Monday, 26 August 2013

Crossragual Abbey

About a mile outside the small town of Maybole lies the Crossraguel Abbey. The name is thought to have come from the Cross of Riaghail. St Riaghail was an Irish saint, often better known as St Regulus or St Rule. It's hardly on a main trunk route now but in the middle ages it's likely to have had a number of passing visitors as it sits conveniently half way between Paisley Abbey and Whithorn in Galloway, where St Ninian set up his church and was a common destination for pilgrims.

The land was granted to the church by Duncan the future Earl of Carrick in around 1214 to 1216 on the condition that Paisley Abbey build a daughter monastery here. Somewhat reluctant to relinquish control, Paisley Abbey built a small chapel here instead and manned it with some of it's own monks. In 1244, the bishop of Glasgow put his foot down and ruled that a proper independent abbey be set up here, much to Paisley's complaint.

There is little to be seen of the original 13th century abbey today. Some remains of one of the transepts can be seen to the left of the current church. Earl Duncan was succeeded by his son, Neil, as Earl of Carrick and his daughter married Robert Bruce. Robert Bruce's grandson went on to become King Robert I, who played such an important part in the Scottish wars of Independance . Perhaps due to this connection the Abbey remained loyal to the Scottish King throughout the wars, which in the early part of the 14th century brought some unwelcome attention and destruction from the English army. Much of the Abbey that we can see today was built during the 14th century. It's loyalty to the crown gave it favour with Scottish kings for some time to come and in 1404 Robert III (who was himself an Earl of Carrick before becoming king) granted it a charter effectively giving the Abbey control of the surrounding area.

This is one of a series of arches which are the remains of what would have been cellars. Above these were the rooms that the Abbot lived in.

The cloister area. a wooden shelter would have run round the outside above the walkway. The stonework in the middle of the lawn is a 13th century well.

There would have been no talking allowed in the cloisters but in this passage way leading into it there are benches set along both sides where the monks would have been allowed to have a good old natter.

Just off the cloister was the warming house (the refectory would have been just above it). No doubt a popular place in Winter (or even your average Scottish Summer) as this was the only fire available to the monks other than those in the kitchen.

In one of the room there was a little collection of masonry that at some point has become separated from the rest of the building. Being out of the weather, much of it has the original decoration still visible. This sort of carving may have appeared all over the abbey and certainly in the church area.

In 1530, the Abbot of the day, William Kennedy, had this fine tower house built for himself to live in. I think there might be some divergence between monastic ideals and reality going on here. Just to back up this, it should be noted that William was the brother of the second Earl of Cassilis. William was succeeded as abbot by his nephew Quintin Kennedy. There is also some suggestion that the Third Earl of Cassilis may have lived here under the guardianship of Abbot William.

Not hugely monastic, but this slot in the tower looks awfully like those designed to shoot guns through in other buildings of it's age.

Another view of the tower. The remaining foundations you can see in the fore ground were from a little row of five houses that were for old monks to live in during their retirement years (or at least old age, for I'm sure they didn't officially retire).

In the South West corner of the site is this dovecot.

Looking up from inside, you can see the individual nesting places for the doves.

Also built in the time of Abbot William is this impressive tower at the Abbey's gatehouse.

 This window seat is in the little room at the top of the tower.

The grand house and building plans of the Kennedy Abbots in the early part of the 16th century didn't last very long. In 1560 the religious reformation happened in Scotland and abbeys up and down the country were dissolved. I'm sure that rich abbots hailing from the nobility would be just the kind of thing that John Knox and his followers were grumbling about. Perhaps because of it's locality, Crossragual Abbey escaped the reformation fairly lightly and in 1564 the Fourth Earl of Cassilis took over control of the Abbey. In 1565 an official commendator, Alan Stewart was appointed but the earl obtained a 19 year lease on the Abbey. The Earl of Cassilis may not have obtained the deeds fairly as there is some evidence that he roasted Alan Stewart over a fire until he handed them over (there's negotiation skills)

The monks who had lived at the abbey at the time of the reformation were allowed to live the rest of their lives there but when they had died, the useful life of the Abbey was effectively over and in the course of the next few centuries the local people found it a useful source of ready to use building materials.

There are a few old prints of the Abbey to be found online in various places which I think are probably 19th century in origin. Here's the gatehouse tower through a doorway.

I'm pretty sure it's this doorway. It's to be found in the Chapterhouse, where once business would have been done.

The chapterhouse is still in very good condition with glazed window, and has quite wonderful acoustics.

Many of the stones in the walls have the marks of the individual mason who crafted the block quite still quite visible.

The sacristy, where church equipment, garments and book would have been stored is also in good shape. It too has acoustics worthy of a quick song.

