Introduction and Prefatory Note

Introduction

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

Retrospect

 

 

Retrospect

"There is not a man in Europe who talks bravely against the Church, but owes it to the Church that he can talk at all."—Cardinal Newman.

The foregoing account of our Abbey has been written, of course, from a Protestant point of view. It would not have been honest or natural in me to have written it from any other. But while this is the case, I have not been consciously unfair to the Old Faith; and hope I have not written anything that will give offence to those who still hold by it. Religion, in my eyes, is a much grander thing than theology.

Several things have been recorded which don't reflect much credit on those who did them; but the persons who did them are alone responsible. It is not fair to burden a party for the sins of their forefathers. And the only thing we have to do, is to look back on the past as impartially as we can, and draw from it the lessons we ought.

Some people have a great reverence for the Past. The Old casts its glamour over them, and makes them its captives. They bow down before the Antique, and surrender themselves to its guidance. For my part, I have a greater longing for the Future than for the Past. It is in the Future, I believe, that the world's true grandeur lies. The course of the human race is onward and upward; and I have faith in the God who guides us.

But while I am a true Protestant in thought and sympathy, I trust I have fairness enough in me to speak a good word for those who deserve it. Bitterness is not a heavenly feeling, whether in Protestant or Catholic. Why quarrel with the high, because it is not the highest ? The man who is narrow in his sympathies, makes but a poor judge of others.

The old monks of whom we have been treating, had their faults, of course, like others. But far be it from me to say that they had not their virtues too. We are before them, I believe, in the matter of creed and enlightenment; but in the matter of holy living, and honest work, and devout communion with God, I am not sure that we are before them at all.

As to the whole system of monasteries and monkish communities generally, it is difficult, perhaps, for us in this nineteenth century to give a right opinion. For these people lived in days very different from ours. They lived in an age of darkness and violence. And they lived at a time, too, when the ideal of religion was more towards meditation than work. Hence we can easily see how gladly such asylums as monasteries were hailed by quiet, pious souls. They were to them what the ark was to Noah's dove. But quiet, pious lives are apt to become selfish lives, and the spirit of the world will penetrate even into a monk's cell. An unnatural life never can be a healthy life, and is sure to revenge itself in some way. A strict mechanical system of religious observances, such as these monks followed, is very apt to banish the spiritual instincts, and substitute formalism for piety. In some cases this did not follow, but in many cases it did; and the general conclusion formed by the country, was that the system had failed.

But before now turning our Abbey's face to the wall, I would like to make a concluding reflection or two, as we stand amid its ruins. And the first is as to its extreme age. It was founded more than six hundred years ago. Before the days of Bruce and Wallace; before the days when Alexander III. hurled back the Norsemen at Largs; while yet Scotland was a poor semi-savage, half-settled country, with a population not exceeding that of modern Glasgow—these walls were built. Europe was at that time fighting the wars of the Crusades, for the rescue of the Holy Land out of the hands of the infidel; England was struggling for her Magna Charta, with unworthy kings; America was not yet discovered, and Australia not yet dreamed of. In these far back days it came into the heart of a kindly man, living in this district, to build an Abbey, for the glory of God and the good of his fellow-men.

Scotland was not then cultivated as it now is. The greater part of the land now filled by green fields or waving harvests, was then filled by bog or forest. The wolf and the wild boar roamed at large. The roads were few, rough, and narrow. Those who travelled, did so on foot or on horseback. Even goods, when they needed to be conveyed from place to place, were conveyed on pack-horses, led in long strings by drivers, just as caravans in the desert are at this day. The houses of the common people were mere huts, such as we would not put cattle in now-a-days. And the houses of the gentry were tall, narrow castles, built on a rock on the sea-shore, or by the side of some lonely glen. The country was so insecure that nobody dared travel alone. They did not even dare to live in solitary farm-houses, as we do now. Each had to build his hut under the protection of some friendly castle, or in some neighbouring town.

The common people were utterly unlearned. Very few even of the barons could sign their names; and scarcely anybody but churchmen could read. Such books as then existed were written in Latin—printing not being invented, and English, as a written language, almost unknown. Religion was at a low ebb. The great profession was that of arms—and everybody carried weapons by his side. Every baron was more or less of a robber; and the rule they went by was the simple plan—

That they should take who have the power;

And they should keep who can.

It was in these dark and troubled days that our Abbey walls were reared,—like an ark in the deluge,—like a star of hope in a stormy sky.

The next reflection I would make, is as to the form of faith and worship here practised; and this was what we call the Roman Catholic form.

