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Culross and Tulliallan
Chapter XXIV. Monuments of Culross and Tulliallan - The Monastery and its Surroundings


In the following chapter I shall take occasion to describe the monuments of bygone days still existing in Culross and Tulliallan, so as to complete the references which have already been made to them in the course of the previous history. It has seemed better to me to adopt this course than to encumber the narrative with a prolixity of descriptive details, and I think that it will be the most agreeable and convenient for my readers.

The first of these remains of antiquity that presents itself is naturally the old Monastery, with its Abbey Church, which, standing on the crest of the hill overlooking the town of Culross, is both the oldest and most conspicuous object by which the place is characterised.. The spot, as already mentioned, is probably the same as that originally occupied by the establishment of the primitive Christian missionary, St Serf, though not a trace now remains of any building that formerly existed here, and no tradition, however faint, is preserved regarding the site.

The Monastery or Abbey of Culross must have been in its entirety a very large and splendid building, though probably it did not transcend or even equal in these respects several other Scottish religious houses, the ruins of which still remain. It was founded, as already stated, by Malcolm, Earl of Fife, in 1217, and nothing whatever is known either as to its progress or completion. Our information in regard to the buildings is derived entirely from their present condition, and the very imperfect accounts which have come down to us from the period of the Reformation.

In the middle of the sixteenth century, immediately preceding the suppression of the religious houses, Culross Abbey must, like other conventual establishments, have consisted of a congeries of buildings—square, massive, and imposing—enclosing a yard or cloister court, with the church forming one side of the square, whilst the other three were devoted chiefly to the secular requirements of the monks. Following the general rule, the Monastery Church of Culross occupied the north side of the square, whilst it is probable the chapter-house or council-chamber of the Abbey filled the north-east comer, and the refectory or great dining-hall extended along the south side in a parallel direction with the church.

As at present standing, the buildings consist of the Monastery or Abbey Church, of which now only remain the choir and central tower, with some fragments of aisles or chapels. The choir serves as the present parish church, and is entered through the tower, from which formerly the nave extended in a westerly direction as far as the present churchyard gate. The nave has completely disappeared, with the exception of the lower part of the south wall, which forms the south side of the churchyard, and separates it from the old cloister court, now used as the upper manse-garden. A doorway near the south-west extremity of this wall had evidently given access to the nave from the cloister court, and at the very end is a small fragment which marks the comer and formed a part of the west front of the church. From this point the western range of the conventual buildings extended southwards to a considerable distance down the hill—as far at least, it would seem, as the southern boundary of the lower manse-garden. They are now restricted to the present manse, which, originally constructed out of the old convent buildings, abuts on the south-west extremity of the churchyard, and, with its offices, adjoins the only part of the monastic ruins that still preserves the appearance of their original condition. These consist of a splendid vaulted chamber, which, with its imposing groined roof and arches, may possibly have been the entrance or great hall of the monastery. Behind it, and perhaps originally forming a part of it, is a vaulted passage of a similar description, which leads through a beautiful Norman doorway into the cloister court. At the entrance of the hall is a staircase leading to an upper storey, which now presents nothing but a bare flat roof, unprotected by any parapet, but which had doubtless anciently contained the cells or dormitories of the monks. The southern end of the great chamber or hall has been completely demolished, and, standing on an elevated position, it takes the aspect, to a spectator ascending the hill, of a vast yawning cavern, terminating in front in a precipice. Beneath it, and stretching to an unknown distance, are a series of vaults, which were formerly very extensive, but are now in great measure demolished, and the remaining portion choked up with rubbish. Legendary lore has not failed to include the vaults of Culross Monastery within its domains, and the usual tale is recorded of mysterious subterranean passages and communications. In one of these a man is said to be seated on a golden chair, and has doubtless prizes of regal magnificence to present to the courageous adventurer who may succeed in penetrating to his secret retreat. The story is also told of a blind piper and his dog who entered the vaults at the head of the Newgate, and was heard playing his pipes on his subterraneous march as far as the West Kirk, three-quarters of a mile distant. But the gnomes or subterranean demons got hold of him, and he never again emerged to the upper air. His dog managed to effect his escape, but the faithful animal of course could tell no tales.

