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Old Church Life in Scotland
Appendix F.—Cell, Monastery, or Priory—which? at Mauchline


As the Lectures published in this volume were written in the first instance for the entertainment of a parish auditory, I thought proper in Lecture I. to go a little beyond my proper subject, and say something about the church of Mauchline before the Reformation. Not doubting the correctness of what is a common statement, that there was in Catholic times a Priory at Mauchline, I endeavoured to describe what on that supposition would be the form of the buildings around the church, and the life within its walls. It was not till the whole lecture was printed that I was favoured by an eminent authority on Monastic Institutions with a note, in which the writer expresses his belief that there never was at Mauchline any Monastic establishment, in the popular sense of the terms, as a "place where monks lived." Considering the source from which it comes this opinion is, to say the least of it, entitled to very great deference. I shall accordingly insert it here, but before doing so I shall indicate the grounds on which the views expressed in the lecture may be said to rest.

In Chalmers' Caledonia, a book of high authority, it is stated that "The monks of Melros planted at Mauchline a colony of their own order, and this establishment continued a cell of the Monastery till the Reformation."

In Spottiswoode's "account of all the religious houses that were in Scotland at the time of the Reformation"—which is reckoned the chief authority on the subject of which it treats—it is stated under the head of Cistercians, that the Cistercians had thirteen monasteries in Scotland. These thirteen monasteries are then separately named and described, and the one numbered thirteenth is Mauchline.

For an account of Ayrshire ruins and Ayrshire antiquities one naturally turns to the History of Ayrshire, and in Paterson's History of Ayrshire the following sentences will be found in the chapter on Mauchline, "The parish church, or Priory of Mauchline, was no doubt erected by the monks of Melrose, as supposed by Chalmers, after 1165 ; and the village or Kirktoun of Mauchline gradually sprung up in the vicinity. The church, forming part of the original priory, it is supposed, and with which the tower at Mauchline is believed to have been connected, was situated in the middle of the town, having the churchyard around it."

Just as one goes to Paterson's History for an account of Ayrshire antiquities, so for an account of the early churches in Scotland one goes to the pages of Dr. Walcot, and we there find Mauchline placed in the list of "Priories" attached to the Abbey of Melrose. What Dr. Walcot says of Mauchline is, "a cell of Melrose ... no trace of it left." It is proper to say, however, that Dr. Walcot refers to Chalmers and Paterson as his authorities for these statements.

Before going to press I put myself in communication with a Reverend Doctor who has written and published a great deal on the subject of monasteries, and I asked his opinion on one or two points about the monastic buildings at Mauchline. He kindly forwarded to me the notes he had gathered about Mauchline, and authorised me to use them as I thought proper. The following sentences are his :—

"The Tower of Mauchline, or Mauchline Castle, may be said to be the only remains of this ancient priory, which is still in good preservation. The old parish kirk taken down many years ago formed part of the original priory, and was connected with the tower.

"Dugdale puts Mauchline in the list of monasteries which were founded by David I., and Spottiswoode says the same. But in the Chartulary of Melrose referred to (that is, the one 'which was not long since in the hands of the Earl of Haddington '), which is very imperfect, there is no such statement, neither does it appear that the Stuarts founded Mauchline and gave it to Melrose.

"It is therefore probable that the convent for Cistercian monks there, was established by the monks of Melrose themselves."

It will thus be seen that it was not without a good shew of authority that I said there was an old monastery at Mauchline under the government of a prior. And for any positive proof that I have to the contrary the statement may yet be found to be correct. But the eminent authority I have referred to writes as follows:—

"I think I cannot be in error in saying that the castle at Mauchline never was a monastic establishment, in the sense of a place where monks lived. The estate belonged to the Abbey of Melrose, but the castle was merely the factor's house and estate office. No doubt the factor was a layman, or at least a clerk not in holy orders. If the Abbey enjoyed a secular jurisdiction, I suppose the hall (the large room on the first floor with the groined ceiling) would have been the place for the legal proceedings, as well as for other estate business, and was no doubt, like the halls in other castles, business-room, sitting-room, dining-room, and partly servants' sleeping place. I don't suppose a monk ever came near the place, unless it were the Procurator (the member of the community charged with its worldly affairs) in discharge of his official duties, or the Abbot making a visitation of the property, or on some other exceptional occasion."

In a postscript it is added that the castle "is a particularly precious monument of Scotch mediaeval domestic building."

What then are we to say about the establishment which the monks of Melrose had at Mauchline? Was it a religious house or not—and if it was—was it a cell, a monastery, a priory, or what?

The Chartulary of Melrose will naturally occur to people as a source from which light might be got on the subject. There may be a great deal left unsaid about Mauchline in the Chartulary of Melrose. But whatever is said may be relied on. I have not had it in my power to examine the Chartulary (printed copy) as carefully and fully as would justify me in speaking confidently of all the references to Mauchline it contains, but I have looked at it and noted a few particulars.

The index of the Chartulary is made out in such a way as to necessitate the recurrence of the word Mauchline over and over. The term "monasterium," however, is never in the index associated with Mauchline. We find in the index the expressions "Monasterium de Fale," Monastery of Fail; "Abbacia de Dryburgh," Abbey of Dryburgh; "Decanatus de Are," the Deanery of Ayr. But in the index the only terms associated with the word Mauchline are "terrae," lands, and "ecclesia," Church.

In the Chartulary, the place and date are given at which different documents were signed. One deed, for instance, is dated "Apud Monasterium de Passelay," at the Monastery of Paisley. There is another dated at Mauchline, but the words in the deed are not "Apud Monasterium de Mauchline." They are simply "Apud Mauchlyn," at Mauchline, the nth July, 1342.

Many persons as well as places are named in the Chartulary. There is one Bernard Bell, designated " Monachus Monasterii de Melros ae pensionarius de Mauchlyne," Monk of the Monastery of Melrose and Pensioner of Mauchline. What the word pensioner in this instance may have meant—whether the holding of a religious office at Mauchline or simply the enjoyment of the rents from the lands of Mauchline —I will not presume to say. But besides "Magister Bernardus Bell, pensionarius de Mauchlyne," there is one Richard Biger mentioned in the Chartulary as having been "Monachus de Mauhelin" in the reign of Alexander the Second. The clause in which his name occurs is "Per manum Ricardi de Biger tunc Monachi de Mauhelin." To those uninitiated in the mysteries of monastic nomenclature, this expression, Monk of Mauchline, must seem to imply that there was at least one monk, if not more than one, who lived at Mauchline in the time of Alexander the Second. And, if monks, there would be monastic life at Mauchline, such as is described in Lecture I. Now, however, that doubt has been cast on the common statements about the monastic establishment at Mauchline, further exploration of the subject is necessary, and it is not unlikely that in some of the ancient papers and documents that in recent years have been published, valuable scraps of information will be found.

In a note on page 27 there is a remark made, not seriously, but in the spirit of the last clause of Prov. xxvi. 19, about a St. Maughold or Macallius. It may be stated here that the name of the Mauchline Parish saint occurs in the Melrose Chartulary. The name was St. Michael, as appears from the following clause in a deed drawn up in the reign of William the Lion—"Territorium de Mauchelin et eccle-siam Sancti Michaelis in eo sitam," the district of Mauchline and the Church of St. Michael therein situated. One of the wells in Mauchline, that near the U.P. Church, bears the name of St. Michael's, and is so designated in a precept of Clare Constat from Hugh, Earl of Loudoun, in 1712. This document is in the hands of the Trustees of the U.P. Church.


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