Abbot of Crossraguel and John Knox
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Maybole, Carrick's Capital Facts, Fiction & Folks by James T. Gray, Alloway Publishing, Ayr. First published 1972. Copyright © Permission for display on this site granted by David Gray. You may view and download chapters of this book for personal research purposes only. No other distribution of this text is authorized.

The story of this ancient Ayrshire town from its early beginnings in the 12th century through its growth and development until the nineteen sixties. A fascinating record of the history of a town including a wealth of factual information on its outstanding buildings  growth of industry etc., the book also gives an insight into the life of the community and townsfolk themselves.
Table of Contents

Chapter 25


MOST Minniebolers at, some time or other boast of the, fact that a famous debate between two of the greatest churchmen of the 16th century, Quintin, Abbot of Crossraguel and John Knox, the great Scottish Reformer, took place in their town, but, few townspeople know much of the details of this event. They have a pride in the fact that their old town should have been chosen as the arena for the debate, but apart from this they have little knowledge of why it should have been held in Maybole or even what it was all about. Although most people know it was some dispute between Catholic and Protestant leaders of that age the religious controversies of the sixteenth century merit little regard in the twentieth century and excite little, if any, interest. It was, however, a most interesting and historical occasion in the ancient Capital of Carrick and a brief summary of the event may show that Minniebolers have good reason to boast of the fact that the famous debate" took place in their old town.

The disputants were Quintin, Abbot of Crossraguel, and John Knox, the famous Scottish Reformer, and the dispute was on the question of the Doctrine of the Mass as celebrated in the Roman Church. Quintin Kennedy was the fourth son of Gilbert, the Second Earl of Cassillis (who was Ambassador to England in 1515-1516) and his wife, Isabella, the second daughter of Archibald, the second Earl of Argyll. They had seven sons and two daughters and Quintin, who became Abbot of Crossraguel, was the most famous of the family. He was described as a man of great piety and austerity of manners, of considerable learning and a zealous and ardent defender of the Church of Rome. He was well versed in all matters relating to his church and wrote many tracts before his death in 1564 when it was believed according to some authorities, he was canonised as a Saint. His canonization, however, is a mere fable and probably arose through confusing Quintin with St. Kinedus Eremita, whom Dempster connects with the Cassillis family, although he lived in the seventh century and the surname of Kennedy was not assumed until the thirteenth century. The Abbot was strong in his faith and, under the protection of his nephew, Gilbert, the Third Earl of Cassillis, who was the ruling power in Carrick at that time, he continued as Abbot of Crossraguel until his death in 1564 although the Roman Church had been disestablished in Scotland four years previously and the practice of mass banned by law under penalty of death. Quintin was the last ecclesiastical Abbot of Crossraguel and he was succeeded by a layman Commendator, Allan Stuart, who was the principal figure in the event which became known as "The Roasting of the Abbot" which is another story in the long chain of interesting events in Carrick history.

The other principal in the Debate was the somber and fearless John Knox, the noted Reformer, who preached Calvinism throughout Scotland and fiercely attacked the Catholic faith of our young Mary, the tall and three times married Queen of Scots. Born in Haddington, John Knox was educated as a priest and was apostolic notary for the Church of Rome in the Haddington area until 1543 but by 1545 he was tutor to sons of the Protestant families of Langniddry and Ormiston. He has been described as a small stern and unbending man, sallow complexioned, with a long nose and full lips, heavy lidded eyes and a long black beard streaked with gray. He denounced his Catholic Queen for her gayness and youthful follies and was unrelenting in his fight for Scottish Protestantism. After the murder of Cardinal Beaton at St. Andrews in 1545, John Knox joined the assassins who took refuge within the old Castle of St. Andrews. The castle was successfully attacked by the Regent Arran who captured the murderers and their supporters, and John Knox was sent to France and made a galley slave for nineteen months on a French .ship. He was eventually released and on his return to Scotland continued his fight for the Protestant cause and overthrow of the Church of Rome.

It is strange that such a man should, in his later days, cast aside his usual sombre garb and after his second marriage, appear in rich garments with his "bands of taffeta" fastened with gold rings arid precious stones. John Knox's first wife was a Berwick woman, Marjory Bowes, granddaughter of Sir Ralph Bowes and she died in 1560 shortly after Parliament abolished the Roman Church in Scotland. In 1564 when he was fifty nine he married for the second time, his bride being a sixteen year old girl, Lady Margaret Stewart, the daughter of the Earl of Ochiltree and she bore him three daughters. Before his second marriage he paid court to Lady Barbara Hamilton, daughter of the Duke of Chatelherault but did not meet with favour with her and he transferred his attention to the Earl of Ochiltree’s daughter where he was more successful. His second wife came of royal blood, being a descendant of the Duke of Albany, younger son of King Robert II and at the time it was said that Knox was hopeful his future sons might one day ascend the throne of Scotland. Although he always professed to be poor he was really quite a wealthy man which is often forgotten by many who picture him as a stern forbidding figure with no thought for material things in life, he died in Edinburgh in 1572 after a full and varied life and a small plaque with the initials "J.K." and the date 1572 set in the roadway in Parliament Square marks the approximate site of his grave. It is surprising that a man who made such a mark in the religious life of Scotland should rest in a grave where people walk over it daily and are entirely unconscious of doing so.