The southern extremity of the monastery has evidently thus been truncated for the purpose of constructing the present bend at the top of the Newgate, which here diverges from a north to a westerly direction. Formerly the road used to continue right up the hill, and passed between the east end of the church and the present mansion of Culross Abbey.

The monastery, as already stated, extended a considerable way down the hill. Just at the point reached by the presently existing ruins, a line of buildings forming the south side of the cloister court, and supported on underlying vaults or arches, extended from west to east. These have almost entirely disappeared, and not a trace remains of the refectory, or great dining-hall, which doubtless formerly existed here, and, like the Frater hall in Dunfermline, commanded, from its elevated-terrace position, a magnificent view. Two fine arched windows, which may have formed the west end of the hall, with the supporting wall, remained till within the last sixty years at the west extremity of the Abbey garden at the top of the Newgate, and were then removed by Sir Robert Preston, in accordance with his usual spirit of vandalism. So strong and compact was the masonry, that it resisted all the ordinary appliances of pickaxes and other tools, and only yielded at last to the agency of gunpowder.

The buildings of the monastery, including the refectory on the south side of the cloister court, as also the greater portion of those on the east side, seem to have been removed at a very early period; and as tradition records that the mansion immediately adjoining, now known as Culross Abbey, was

erected from the materials of the convent, it is extremely probable that the portion in question was thus utilised. And it is very likely that the demolition was still further completed when the Newgate itself was formed in the latter half of the seventeenth century. The old grammar-school which adjoined, the monastery, if indeed it did not actually form a part of the building, may then have been removed with the remaining ruins, and the new road carried on in a north-easterly direction through the northwest angle of the Abbey garden, and between the mansion of the Abbey and the eastern extremity of the church.

Till at least the end of the seventeenth century, and probably for a considerable time afterwards, a large portion of the monastery buildings remained in continuation of the ruins still existing, and extended southwards for a considerable distance down the hill, presenting a very imposing castellated appearance. They are shown in an engraving contained in the well-known collection of views published by Slezer in 1693 in his ‘ Theatrum Scotiae.’ Slezer was a Dutch officer in the service of King William, and a captain of artillery. He was employed by Government to make drawings and surveys of the fortresses, military stations, and other places in Scotland, and his work is both extremely valuable and interesting in itself, and about the earliest collection of the kind that was formed. It contains certainly the earliest representation that we possess of Culross. I shall have occasion again to


CULROSS from the Water, as it appeared in 1693.

The Mansion and Gardens of CULROSS ABBEY with Church and Ruins of Monastery, as they appeared in 1693.

The date at which this great mass of buildings, including the original south front of the monastery, was removed, cannot now be ascertained, but it doubtless took place when the present bend at the top of the Newgate was constructed, connecting that thoroughfare with the continuation of the main street leading northward up the hill from Culross. This bend or turn passes right through, from east to west, the site of the pile of buildings shown in Slezer’s view. The principal object in this demolition and diversion was of course the enlargement of the Abbey garden, and securing the privacy of the mansion by shutting up the public road, which passed the latter in such inconvenient proximity. But lest I should be doing an injustice to the proprietors of the Abbey in thus ascribing to them exclusively the destruction of such extensive remains of antiquity, it is only fair to state that the monastery ruins, like so many others both in Scotland and elsewhere, seem to have been regarded as a general quarry, which might be legitimately used whenever opportunity offered or occasion required. Many walls, dikes, and buildings about Culross bear evidence, in the fine-hewn stones which they display, of the spoliation of the old monastery to supply these materials.

The buildings of the monastery must both have covered the lower manse-garden, and likewise descended beyond it into the garden of the Park, belonging to Dr R. H. Davidson. These gardens are now separated by a vennel or narrow passage connecting the Newgate with the causeway leading north from Culross. The previous boundary, however, was a very old wall, which seems to have formed part of the monastery buildings. It was taken down in 1833, and in its demolition was laid open what seemed to be the remains of a gateway and a flight of steps. There was also the fragment of -a pillar found there, said to have been of beautiful construction ; but though some urgent remonstrances were made on behalf of its preservation, it was ruthlessly removed. More than twenty years afterwards a number of large stones, fully six feet broad, were dug out of the original foundations and employed in heightening the walls which enclose the Park garden.