It features this head carved in one of the corners.

Two of the other corners also have heads, if slightly scarier. It's difficult to make anything out of the stone in the fourth corner but if three have heads, I should imagine that that one is the same, only unrecognisable with the passage of time.

This carving in the middle of one of the walls looks a bit like a squirrel to me.

This is the nave of the church and would have been used by local people attending church there.

Beyond the wall in the last picture is the choir of the church. This is where the monks would have attended mass and would have had the high altar at the end of it.

The ornamental details that can be seen in the above etching are still there to be seen today.  Below is the sedilia, which is seating for the clergy attending the mass.

This is the piscina, a basin in which water used for washing the sacred vessels used during the mass was emptied. Both this and the sedilia are 15th century.

There are a number of grave slabs set in the floor, this one is a replica, which explains it's good condition, of the grave of Egidia Blair, who died in 1530 and was Lady Row of Baltersan. the shape of the cross is repeated in slabs throughout the church and also set into the floor of the chapterhouse.

I noticed that this slab has the same mason's mark as some of the stones in the chapter house - there's a picture of it a little earlier in the blog. I've blown it up a little and inset it to make it easier to see. It builds the image of the mason a little more when you can see that when he was not involved with building he was also  carving gravestones.

In this old print you can see all sorts of foliage growing on the walls, which would lead to much of the deterioration of the building and not just people stealing the stones for their own use. It also shows that Historic Scotland's task in looking after these places is not just in cutting the grass and charging a modest entrance fee. In some places expensive restoration work is required to make them safe for people to visit.

Some of those same windows, without greenery, today (two days ago really)


Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

Nice tour. I liked how you positioned yourself in the same place as where the prints were done. I've tried doing likewise in old ghost towns of the west. Viewing all these photos I couldn't help but to think "That is a lot of stone to be hauled in". I can see why later this easy resource for building materials was plundered.

Pam said...

Beautiful ruins, you must have done your homework. Really helps to envision the past having the old etchings to compare it with.

Poppy (aka Val) said...

I love this blog, you are so good at explaining what everything is or was, its great! I love those carved pieces that have been protected from the weather, the faces in the corners of the Chapter House and the squirrel..another place I would love to visit, although I am not so sure about the tower changing from circ
ular to square, seems a bit strange to me lol

Poppy (aka Val) said...

PS I was thinking about you today, I was in a church in Sandwich and I got a photo of a stained glass window :)

Sandy's witterings said...

John, It's interesting to compare old prints and photos with what's there now. There are lots of pictures of old Kirkcudbright and I can just feel the blog forming in my head right now,

Pam, I like to buy a guide book at these places which helps on the homework front (the guide book here was spectacularly cheap at 50p, and then I got a 20% discount for being a member.). I photograph signposts and the internet usually adds a little to. I was quite pleased to find the piles of old prints.

It's certainly a curious tower Val, not at all abbeyish. Mor the sort of place you'd expect to find Rapunzel locked up in - I can just see the golden locks being thrown out that little window.

Sandy's witterings said...

:) It's nice to be thought of Val. Will the Sandwich church be making an appearance online.

The Glebe Blog said...

A cracking post Sandy.Lots of lovely detail. Wherever you go up the west coast there are references to the Kennedys. They were one powerful family.
I've passed this abbey so many times and never called in. I don't need to now !

Louise said...

Very interesting post, some great photos, I'd love to visit!

Dominic Rivron said...

Interesting place. I'll add it to my mental list of interesting things yet to do in Scotland.

Interesting, too, to compare the old print to the new photo. People must have found it a fascinating place in the days when they were discovering the "picturesque". I wonder if those blocks were in the foreground then, of if the artist placed them there?

Sandy's witterings said...

Jim, It's definately cheating to score it of the list of places to go because you've read a blog about it.

Thanks Louise, there's a whole corner of the world round about the abbey that looks interesting - first time I'd wandered into it.

Dominic, it's hard to say whether the blocks were there or just drawn in for picturesque purposes. There are certainly difference that are the artists rather than the reality. There's far less wall across the middle of the picture than there is now - I'm pretty sure Historic Scotland hasn't been out rebuilding it - and the well is missing from the middle of the cloister lawn which should be visible in the etching.

Michael (Light-In-A-Box) said...

Sandy, you certainly have done your research with fantastic photographic display! Great post as usual. I find it amazing that the rest of structures have not collapsed! : )

Crafty Green Poet said...

what a lovely and interesting old abbey. thanks for the guided tour

Sandy's witterings said...

Thank you Michael, some of these walls are mighty thick - even without any preservation they would be left standing for a few centuries yet.

You're welcome Juliet.