Introduction and Prefactory 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




A Peep Within the Walls


I'll give thee, good fellow, a twelvemonth or twain,

To search Europe through from Byzantium to Spain;

But ne'er shall you find, should you search till you tire,

So happy a man as the barefooted friar.


The friar has walked out, and where'er he has gone,

The land and its fatness is mark'd for his own;

He can roam where he lists, he can stop when he tires,

For every man's house is the barefooted friar's.


He's expected at noon, and no wight, till he comes,

May profane the great chair, or the porridge of plums;

For the best of the cheer, and the seat by the fire,

Is the undented right of the barefooted friar.


Long flourish the sandal, the cord, and the cope,

The dread of the devil and trust of the Pope !

For to gather life's roses unscathed by the briar,

Is granted alone to the barefooted friar.

                          From Ivanhoe.

The monks of Crossraguel belonged to what was called the Benedictine Order; that is to say, they followed the rule or regulations of Saint Benedict. The particular branch they adhered to, was that of Clugny. Their dress consisted of a long coarse woollen gown, with large wide sleeves.

They shaved the crown of their heads, as an emblem of the crown of righteousness, which they hoped to win, and covered it with a large cowl or hood, such as is fashionable just now in ladies' cloaks. They were called the "black monks," on account of the colour of their dress. No monk had any personal property of his own. The only thing in the world he had was his wardrobe, which consisted of two gowns, two cowls, a knife, a needle, and a handkerchief. Besides these, his cell was furnished with a mat, a blanket, a rug, and a pillow.

The religious services of the church, in which he spent so much of his time, varied according to the season of the year; but the usual daily routine was as follows :—Matins at midnight—the whole monastery turning out at that hour to chant certain psalms and prayers. Then followed what was called Prime, at 6 o'clock in the morning; then Tierce, at 9 o'clock; Sext, at 12 o'clock; Nones, at 3 o'clock; Vespers, about 4 o'clock; and Compline, at 7 o'clock;— making, in all, seven distinct services in the course of every day of the year.

Besides these services, the monks within doors were engaged in reading, writing, or teaching; and, out of doors, they had the many occupations connected with gardening or farming to look after. Benedict insisted on his monks being always engaged in some useful work. " Idleness," he said, " is an enemy of the soul" ; and he was not far wrong. I am sorry to say he inculcated abstinence from laughter as a virtue; but, to make up for that mistake, he enjoined them to live sparingly themselves, and exercise abundant hospitality towards others,—which was right enough. The Benedictines were the greatest of all the religious orders, having at one time, it is said, not fewer than 37,000 monasteries under their control. They were generally considered the most gentlemanly of the monkish fraternities, were celebrated for their learning, and formed the main agents in promoting religion, civilisation, and culture, throughout Europe.

The principal inmates of our Abbey were the following:- First, the abbot, clothed in his dalmatic, to represent the seamless robe of Christ. On grand occasions he wore his pastoral staff, his mitre or crown, his ring, and his sandals. He was a mighty man, indeed, within the convent walls. 'Everyone obeyed him implicitly, and he was subject to none save the head of his order and the pope. After the abbot came the prior, who was his foreman or first lieutenant When the abbot was away from home, it was the prior who superintended all things and gave account to the abbot. The master of the novices was the schoolmaster of the establishment. He was the man who trained the young , monks to chant the prayers and repeat the Latin psalms by heart; and, generally, to go through the various duties required in the convent. The leader of the psalmody was called then as now the precentor or chanter. The porter, of course, stood at the gate, and exercised his discretion as to who should be admitted within the walls; and, if any of the brethren chanced to be late out at night, it would be a good thing to have a friend in the porter, who might let him in without much ado. If we are to believe common rumour, two other very important functionaries in the Abbey would be the cellarer or butler, and the kitchener or cook. Sir Walter Scott at least has told us that—

The monks of Melrose made good kale
   On Fridays, when they fasted;

Nor wanted they good beef and ale
   So long's their neighbours' lasted.

And if that was true at Melrose, it would, in all likelihood, be true at Crossraguel too. Still, I am inclined to believe that in this case, common rumour has made a rule out of an exception. So far as I can make out, the monks of old times lived very poorly; much more poorly than workmen are accustomed to do now-a-days. Their chief food was bread and fish, with beer and wine in moderation; and it was made a rule that each one had to consume his own crumbs. An old monk of the Cluniac Benedictines thus records his own experience of convent life :-  "When you wish to sleep, they wake you ; when you wish to eat, they make you fast; the night is passed in praying in the church; the day in working; and there is no repose but in the dining apartment,—and what is to be found there ? Rotten eggs, beans with their pods on, and liquor fit for oxen. For the wine is so poor, that one might drink of it for a month without intoxication." This is one side of the picture ; but of course there was another to be seen occasionally. For it is not in human nature to be so " cabined, cribbed, confined," as these old monks were, without a rebellion now and again.- We may, therefore, be sure there were feast days in the old Abbey as well as fast days. And to make up for the bread and fish, and rotten eggs, and "beans with their pods on," there would be days on which a good roast was provided by the kitchener; and the cellarer would jingle his keys, and bring in foaming jugs of beer, or perhaps a large flagon of wine or two, to refresh the hearts of the weary !

One very awkward custom of theirs was the imposing of absolute silence at certain hours of the day. Before the hour of Prime, for instance, or six o'clock, no man might speak to his neighbour on any pretext whatever. If communication was necessary, it must be by signs and not by words. And stories are told of monks who allowed their goods to be stolen, and themselves even to be carried carried off by robbers, rather than break their Rule by crying out.

They all went to bed at eight o'clock. But before that hour, in the long winter evenings, it was the custom to meet in one of the rooms, and read large portions of the Scriptures, or of the writings of the fathers, one of the brethren acting as reader, while the rest listened. In this old Abbey of ours, therefore, we may well fancy the brethren all seated on their benches round the wall, while the reader would read out of his book. Some, of course, would persist in falling , asleep; and so a monk was told off to go round with a lantern to detect the delinquents. "Should he find anyone asleep " (says the old chronicler), " he must throw the light in his eyes three times. If, on the third time, he did not awake, he must place the lantern before him, so that when he did awake, he might take it up and carry it in like manner, until he found another sleeper like himself."

The three chief vows of a monk were Celibacy, Poverty, and Obedience. Friars and monks were of different fraternities. Friars spent their time chiefly in itinerant preaching. They were the evangelists of the Roman Catholic church. There was a body of friars at Ayr. Paisley Abbey, a representation of part of which is on the adjoining page, was founded in 1163 by Walter, the High
Steward of Scotland. It was the burying-place of the Stewarts before their accession to the throne, and was occasionally used by them as such afterwards. The nave is now the Abbey Parish Church.




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