The Monastery or Abbey Church, at least the tower and nave, belongs to the same period as the convent—that is to say, the beginning of the thirteenth century. The tower is a very marked specimen of Norman architecture, having two fine door-ways of' that style; one giving access to the porch, which forms its basement storey—and the other directly opposite to it, leading from the porch to the choir, which, since the Reformation, has been used as the parish church Previous to that event the parish church was that now known as the West Kirk, about half a mile to the west, on the old road leading from Culross through the moor to Kincardine. It has already been and will shortly again be referred to.

The nave of the Abbey Church has now completely disappeared, with the exception of the south wall, which extends westward from the tower to the churchyard gate, and now forms the north boundary-wall of the upper manse-garden or old cloister court. Till the middle of the last century it still presented on its summit a row of Norman windows, which are exhibited in Slezer’s view of the church and monastery ruins. They were removed, it is said, by Dr Erskine during his incumbency as minister of the first charge, and their materials used for constructing a dike on the south side of the Barcrook Park, where the road to the West Kirk diverges. The jamb of one of the windows fixed to the south-west corner of the tower still remains.

The lower storey of the tower, which serves as a porch to the present church, is, on three sides at least, and possibly also at one time on four, pierced with arches. On the west is the fine outer doorway opening into the porch, and flanked by two pointed openings now closed up. Adjoining the arch on the south side of the door is an ancient piscina or recess in connection with an altar, where the chalice was washed, and its rinsings emptied through a conduit in the stonework. On the north side of the porch is an arched opening, now filled in with glass and serving as a window, but which formerly opened into an aisle or chapel on the north side of the tower, which had been lighted on the west by a large window, of which part of the arch still exists. At the same point are still to be seen the remains of an arch which had contained the window at the northeast corner of the nave. The place where the roof of the latter had rested on the tower is still distinctly visible; and a little below, in the south comer, is seen' a closed-up doorway, which had probably served as a communication between the upper part of the nave and the choir by a passage or ledge in the south wall of the porch. To the north of this opening, and right over the outer door of the tower, is a semicircular opening, likewise closed up, which it is surmised may, in the days when the church was entire and the nave served as the place of assembly for the laity, have contained the rood or cross with its attendant images.

The porch or lower storey of the tower (“ between the doors,” as it is expressed in the session-book) was assigned by the ecclesiastical authorities in the seventeenth century as the burial-place of the Prestons of Valleyfield. It has long been disused as such, and no monuments or epitaphs of any kind are to be seen, though there can be no doubt of some members of the family having been here interred.

The roof of the porch on which the first floor of the tower rests is a fine groined vault, with an opening in the centre. A staircase attached to the south wall leads to the gallery of the church. On the inner west wall above the outer doorway is sculptured a winged figure resembling an angel, and bearing a shield. On one side is the letter A, and on the other what seems to be the letter M, in the Old English character. They probably stand for Ave Maria, the Abbey Church of Culross having been dedicated to St Serf and the Virgin.

