Crossraguel Abbey
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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 13

Crossraguel Abbey

ALTHOUGH Crossraguel Abbey is not within the boundaries of the burgh it has always been looked upon by the townspeople as belonging to Maybole, even if it is in the Parish of Kirkoswald. The meaning of the name cannot be given with any certainty but most agree it means the Abbey of the Royal, or Regal, Cross. The abbey was founded by Duncan, Earl of Carrick, in 1244, in an age when many other monasteries were being built throughout Scotland. Duncan gave land and money to the monks of Paisley Abbey and asked them to build the monastery but they only erected a small chapel in the first instance and held on to quite a considerable balance of cash, which rather displeased the Earl. He went to law on the matter and the Bishop of Glasgow, who was appointed arbiter, found in his favour and ordained that the Paisley monks should build a proper monastery and that monks should be sent from Paisley Abbey to run it.

The said monks were to be free of all interference from the Abbot of Paisley, although he might visit it once a year, and he was to receive a payment of ten merks yearly. The Abbot of Paisley felt that an annual income of ten merks and the right to visit Crossraguel yearly was a poor substitute for the considerable capital he bad held on to when the Earl gifted the lands in Carrick to endow the Abbey and he appealed to the Pope in 1265 for redress against the decision by the Bishop of Glasgow. The Pope, however, sustained the Bishop’s decision and so Crossraguel became an independent abbey and continued so until after the Reformation.

The abbey, like all Roman Catholic churches, was built so that the worshippers should face the east, where Christ is expected to appear on the day of Judgement. In addition to the choir and nave, it included a sacristy (or vestry) and a chapter house (where the monks met to deal with the business of the church), with a room above which was probably the library. The building also included kitchens, a refectory (or dining room) with the monks’ cells grouped over a row of cellars probably used as storehouses for the abbey. Apart from the main buildings an abbot’s house was erected above a stream which flowed right under it and probably provided a primitive form of sanitation for the guardrobes, etc. Later another abbot’s house (or prior’s house) was built and the ruins of this building are in good preservtaion to this day. One of the interesting ruins is that of the pigeon doocot (or "columbarium") shaped like a beehive, and the monks must have fed well from the many pigeons it held. The cloisters are still easily traceable round a lawn about seventy feet square with a well in the middle of it.

Architecturally Crossraguel could not compete with the great abbeys of Melrose, Jedburgh, Roslin, etc., but it was a homely, couthy, country church, well suited for its purpose and must have had a quiet charm about it when the monks ruled the district for upwards of three hundred years. Billings in his "Ecclesiastical Antiquities" describes it as "a half baronial, half ecclesiastical ruin, with a rough square tower frowning over the beautiful remains of some rich and airy specimens of the middle period of Gothic work". It had its fish ponds, its doocot and its cattle grazing on the lands around it and its inhabitants must have found it a pleasant place to live in where they were safe from the feuding of their spirited neighbours in the old Kingdom of Carrick.

The monks were followers of Saint Benedict (their particular branch being that of Clugny) and they wore long woollen robes with cowls, being called "Black Monks" from the colour of their robes. Many interesting incidents took place during the time the abbey was extant but to record even a few would need a book in itself. One of the most famous Abbots was Quintin Kennedy who debated with John Knox in Maybole in 1562 and who still ruled his abbey and worshipped in the old faith until his death in August, 1564, although the Scottish Parliament had passed an Act in 1560 abolishing the Roman Church throughout Scotland.

The interesting point about the ruins of the abbey is their completeness, as they show practically the whole layout of the old monastery whilst other ruined abbeys in Scotland show only a small part of what they once were. It is easy to trace the chapter house, the sacristry, the refectory, the cloisters, the monks’ cells, etc., and to build in one’s mind a complete picture of the whole abbey when it was peopled by the "Black Monks" going about their daily business. Much of the tracery of windows, carvings, small outhouses and many other things have naturally disappeared but sufficient is still left to make it an interesting place to visit and many people visit the well kept ruins. and grounds which are maintained by the Ancient Monuments Departments of the Ministry of Works. It is still possible to see part of the font, the sedilia and the piscina in the nave and choir, while the chapter house is in good preservation. It is strange so much should be left as the abbey was more or less used as a quarry for stones to build some of the houses in Maybole and district after the Reformation when so many lovely old abbeys in Scotland were destroyed or allowed to fall into ruins.


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