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Chapter II

Chapter I: The Scotch Monasteries


The following pages will show how these great. establishments were upheld, and from what sources their revenues were derived. The Scotch Monasteries were liberally endowed by the faithful up to the time of the War of Independence, after which gifts were bestowed with a less liberal hand, and the stream of benefactions was turned into other channels. Notwithstanding much that has been said it may be doubted whether they did not yield to the country, at least in their best days, a good return for the wealth bestowed on them. In Scotland they filled a position which no other known 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 their time. In the scriptorium of the Monastery were written those chronicles without which most of the past history of Scotland would be a blank, and we would be as ignorant of our forefathers as we are of the progenitors of any African tribe. They provided for the poor, and the helpless when no legal provision existed. The poverty-stricken wretch driven from the castle gate could find a sanctuary in the Abbey, and was certain to receive his dole of food from the almoner at the gate. In a wild country without inns they furnished a resting-place for the traveller—he was always sure of a welcome in the guest-hall, his supper and his bed. In Scotland the Abbots assisted largely in carrying on the affairs of the State. They and other churchmen were the only men who had the time and the ability. They sat in Parliament, and were treasurers, chamberlains, judges. Above all, the Monasteries were the great witnesses against feudal caste; “with them was neither high-born nor low-born, rich nor poor—the meanest serf entering there might become the lord of knights and vassals, the counsellors of kings and princes.” This was especially true of those of Scotland—a country where feudalism reigned supreme.

The destruction of the Monasteries of Scotland was complete. Of the one hundred and twenty monasteries and twenty nunneries, not one is untouched—of some there is no trace remaining. In our time it has been the fashion to whitewash every historic evil-doer. Nero was a saint, Diocletian, a mild and merciful ruler. Judas himself was an earnest and too enthusiastic disciple. The excesses of the Scotch reformers have in like manner been palliated and explained away. It is said they merely purged the church of idolatrous images, but laid no hand upon the buildings themselves. These were ruined by others who came after them, and many of them fell to pieces through sheer decay.
[7] There is much to be said on the other side, and there seems little occasion to excuse those for whom no excuse is necessary. The Reformers did the work given them to do; and if they did it roughly, it is, on many accounts not to be wondered at; but when, as at Paisley, they set fire to the buildings, it can hardly be maintained that their work was one of purification alone. Certainly others supplemented well the destruction they inaugurated. Melrose was turned into a prison, Arbroath and Sweetheart farmed out as a common quarry, Kelso became a jail.

In the story of the Paisley Abbey will be seen at work both the forces which raised the Scotch Monasteries to their height of prosperity, and those afterwards which wrought their terrible downfall. Whatever they in time became, they were worthy of all respect when in their prime. We may think of them with tenderness even when we see in their ruined cloisters the fruit of their inherent weakness.
[8] Had they not been good at first, they would not have endured throughout centuries; and had they not had in them great elements of weakness they would not have come to so great a destruction; and if we are insensible to considerations like these, we may perhaps truly deserve the caustic words of Newman—“Not a man in Europe who talks bravely against the Church, but owes it to the Church that he can talk at all.” [9]


[7] Robertson in Quarterly Review.
[8] See Kingsley's, The Roman and the Teuton, p. 263.
[9] Newman's Historical Sketches, p. 109.