The fact of the tower of Culross church rising direct from the ground, and not springing at a considerable elevation from the summit of lofty supporting arches, is said to be unique, or at least rarely paralleled in other central towers. [It must always be remembered that Culross tower is really a central tower, between the choir and the nave, the latter having now disappeared. The church towers which, like it, rise direct from the ground, are almost invariably situated at the western extremity of the nave.] It consists of three storeys, each of which is very lofty. The basement has already been described. Immediately above it is a vast void apartment, in which it would appear that those accused of witchcraft were formerly detained. It must have been a weird-like dreary abode indeed for the poor creatures. Above this again is the clock-room and belfry, and over all, the roof with its bartizan. Access to all these stages is gained by a narrow spiral staircase on the north side of the tower, opening from the churchyard. From the bartizan a magnificent prospect is commanded, taking in the basin of the Forth from Ben Lomond to the Bass, and extending over nearly thirteen counties. Culross church tower, with its pinnacles, is indeed a landmark for the country round, being visible from a great distance, and forming a most picturesque object as it rises amid woods on the crest of the hill. This very picturesqueness, however, is not altogether a matter for unqualified approbation, as, to produce this effect, the old Norman character of the tower was sacrificed, and the building, as far as its summit is concerned, converted into a structure of the perpendicular order. Previous to 1824 it was surmounted by a curious ark-like roof not unfrequent in old church towers, and popularly known as the “ kae-house,” from its being the favourite haunt of the “kaes” or jackdaws. This was surrounded by a walk or ledge, which was unprotected by any parapet; and to run round the kae-house was a favourite deed of daring on the part of the Culross boys. It is said that Lady Hay, the last surviving niece of Sir Robert Preston, had contemplated the restoration of this quaint structure, as well as the completion of the quadrangle of the mansion of Culross Abbey, according to the plan supposed to have been originally contemplated by the first Lord Kinloss.

There are two bells in the church tower of Culross —a larger and a smaller. The material of the former is very ancient; and as it had become worn out in 1659, it was sent to Rotterdam that year and recast. The latter was put up in 1685.

The old choir of the Abbey Church, now fitted up as the parochial place of worship, has been so much metamorphosed in the course of the alterations which at different times it has undergone, that it is difficult now to understand the original condition of the building. Entering it at present by the inner doorway of the tower, we find ourselves in a very neat and comfortable-looking church, with galleries at the east and west ends, and a north and south transept, which as nearly as possible bisect the north and south walls of the edifice. Two very fine Gothic arches, with corresponding pillars, form the entrances respectively of the north and south transepts, and are almost the only objects of antiquity that meet the eye in the interior of the church. There is, indeed, a fine east window of an early English or semi-Norman character; but this is almost entirely blocked up by the gallery and adjoining staircase. The pulpit is placed within the arch at the entrance of the north transept, whilst facing it is a gallery that spans the south transept and its corresponding arch.

Both of these transepts probably existed in ancient times as appendages to the choir; but it would seem that about 1640 the north transept had either disappeared or become a ruin, when it was reconstructed by the younger George Bruce of Camock, as detailed in the session-books, for the use of the workmen employed at his saltworks and collieries. It continued to be occupied by the same class of worshippers down to the beginning of the present century, when a general collapse took place in the mining operations about Culross on the failure of Lord Dundonald. Situated behind the pulpit, it does not hold indeed a very desirable position; and though it contains two ranges of pews, these are scarcely now ever occupied.

The last remodelling of the church took place about 1824, when the metamorphosis of the upper part of the tower was effected, as already stated.

Previous to that its interior has been described to me as an “ awfu’-looking kirk.” It must really have been so, with its uncouth and unsymmetrical arrangement of seats, two tiers of galleries or lafis piled above each other, dirt and cobwebs in good store, and an open ceilingless roof, in which pigeons roosted, and made their presence not only conspicuous, but felt by the worshippers, some of whom we find on one occasion presenting a petition to the kirk-session for liberty to erect a canopy of protection. A great improvement was doubtless then effected, though it is just to be wished that it had been carried out with a little more taste and a little less destructiveness.

It appears from the session records that the term “ choir ” or “ quiere ” was, down at least to the earlier half of the last century, given to the portion of the church extending from the north and south transepts to the east wall. It seems to have been separated from the rest of the church by a wooden partition or screen, which very probably had existed in the old Eoman Catholic times, when the choir, as the place where the musical part of the service was conducted, was generally boarded off and enclosed for the exclusive accommodation of the officiating monks and choristers. As commonly understood, the choir denotes the whole eastern portion of a church extending eastwards from the central tower or transept, just as the nave designates the whole western division stretching from that point to the west entrance. But in Culross, if we are to be guided by traditionary nomenclature, the term had been restricted to the eastern extremity of the choir,—to what, in short, in ordinary Episcopal churches, is known as the chancel, and is railed off by a screen and gates. Possibly, indeed, the mere general recollection of the term choir may have led to this restriction in its application.