Those were the two men who made history in the old town of Maybole in 1562 when they met to settle their differences of religious principles, and three days later parted without coming to any agreement or decision, each convinced that he was right and the other wrong, as is now so often the case four hundred years later.

The Debate arose because of a sermon preached in the old Church in Kirkoswald by Quintin, Abbot of Crossraguel on 30th August, 1562, when he defended transubstantiation, or the doctrine that in the Mass, or Communion, the bread and wine used are actually changed into the body and blood of Christ. This of course was heresy to John Knox who heard of the sermon when he was at Ochiltree paying court to Margaret Stewart, his second wife, and on Sunday, 6th September, 1562. He attended church in Kirkoswald hoping to challenge the Abbot but on that day the Abbot did not preach in the village. This visit by John Knox to Kirkoswald is commemorated in the name Knoxhill given to a hill behind the village.

Abbot Quintin on hearing of Knox’s visit to Kirkoswald sent him a letter challenging him to a public debate on the Doctrine of the Mass and the challenge was readily accepted by John Knox who suggested the meeting should take place in Ayr. The Abbot, however, held out strongly for the old Capital of Carrick to be the meeting place and finally John Knox agreed to meet him on 28th September, 1562, at 8 o’clock in the morning at the house of Andrew Gray, the Provost (or Principal) of the Old Collegium, in Back Vennal, Mayboill (Knox’s spelling of the name of the town). This house stood halfway down the hill then known as Back Vennal, later called Red Lion Brae and now known as John Knox Street. A house called John Knox’s House stood for many years in this street, until it was demolished in 1967, bearing a tablet stating it was the house in which the debate took place, but this was hardly correct as experts from the Ministry of Works placed the date of the building much later than the 16th century. This house may have been built on or near time site of the house in which the debate was held and may have incorporated some of the original stonework in it, but it certainly was not the building. For some time it was an inn known as the "Red Lion" (giving rise to the name "Red Lion Brae") but it latterly became a private house. In 1870 it had a thatched roof with an outside open stair between the lower and upper storeys but about that date the roof was slated and the outside stair closed in. When it is taken into account that each contestant was to have forty supporters present at the debate, together with "as many more as the house might hold" it is clear to all that the house known to the townspeople in the 20th century as John Knox’s House could not possibly have been the original place of the debate.

The disputants, with their forty supporters on each side and scribes to keep notes of the proceedings duly met on the date and at the time agreed and the proceedings were opened by a prayer by Knox of which the Abbot commented: "By my faith, it is well said." The Abbot then put forward his case for transubstantiation and based most of his argument on the contention that when Melchizedec took bread and wine to Abraham he was performing Mass or Communion. This was entirely irrelevant to the argument and Knox would have none of it and strenuously denied the Abbot’s reasoning. The Abbot asked the Reformer to prove it was not so and naturally Knox pointed out he could not be expected to prove a negative. The Abbot, shifting his position, then asked what Melchizedec’s action did mean and John Knox presumed it was merely an act of hospitality. Quintin argued that Melchizedec could not possibly, by himself show hospitality to such an army as Abraham had and Knox argued he would have helpers to give assistance in serving. The Abbot pled that Abraham’s army was laden with the spoils of Sodom and the Reformer countered by arguing such spoils would not include food. It took three days of continuous argument to reach this stage and as the debaters simply indulged in cross talk without reasoned argument it was decided no good could come of further discussion and the meeting broke up with neither party giving way. The whole account of the debate was revised by Knox himself and is to be seen in a "Black Letter" reprint published in 1828 by the Auchenleck Library but it makes dry and, to present day readers, rather senseless reading.

To the "forty supporters" on each side the whole debate was wearisome and uninteresting and both parties wanted nothing more than to finish the matter and go home. The supporters of the Reformer especially were embittered at what they considered was the poor treatment given them by the townspeople and during the discussion one of them remarked that if anybody brought bread and wine he would gladly accept it and care naught what it meant. The townspeople were not in favour of the debate from the beginning, most of them being anti-papist, and when the disputants and their followers left after the third day’s debate the Minniebolers collected all the books brought by the Abbot for reference purposes and publicly burned them on the Ballgreen. It is believed there were many Reformers in the town at that period even although the Abbot and the Church of Rome still ruled at Crossraguel only two miles south of the town.

It is surprising that so learned a man as the Abbot should have introduced Melchizedec's action into the discussion and that so able a contestant as Knox did not damn the irrelevancy from the start, as surely the giving of bread and wine by Melchizedec to Abraham has no hearing on the doctrine of the Mass nor does it prove or disprove transubstantiation and the Reformer should have held his opponent to the real issue. Four hundred years after the event it is now impossible to give the true reason as to why the Abbot introduced such an irrelevant point but from all accounts he was an astute and able man, well able to judge character and perhaps he played on the fact that John Knox was known to be an impossible man to argue with, having the complete conviction that he was as personally infallible in all things relating to his religious beliefs.

Such is a brief description of the event, which is remembered in Maybole to this day as "The Debate". If it had been logically disputed it may have been that Maybole would have been the scene of a great theological decision but this was not to be and the small town in Carrick takes its place with Marburg, where the more famous debate between Luther and Zwingli took place with the same indecisive result.

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