The Old Collegiate Church
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The Auld College

The oldest building in Maybole is the one familiarly known among us as "the Auld College." It was founded in 1371, so that it has now stood the storms of 500 years. Although situated in an obscure part of the town, the Collegiate Church was, in its day, of much more consequence than the Parish Church, and was served by four priests. It was built by Sir John Kennedy of Dunure (ancestor of the Ailsa family), "for the purpose of celebrating daily Divine Service for the happy state of himself, his wife Mary, and their children."

It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and traces of its possessions may be found in such names as Ladywell, and Ladyland; while such names as Kirklands and Kirklandhill point to the lands of the Perish Church. The Provost or Principal of the Collegiate Church lived in the Back Vennal, in the house now known as " John Knox's House;" while the other three lived at "Black House," the "Welltrees," and what was at one time known as "Ja. Grey's House." Besides other properties, the land on which the town is built belonged to the Collegiate Church, as also the Public Green. And as the Ailsa family, at the Reformation, resumed possession of what their ancestors had gifted, the superiority of the town in this way fell into their hands.

Among the historical documents at Culzean, there is one which gives a curious glimpse into the internal management of the Collegiate Church. In it, Sir John Kennedy ordains that the Provost and prebendaries "shall celebrate Mass daily, and if any one fails, unless upon reasonable cause, he shall be amerced in four pence for each default; that they shall be present in the Chapel during all canonical hours, and whosoever shall be absent from vespers, matins, high Mass, or second vespers on festival days, shall be fined in four pence for each occasion of absence; and if any one shall be absent from the first, third, sixth, or ninth complines, he shall be amerced in one penny for each fault;" ordaining also (shrewdly enough) that these fines shall be fully paid at the end of each month, to be disposed of by the Provost, between himself and those priests who served well.

The old church in this way served its generation till the Reformation in 1560, when the R. C. religion was abolished in Scotland. The last glimpse of it as a place of worship is in April 1563. By that time an Act had been passed declaring the Mass illegal. Notwithstanding this, a band of two hundred Catholics, "with jakkis, speris, gunnis, and other wapins," assembled in our chapel to worship God once more in the ancient fashion. The leaders were afterwards arrested and fined for the offence, but that was a small matter. One's heart warms to men who can brave danger at the call of conscience, and we at the present day do not think the less of our old church for this closing scene in its history.

After the Reformation, the building fell into disrepair, and was finally set apart as a place of burial for the Cassillis family, and for one or two others of the local gentry, who contributed towards putting a new roof on it; while the lairds of Culzean erected a sepulchre for themselves adjoining the old sacristy or vestry.

The lairds of Baltersan appear also to have been buried here, as there is the following entry in the Testament of James Kennedy of Baltersan who died in 1609: "I ordane my body to be bureyit in the Colledge Kirk of Mayboll, in my fatheris grave. And I ordane my wyf to build a rowme about ye grave, quherim scho may be bureyit also. And gif ye Erle of Cassillis will repare ye Colledge, I ordane hir to pay ane hundreth markis to big ye samyn. I ordane no vain in my buriall, bot to burie me without serimonie, and honest friends."

On entering the gate, the tomb of the Culzean lairds appears first, with its elaborate carving of the arms of the Kennedys and Hamiltons. This was erected for John Kennedy, who died in 1665, and Margaret Hamilton, his wife, daughter of the first Lord Bargany. It was their son, Sir Archibald, likewise buried here, who shot Gilbert M'Adam, the Covenanter, at Kirkmichael; and it was their great-grandson, Sir Thomas, who became ninth Earl of Cassillis, owing to the elder branch of the family having died out. The partition wall betwixt the tomb of the Culzean lairds and the old vaulted vestry has now been removed.

Entering the church through the vestry door, we find ourselves standing on the graves of the old Cassillis Earls. In all probability the whole race of the former "Kings of Carrick" lie buried here. David, the first Earl, who fell at Flodden in 1513; Gilbert, the second Earl, who was slain at Powburn, Prestwick, by Hugh Campbell of Loudoun; Gilbert, the third Earl, who died (suspectedly of poison) at Dieppe, in France; Gilbert, the fourth Earl, who roasted Commendator Stewart at Donure; John, the fifth Earl, who killed young Bargany at Duneane; and John, "the grave and solemn Earl," the best of the lot, who stood out staunchly for the Scottish Church, and was appointed Commissioner to the Westminster Assembly; these, as well as those mentioned on the tablet within, are all probably now resting somewhere beneath the sod in this East end of the Church, till the Resurrection day.

In the western portion of the interior are buried the members of the Kirkmichael family; and among them the late Provost Kennedy of Ayr, last survivor of the Kennedys of Cove, and famous in this district as a patron of high farming. An oddly-bungled quotation mars his epitaph-- " He cannot return to us, but with God's help we hope to go to him." Did the writer think he was quoting Scripture?

The old Collegiate Church measures 54 feet by 18, while the Vestry is 16 feet by 8. All the windows are now built up, but their tracery, as well as that of the richly- carved doorway, may still be seen. The Holy Water font too, with the Sedilia, and the Piscina, remain in the right- hand wall. The old ruin is kept remarkably tidy, and is well worthy of a visit by every one.

The Auld College Kirk stands aside frae the toon,
Wi' ivy o'er,grown.,and wi' wa's crumblin' doon,
Like a hermit, withdrawn frae the world to pray,
And think on the coming Eternity.

It's an auld roofless ruin. embosomed in trees,
That chant their saft music to ilk passin' breeze;
But the priest's solemn chant it has heard in its day,
That auld College Kirk at the fit o' the brae.

For five hundred years the auld biggin' has stood,
That our forefathers raised for the worship of God;
But noo,'neath its flure, the deid moulder away,
And the hoose meant for worship is left to decay.

Its glory's departed, its work is a' dune,
Its altar is broken, its priests deid an' gone;
And sae wi' a' mortals--we've only oor day-
Like the auld College Kirk at the fit o' the brae.

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