It is not improbable that the south transept of the choir communicated directly in ancient times with the chapter-house of the monastery, which may have immediately adjoined, forming thus the northeast comer of the cloister court. In support of this evidence, I may state that the same veteran who gave me the account of the appearance of the church previous to its last remodelling, informed me that there used to be near the extremity of this transept a massive pillar, which may have been the centre column that we sometimes find supporting the roof of the chapter-house.

At the end of this transept or southern extremity of the church, on the outside, is a fine pointed arch, entire, and the fragment of another, which had anciently formed part of the series that had bordered the eastern side of the cloister court. These are, strictly speaking, the only special remains that now exist as denoting this enclosure,—though, from its position, with the monastery ruins on the opposite side, and the fine Norman doorway entering from' them to the upper manse-garden, there can be no doubt whatever of the latter and the cloister court of the convent being identical.

The exterior of the church now requires our attention. Beginning on the north side of the tower, where, as already mentioned, there seems to have been an aisle or chapel, we pass along the outer wall of the church till we reach the aisle or north transept of the choir erected by the younger George Bruce. There is nothing in the external aspect of the church here calling for special remark, as the original windows or arches of the choir have been built up, though the Bruce' aisle has rather a handsome one at its north extremity. Proceeding still farther east we come to a vault attached to the north wall of the church, and kept carefully locked. It is the family vault of the Bruce family, including the great Sir George and his descendants, the Earls of Kincardine. Latterly it was converted into his own mausoleum by Sir Robert Preston on becoming proprietor of the Culross estate; and here both he and his wife, Lady Preston, repose. Against the east wall, just opposite the door, is a very fine monument, in alabaster, to the memory of Sir George Bruce. The knight and captain of the industry of old Culross is represented in a reclining position, while in front of him are kneeling figures, also in alabaster, of his children. The diminutive scale on which the latter are represented has procured for the group the popular appellation of “the babies.” The monument itself, which reaches nearly to the summit of the vault, is a close imitation of the monument of Edward Lord Kinloss, Sir George’s elder brother, erected in the Bolls Chapel, Chancery Lane, London.

On the south wall of this vault is perhaps the most interesting memorial connected with Culross. A brass plate fixed in the wall above a projection resembling an altar has the following inscription:—

“Near this spot is deposited the heart of Edward Lord Bruce of Kinloss, who was slain in a bloody duel, fought in 1613 with Sir Edward Sackville, afterwards Earl of Dorset, near Bergen-op- Zoom in Holland, to which country the combatants repaired, the one from England, the other from Paris, for the determined purpose of deciding their quarrel. The body of Lord Bruce was interred in the great church of Bergen-op-Zoom, where, among the ruins caused by the siege in 1747, are still to be seen the remains of a monument erected to his memory. A tradition, however, existing that his heart had been sent over to his native land, and was buried near that place, a search was made by Sir Robert Preston of Valleyfield in the year 1808, when it was found embalmed in a silver case of foreign workmanship, secured between two flat and excavated stones clasped with iron, and was again carefully replaced and securely deposited in the spot where it was discovered.

“For the particulars of the challenge and fatal duel, in which the Lord Bruce was killed on the spot, disdaining to accept his life from his antagonist, who was also dangerously wounded, see Lord Clarendon’s ‘ History of the Rebellion/ B. L, and the narrative published in Nos. 129 and 133 of the ' Guardian/ ”

The circumstances attending the duel have already been detailed. An account of the discovery of the heart is contained in two communications by Mr Begbie, Sir Robert’s factor, made respectively in 1808 and 1815, to the Treasurer of the Society of Antiquaries, Edinburgh Previous to being redeposited with great ceremony in its original resting-place, the silver box containing it was exhibited to the public in a room of Culross Abbey.

