in 1561 there was an Act passed, ordering "all places and monuments of idolatry" to be demolished, and this would, of course, include our Abbey; for, according to Knox, the Mass was idolatry. To the carrying out of this Act in the west country, the Earls of Arran, Argyll, and Glencairn were appointed. And these, we are told, set to work so vigorously, that it could be reported "that Paisley Abbey was burned, Failford and Kilwinning Abbeys cast down, and that Crossraguel was partly demolished." Still, in 1562, we find, as has been already mentioned, Abbot Quintin apparently dwelling in peace at Crossraguel; and even so far down as 1570 we find Commendator Stewart "within the Wood of Crossraguel, doing his lawful errands and business," when the rough retainers of Lord Cassillis came down upon him and bore him off to Dunure. Very probably, as indeed one might learn from the ruins themselves, the church may have been broken down, while the domestic buildings were left uninjured.

In this way our Abbey attained its unique position of completeness. The other abbeys in Scotland present now merely a fragment of what they once were. But Crossraguel is wonderfully entire. We can walk about our Zion, telling the towers, and marking the bulwarks with a fair amount of certainty; and for this circumstance we have to thank the fact, that when the Scotch abbeys were being pulled down by law, our Abbey was in the possession of the Kennedys, who were too powerful in this district to allow any more violence to be done to it than was absolutely necessary. The new Abbot's Tower is untouched, and so are the Chapter House, the Sacristy, the Refectory, the Scriptorium, the Dovecot, and the Cloister. Of course the old abbot's house is sadly shaken, and the choir windows are thrown down, and the smaller out-houses,—but we may be thankful, for all that, that so much is left. Time, too, has laid but a light finger on the ruin; although for this we have partly to thank the various reverent hands that have from time to time been put to it to prevent its fall. The present custodier, Sir James Fergusson, has especially been careful of its preservation.

On entering the Abbey grounds from the highway, the first thing one notices are certain gravestones planted on the sward. These were erected at a time when burials were allowed within the precincts, but this privilege has for many years been withdrawn. They are all comparatively modern. It is different when you enter the church, where a tombstone of more ancient date has recently been brought to light. The inscription is as follows :—" Egidia Blayr, Domina de Row, quae obiit Anno Domini MDXXX." The stone has been broken and shifted out of its place, apparently, to get at the coffin underneath. When uncovered last year, a skull was found lying beside it—probably that of the owner. The will of Lady Row, who dwelt at Baltersan House,*(1) before the present castle was erected, is still extant, and a few items from it may be interesting:—" I give and bequeath my soul to God Almighty, and the blessed Virgin Mary, and to all saints, and my body to be buried in the Monastery of Crossraguel, in the blessed Virgin's aisle. And I appoint and ordain for my executors, David Kennedy, of Pennyglen; Sir John Kennedy, Prebendary of Maybole; and the Rev. Father in Christ, William, by Divine permission, Abbot and Superior of the Monastery of Crossraguel. Imprimis, I leave and bequeath to the Convent of Crossraguel, twenty pounds. Item, for building an altar in the church of St. Oswald, twenty marks. Item, to the chaplains and friars, on the day of my burial, twenty marks. Item, to the poor upon the said day, forty shillings in drink (!), and a chalder of meal, and ten stones of cheese. Item, I bequeath the residue and remainder of all my goods, for building my part of the bridge upon the water of Girvan, formerly built by me; and if anything remains over and above, I bequeath the same to the poor, to be laid out at the discretion of my executors." Poor, kindly old lady, her body might have been allowed to rest in peace, after these and sundry other generous benefactions!*(2)

*(1) Baltersan, I am informed, means Cross House, and the lands at one time belonged to the Abbey. The present Castle was probably built on the site of the House.

*(2) An old Meal-ark or "Girnal," which belonged to Lady Row, is now in the possession of Mr Haswell, of Abbey Mill.

On the left of Lady Row's tombstone is another which tells us that, "Hir lyis Tomas M'Culie," and some of his relations; on the right is a niche in the partition wall, containing at one time, probably, a recumbent statue; while in the choir, there is a tombstone sadly defaced, which tries to declare—" Heir lyes ane honorabal man "; but who he was, or what he was, is unknown. The old abbots them¬selves ought to have been buried here also, but no trace of their tombs has yet been discovered.

Crossraguel Church is a long narrow building—160 feet by 25—lying, as usual, east and west, and divided into two parts by a partition wall, on the top of which has hung a pair of bells*,  This at least is its present form, although recent excavations have revealed the fact that the church was cruciform originally. Passing through the doorway, over which is a small niche for the reception of a statue (probably of the Virgin Mary, to whom it was dedicated), you stand in what is called the nave. Immediately on the left of the doorway, there is a portion of the holy water font visible in the wall; and there is, likewise, a staircase seen adjoining the choir, for the convenience, probably, of the bell-ringers. Proceeding through the nave we enter the choir, where the high altar stood. The fine east windows, now thrown down, must have had a fine effect when seen from this point. The altar itself stood at the east end ; and the large ornamented recess in the wall to the right of it is the sedilia, or seats for the officiating priest and his assistants, at the celebration of the Mass; while the smaller recess beside it is the piscina, or place into which the wine and water not used in the celebration of the Sacrament was thrown. The large vaulted room leading off the choir is the sacristy, used as a vestry, but doubtless for other .purposes beside. It is locally called the "singing room," probably from one of its uses. There was evidently a staircase leading from the choir to the apartment above the sacristy, which was probably the scriptorium, where books were read and written.

