Home

Previous page

Next page

Chapter I: The Scotch Monasteries


The Monastic system of Scotland in its last development was of foreign origin, reared upon the ruins of the ancient Celtic or Culdee Church. What that Church was, in doctrine and in ritual, it is impossible, with anything like certainty, to say. Every statement upon the subject has been eagerly questioned, either on the dim hand by those who make out the early Church of Scotland to be Protestant in its creed, and even Presbyterian in its government, or, on the other hand, by those who hold that in no essential particular did it differ from the Church of Rome. In the time of Queen Margaret it had beyond all doubt, fallen into a state of decrepitude and disorder.[2] Its lands were in the possession of laymen, and its priesthood had become an hereditary caste, descending from father to son. It was the work of that Princess who brought to the Scottish throne the blood of the Anglo-Saxon kings, to plant among the people the seeds of a more energetic faith. The reformation which she began was earnestly carried on by her sons, and especially by her son David, who created in Scotland Bishopricks and Monasteries on English models, and filled them with English Churchmen. He founded himself no less than fifteen Monasteries, and so largely endowed them from the royal revenues, that it was not without reason one of his successors [3] termed him a “sair sanct for the crown.” So great was his zeal as a Church reformer that a parallel has been drawn between him and John Knox. He wrought a change in ecclesiastical affairs, it has been said, “almost as great as that afterwards accomplished by Knox. He in effect built up that which, when it was in a state of decay, Knox pulled down. He drove out the now antiquated Culdees, and introduced prelates and priests. Knox cast out prelates and priests, and brought in Protestant preachers.” [4]

The Monasteries of Scotland in their architecture closely resembled, in the first instance, those on the English side of the Border. They were built either in the Norman or first pointed styles; but after the War of Independence, many of them which had been destroyed were reconstructed upon French rather than English models. In their general plan there was little difference between them and houses of the same order in other parts of the world. The glory of the Monastery was its church, which was built in the form of a cross, and its erection was generally the work of many years—the choir or east end, where service was celebrated, being erected first—the transepts, or arms of the cross, and the nave or western portion, afterwards. At the extreme end of the church rose the high altar, resplendent in its decorations; but in different parts of the church other altars stood, where mass was said by priests specially allotted to them. Sometimes the church was used only by the inmates of the monastery, but often, as at Paisley, it was used as a parish church as well. The tithes of the parish went to its support; the parishioners were admitted at certain times, and had priests who specially ministered to them. To the south generally of the church were the monastic buildings, ranged round the four sides of a court having a plot of grass in the centre, and bordered by the arched-in cloisters. These various buildings were of various kinds, suited to the different wants and occupations of the inmates. There was the refectory or dining-hall—a long wainscotted apartment, with stone benches, an high table, and a desk on which lay a Bible, the Legends of the Saints, or some devotional work, from which one of the novices read during meals; it had an opening to the kitchen, through which the food was passed. The chapter-house, [5] an octagonal room, with a pillar in the centre supporting the root with rows of benches, one above another, a reading-desk, a seat for the Abbot higher than the others, and a crucifix to remind the monks during discipline that their sufferings were nothing compared with those of Christ. The dormitory or dortor, where the monks and novices slept. The infirmary, where the sick were tended. The guest-hall, having bed-rooms connected with it for strangers. Parlours or locutories, where the monks assembled at certain times for conversation when silence was enjoined in other places, and where the monastic schools were often held. A scriptorium or writing-room, where the students and transcribers sat silently at their work. The house of the Abbot stood apart. Granges, granaries, kilns, dovecots, and a prison were grouped round the main buildings, and a wall, often of great strength [6] for purposes of defence, and broken by only one gate, at which was the porter's house, surrounded the whole.



[2] Quarterly Review, Vol. 85—An article so valuable that it should certainly be reprinted.
[3] James I.
[4] Cunningham's Ch. Hist., vol. I., p. 145.
[5] A very fine specimen is at Glenluce, Wigtonshire.
[6] Some of these buildings in connection with Scotch monasteries are still standing. The Abbot's house is shown at Arbroath, and also at Crossraguel; and the convent wall, built of huge boulders of stone, still surrounds the ruined Abbey of Sweetheart, in Galloway.