Quitting the Bruce aisle, we find immediately to the east of it, behind the north wall of the church, the ruins of what used to be denominated' the Old or Little Aisle. Nothing remains of it now but a very fine fragment of a window of the decorated order, and belonging apparently to a later period than any other part of the ancient architecture of the church. It is said traditionally to have been the burial-place of the Argyll family, who acted as hereditary bailies of the Abbey in Roman Catholic times, and occupied the Castle of Gloom, afterwards Castle Campbell, at Dollar. Several bodies enclosed in leathern shrouds were a good many years ago dug up here, and are considered to have been those of members of the house of Argyll.

There is little else in the exterior of the church deserving of notice, unless it be the great east window, which in the interior is almost wholly shut out from view by the galleries. It is of considerable size, and, with its mullions in the Early English style, and semicircular Norman arch, is the only window in the church which has been preserved in its original form. The others are all small, and of modem construction, with the exception of that in the north transept behind the pulpit, which, however, dates only from the middle of the seventeenth century.

Whilst the CuldeeB or early Scottish clergy generally planted their establishments in bleak and desolate situations, exposed to all the inclemency of the weather, and without any attractiveness or amenity in their surroundings, the monks and -canons-regular of a later date showed great discrimination in the sites which they fixed upon, and improved, moreover, the natural advantages of the locality by their ingenious and artistic industry. Culross bears striking evidence of their judgment and good taste in these respects. Though the braes which here border the shore of the Forth may in the dayB of St Serf have presented, as the old legends inform us, but a desolate wilderness of tangled scrub, they have a fine southern exposure, and the monks of medieval times perceived well to what account they might be turned in laying out their gardens. The “ convent yard,” as it is termed in old title-deeds and legal documents, forms still, in part at least, the present Abbey orchard, which occupies a considerable space on the slope of the hill in front of the mansion of Culross Abbey. It is not unlikely that since the erection of the latter it has been somewhat extended towards the east, whilst it may have undergone a slight curtailment on the west side.

It is well known that ancient monastic buildings had generally around them an enclosure, more or less extensive, which contained, besides the gardens and pleasure-grounds, a small extent of pasture-land, and also various domestic offices—all being surrounded with a protecting wall. It is not possible to determine now the limits of the wall of defence which thus enclosed the re/tew: or sacred territory of Culross; but there can be little doubt of the north lodge or portal having been at the spot now known as the Chapel Bam, close to the west Abbey Lodge, and opposite to the entrance of the road leading to the West Kirk. There is here to be seen an ancient wall of great thickness, having its inner side turned to the road, and pierced by a doorway and a small window or bole. Fixed in the upper part of the wall is the spring or foundation-stone of an arch. The locality has long been known as the Chapel Bam; and what is now the Abbey Lodge, on the other side of the wall, was, in the memory of persons still living, a building—not, however, of great antiquity—that was actually used as a bam. In ancient Scottish Acts of Parliament and other old documents relating to Culross, the place is spoken of as the Bar-chapel, or the chapel of Bar—whether from its proximity to the rising ground immediately above, called Barhill, or from its being the port or bar of the monastery territory, I am really unable to determine. There had doubtless, however, been a chapel here, which it is extremely probable was connected, as often happened in such cases, with a gateway and porter’s lodge. A wall seems to have been continued eastwards from this point for about two hundred yards, and thence to have been carried in a southern direction till it reached the lower extremity of the churchyard in the space between the present Abbey and the church. Traces of ancient foundations, as well of walls as of what may have been circular flanking towers, have been discovered along all these lines. How much farther south the wall extended we cannot tell, any more than we can lay down with certainty the line of the western boundary of the monastery territory. It may be mentioned here, that according to the account of the Scotch antiquary Captain Grose, the house of the Abbot of Culross was a detached building, situated a little to the west of the present ruins, and was existing in the memory of persons living at the close of the last century. Nothing is now known regarding it. The present manse abuts on the south-west extremity of the churchyard, just where the west front of the Abbey Church used to be when the nave was in existence. It is extremely likely that its original walls, which are very thick, were those of the old monastery; but extensive alterations and additions have been made at different times. It bears the date of 1637, with the initials “ J. D.,”— doubtless those of Mr John Duncan, who was then minister of the parish. Below these is a second date—1752—which marks the period of some alteration. The west wing is entirely modern, and was added in 1824, when the church was remodelled.