The first religion of this country was Paganism. Our ancestors worshipped those which were no gods. But by and by, through the labours of St. Columba and his successors, a knowledge of Christianity was spread among us. Good men came, who lived in cells by the mountain side, and taught our heathen forefathers to turn from their idols to the only living and true God. These are the men after whom so many of our towns are named, and to whose honour so many of our churches were dedicated. Kirk-oswald, Kilkerran, Chapel-Donan, Kirkbride, Colmonell, Kilmarnock, and Kirkcudbright. These men were called Culdees, and they served their day and generation well. But a day came when they ceased to do so; and the country was fast sinking into darkness again, when Malcolm Canmore, one of our kings, brought as his bride from England, the saintly Margaret Atheling, who introduced the then vigorous Church of Rome. Her son David spread abbeys of the new faith over a great part of Scotland, and his nobles imitated his example.* It was in imitation of King David's example, that Duncan M'Dowall, of Turn-berry, founded the Abbey of Crossraguel. In this way the Romish church was established, in room of that of the Culdees. The worthy men who had been our first Christian missionaries, were now superseded by a more imposing ritual and a more vigorous organisation. And although we, in these days, are apt to look down on the Romish church, we must remember that in those days the establishment of that church was almost as great an advance as was the establishment of the Protestant church, three hundred years after.

* Scotland at one time contained not fewer than one hundred and twenty monasterieSj and twenty nunneries.

My next and last reflection is as to the object of our Abbey. It was at once a church, a college, and a place of hospitality. "The Abbeys of Scotland," says Dr. Lees, "filled a position which no other institution could have done. They furnished, in the midst of distraction, a refuge for many a quiet and studious spirit. While kings and nobles were fighting around them, their inmates fostered the arts of peace. They were the agriculturists and the schoolmasters of the time. In the library of the Abbey were written those chronicles, without which most of the past history of Scotland would be a blank. They provided, too, for the poor and the helpless, when no legal provision existed. The poverty-stricken wretch, driven from the castle-door, could always find a sanctuary in the Abbey, and a little food from the porter at the gate. In a wild country, without inns, they furnished a resting-place for the traveller; and in them he was always sure of a supper and a bed. In Scotland, too, the abbots assisted largely in carrying on the affairs of state; for they were almost the only men in the country who had the time and the ability. They, likewise, sat in Parliament, and were treasurers, chamberlains, judges. Above all, the Abbeys were the great witnesses against feudal caste; with them was neither high-born nor low-born, rich nor poor. The meanest ploughman's son entering there, might become the lord of knights and the counsellor of kings and princes."

Such are some of the reflections that might enter one's mind, as he stands amid the ruins of Crossraguel. But while doing so, a soft voice may be heard issuing from the old building itself, telling its own tale and teaching its own lessons, which may haply be reported thus:—

1. See from me the munificence of ancient times. Six hundred years ago men could give right royally to the cause of God. Probably the old Earl of Carrick gave more to the cause of religion, in proportion to his means, than any man of modern times. Let us give him his meed of praise. Where his ashes now lie, we know not; but his name should be cherished by us at least.

2. See from me the respect due to all efforts for other? good. We have many ancient castles in this district; but none of them excite the interest that the old Abbey does. And the reason is, that the castles were built for their owners' use; the Abbey was built for the good of the country. The castles, too, speak of war that passes away; while the Abbey speaks of peace and love, which endure for ever.

3. See from me the good that was in ancient times, and in another form of faith. It is a mistake to suppose that we have a monopoly of all the good that ever was. We excel in knowledge, but that is not everything. Depend upon it, there were good men lived within these walls,—perhaps quite as good as any that are living now.

4. See from me how error cannot last. Truth alone is eternal. The old order changes and gives place to the new. Not that the new is perfect, but that it is nearer perfection than the.old. The Roman Catholic church, in the days of the Reformation, had become an eyesore and an encumbrance, and needed to be swept away. This was done rudely; but the times were rude, and the struggle had become deadly. The Roman Catholic church had taken the sword, and she perished therewith. May the Protestant church learn to depend solely on the weapons of truth and love,-the only weapons God will bless in the end!

Lastly, learn from me, the Divine lesson of patience and charity. Here have I stood now for three hundred years in ruins. The people who lived within my walls had, doubtless, their own share of sins and frailties. They had, also, their own share of worth and goodness. But all are now hushed in the silence of death. When, therefore, you look at my moul'dering walls, with the lichens covering them, and the ferns sprouting out of the crevices, and the green turf covering the very pavement which the bare feet of the old monks had worn,—can you not learn from the hand of nature itself, to throw the mantle of charity over the failures of the men of the past, and remember only the good, and the truth, and the love that were in them ?

R.L.

   

  


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