* The two bells were used to distinguish the different devotional hours.

The Church of Crossraguel, as it stands, is somewhat of a puzzle. In ordinary cathedrals, the nave is only separated from the choir by a low screen, but here there is a high stone wall. In all probability, therefore, there must have been alterations made upon the design from what it was originally. What is now the nave seems to be of older date than the choir, and could not have been conveniently used in the church service as it at present stands. Possibly, therefore, the church was at first shorter, with transepts— the present nave forming part of the original church; but when the choir was added, the new building was used exclusively as the place of worship, and the old nave in a great measure disused. Such, at least, is the conjecture of Mr. Morris; although Dr. Lees is of opinion, from similar churches in Normandy, that the nave, even as it at present stands, was used by the parishioners, and the choir by the monks.

Passing out of the choir by a doorway, beside which is another holy water font, we find ourselves in a large court called the cloister. A covered walk runs round it, and a well has recently been discovered in the centre of it. On the fifth step may be seen an inscription in Latin, declaring quaintly, "Lord John Boyd built me." Leading off the cloister to the left is the chapter house, a vaulted apartment of much beauty, and supported by a central pillar. It has, like the sacristy, a stone seat running round it, and an ornamental chair for the abbot. On the opposite side of the cloister from the church is the refectory or dining hall, with the old fire-place and stone-fender still remaining; while the kitchen itself stood in continuation, with a pantry between them. The object of the remaining building in the cloister has not been clearly ascertained; although from the plan of similar buildings, it has been supposed to be what served as a parlour or day-room. The cellars or vaults which cover so large a portion of the ground, were probably used for storing fuel, &c.; and the large one next the refectory was most likely the wine cellar. An old tradition asserts that a subterraneous passage at one time stretched from one of these vaults to Baltersan Castle. It is sufficient to say that the Castle was not built till the Abbey was in ruins.

The new abbot's house is a square tower of three storeys, 30 feet in height, with an archway and porter's lodge beneath, and a neat little watch-tower above. A small room opening off the only remaining apartment, is usually pointed out as a confessional, but I fear it was appropriated to a much more ignoble use ! Near by are the remains of the farm buildings and granaries, part of the old bake-house floor, and the quaint-looking dovecot. The old abbot's house is a much more extensive building than the other, but much more dilapidated. It is interesting here to notice the stone ovens, and the cosy little seats by the windows. What the object of the remaining buildings was, can only be guessed at; but one of them at least must have been the hospitium or strangers' apartment, as hospitality was a virtue none can deny them.

There was a custom at the time the Abbey was built, which enables us to tell how many masons were engaged in hewing stones for it. It was then, it appears, the custom for each mason to put his special mark on the stones which he hewed, so that they might be known. These marks still remain quite distinct and clear, after the lapse of six hundred years; and, so far as can be made out, they are thirteen in number, although, of course, some occur much more frequently than others. The custom, I am informed, remains among Free Masons to the present day; and in the Bible presented by Robert Burns to Highland Mary, his Mason's mark may still be seen conspicuous.

The carvings on the Abbey are for the most part very simple; and a well preserved likeness of a mermaid, with her comb and glass, may still be seen on the sacristy window. But the most touching one is on the cross surmounting the belfry, where, at the junction of the two arms, is seen a circle enclosing five hearts, to tell of the exceeding love of Him who died on it for mankind. The "Wood of Crossraguel," where Commendator Stewart was seized, lay to the east of the Abbey. The old Abbey Mill stood on the banks of the small burn to the south, near the present farm-house of South Mains. Between the Mill and the Abbey was the fish-pond, containing carp, tench, eels, &c., for the supply of the Abbey table. This fish-pond was latterly called the Otter's hole, and was in existence within the memory of men still living. In former times, of course, the Abbey precincts were much more extensive than they are now, and the public road farther off. At present, the Abbey grounds comprise eight acres, which are held on lease from the chapel royal by Sir James Fergusson, Bart, of Kilkerran.

Note.—The following names of places in the locality still attest their connection with Crossraguel:—Baltersan (or cross house), North Mains of Abbey, South Mains of Abbey (commonly called Monks\ Abbey Mill, perhaps Dean's Mill, and Abbot Street in Maybole, where the Abbot's town residence was. To these may be added, according to Professor M'Kinnon, Daltamie (or Bushy dale), from the fact of Crossraguel wood being in that locality, and Balsaggart (or Priests' holding), near Crosshill.

R. L.



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