The “monks of old” were not only skilful architects and horticulturists, but were also noted for their caligraphic abilities, which they displayed in the transcription of missals, religious manuals, and other books connected with the service of the Church. In this, indeed, a great part of their time was employed, and a particular chamber in the monastery, called the scriptorium, was set apart for this kind of work. We have authentic evidence, not only of the monks of Culross having been engaged in this way, but likewise of their enjoying a great reputation over Scotland for their caligraphic skill. In the preface to the ‘ Inventories of Mary Queen of Scots,’ Dr Robertson, the editor, remarks:—

“It is impossible not to regret the service-books of the Chapel Royal destroyed by the Regent. We may reasonably grieve for them as fine examples of the Scottish art of that age—interesting proofs of the skill and taste of the monks of Culross and the canons of St Andrews. Payments were made from the Treasury of 14, 8s. to the bedell of St Andrews for a breviary to King James IV. in 1502-4; of 14 to the monks of Culross for books to the Franciscans of Stirling in 1502-4; and of 24 to ‘Dene Mychaell Donaldsone, monk of Culross, for ane grete anti-phonall bake’ for the Chapel Royal in 1538-9. In recording that Abbot Thomas, who died in 1535, gave a missal and a gradual to his monastery of Kinloss, his biographer is careful to add that both were written at Culross (Ferrerii Historxa Abbatium de Kyrdos). A psalter, it would seem, of the fifteenth century, now in the Advocates’ Library at Edinburgh, is inscribed Mx fibbi fecit Ricardos Merchel quondam Abbas de Culenbos.”

A more interesting instance still of the caligraphic skill of the Culross monks is furnished in a beautifully written miniature Bible now preserved in the library of Traquair House, near Innerleithen. It bears the inscription “Liber sancte Marie de Culros in Scocia prope monasterium de Dunfermline.” And in concluding this subject, I may quote the following statement from the Rev. W. Stephen’s MSS. lectures on Culross, already referred to:—

“I have only another instance to add of the existence in the present day of beautiful specimens of penmanship by our old monks. Mr William Macdonald, late of Low Valleyfield, an eminent virtuoso, told me that in the spring of 1869 he bought at the sale of the library of the late Mr Johnston, Curator of the National Gallery of Scotland, an illuminated Roman Catholic missal, written by the monks of Culross, without date—a beautiful book—at the price of seven guineas; but having been offered 11, 7s. for it by M. FourW, who was French tutor to the Prince of Wales during his residence at Edinburgh University, he parted with it to him for that sum.”

The monks of Culross belonged to the order of Cistercians or White Friars (Monachi Alln). The Cistercians were first established as a religious order in the year 1098, by Robert, abbot of Molesme, in the diocese of Langres in France. The name is derived from their chief house, Cistertium or Citeaux, in Burgundy; and they were also called Bemardines, on account of St Bernard having, fifteen years after the foundation of the monastery of Citeaux, betaken himself thither with thirty of his companions. Here he conducted himself with such reputation that he was elected abbot of Clairvaux, from which he generally takes his designation. He founded no fewer than 160 monasteries of the Cistercian order; and from his activity in thus extending its influence, its monks were frequently called, after him, Bemardines. The dress of the Cistercians was white, with the exception of a black cowl and scapular; whereas that of the Benedictines was entirely black. They owned thirteen monasteries in Scotland.

How the monks of Culross conducted themselves, or what manner of life they led, we have scarcely a shred of information. One specialty they seem to have been distinguished by—their skill in penmanship, and the execution of illuminated manuscripts. Another, of a different character, may with some likelihood be credited to them—the art of representing and performing in mystery and miracle plays. It is well known that in the middle ages the clergy were not only the mainstay and supporters of the drama, but likewise acted as the performers in those strange exhibitions of Scriptural narrative and ecclesiastical legend with which they regaled the populace at set times as a sort of actual presentation of the doctrines and morals which they preached to them in the churches. The most solemn subjects were thus treated, and the exhibition of the most sacred personages and themes was not unfrequently mingled with gross and profane buffoonery. These mysteries and moralities were generally performed in the open air; and as the actors were for the most part composed of clergymen, they were greatly in vogue in the neighbourhood of any abbey or conventual establishment, which could always, furnish a quota of performers. A particular spot was commonly set apart for this purpose, known as the Play-field, where the ground, either naturally or artificially, was so constituted as to afford the necessary accommodation for the open-air stage, and enable the audience to witness comfortably the representations there performed. Perth, Cupar, Stirling, Linlithgow, and other places, had all their playfields; and the exhibitions often acquired an additional idat by the presence of the sovereign and his court.

There seems little reason to doubt that the field on the sea-shore at the western extrejnity of the burgh of Culross, immediately adjoining Balgownie stables, which bears to this day the name of the Playfield, was in Roman Catholic times the scene of many such representations, in which the principal parts were enacted by the monks of Culross Abbey. It may also have witnessed the performance of Sir David Lindsay’s plays, and similar satires on the corruptions of the Church and the vices of the clergy, which are said to have materially contributed to the accomplishment of the Reformation. The space in question is admirably adapted for an open-air theatre, having a fine sunny sloping bank on the north side, on which crowds of spectators could sit and view the performance on the level space below. The ground is quite unfitted for athletic sports or military exercises; and no other plays but those of the stage could ever have been exhibited here with any sue-cess. In recent times it has been converted into the orchard and garden attached to Balgownie House.

At the Beformation the rental of Culross Abbey amounted, we are told, to 768, 16s. 7d. of money; 3 chalders,1 3 bolls of wheat; 14 chalders, 10 bolls, 2 firlots of barley; 13 chalders, 12 bolls, 3 firlots, 3} pecks of oats; 1 chalder, 2 bolls of salt; 10 wedders, 22 lambs; 7 dozen of capons; 28J dozen of poultry; 7$ stone of butter; 79$ stone of cheese; and 8 trusses of straw. At its suppression the monastery contained only nine monks, having probably for some time previously been undergoing a gradual process of decay and diminution in the number of its inmates. Of these nine who had thus lingered to the last in the old cloisters, five embraced the Reformed doctrines, and had probably some small pension assigned to them. Four, however, remained constant to their old faith, and, we may conclude, were ignominiously extruded. In the first volume of the burgh records, which dates from 1588, we find among the inhabitants of Culross at that period one or two persons who are designated “ priests,”—probably superannuated monks from the Abbey.

As regards the landed property held by the monastery, it comprised lands not merely in the parish of Culross, but in those of Torrybum, Saline, and others. The little parish of Crombie, afterwards united to Torrybum, seems to have been almost entirely the property of the convent. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between what actually was ecclesiastical property and what amounted merely to a right of superiority or lordship involving the payment of certain duties. Had the Culross Chartulary existed, many obscurities resting on the subject might have been removed.

There is, however, a document preserved among the Harleian MSS. in the British Museum which gives a vidimus or synopsis of the revenues of Culross Abbey, which, it will be remembered, was, on the suppression of the monasteries and annexation of benefices to the Crown, formed into a temporal lordship, and bestowed on Sir James Colville of Easter Wemyss, with the title of Lord Colville of Culross. It seems to have been drawn up in 1630, on the occasion of a stent or measure of taxation having been imposed in the time of James, or, as he is there styled, John, second Lord Colville of Culross, and grandson of the first lord. The title is, “Taxt Roll of the Abbaye of Culross, given up and taxt in a Court, holden by John, Lord Colvill of Culross, for his Relieffe of 344,8s. 10d., layd on the sd. Abbaye in anno 1630, himself and the whole vassals almost compearing.” The various lands which paid tribute to the monastery, with the names of the proprietors, and the respective amounts of feu-duty paid by them to Lord Colville, are all stated in detail. The account corresponds pretty closely with what has been already mentioned of the revenues of Culross Abbey at the time of the Reformation.


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