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The History of Glasgow
Chapter XXI - Arrival of the Friars


BOTH of the great Orders of Mendicant Friars, the one instituted by St. Francis of Assisi, an Italian merchant, and the other by St. Dominic, a Castilian theologian, had made rapid progress in evangelistic work on the continent before the end of the second decade of the thirteenth century, Francis devoting his chief attention to the masses of the people, and Dominic being equally enthusiastic and successful in inspiring a new vitality among scholars and ecclesiastics. The Dominicans, otherwise called Friars Preachers, or, from the colour of their habit, Black Friars, were the first to arrive in England, and were preaching in London in the autumn of 1221. Two years later a band of Franciscans came to England, and not many seasons were allowed to pass before brethren of both Orders had found settlements in this country. Unlike the monk who kept by his cloister and his grange, and had nothing to do with ministering to others, the Friar was an itinerant evangelist whose first duty was to save the bodies and souls of the people. His dwelling was not in rural monasteries but in the towns where assemblages of humanity could best be reached and benefited by missionary labours. The year 1230 has been given as the date when the Dominicans were settled in Edinburgh, Berwick and Ayr. King Alexander II. is credited with founding not only these houses but also branches of the Order in five other Scottish towns. It must have been in or before 1246 that a convent of Dominican Friars was planted in Glasgow, as on 10th July of that year Pope Innocent IV. issued a Bull granting forty days' indulgence to all the faithful who should contribute to the completion of the church and other edifices which the Friars Preachers of Glasgow had begun to build. Six years later the king charged the bailies of Dumbarton to pay from his rents of that burgh ten pounds yearly to the Friars Preachers of Glasgow, in lieu of his obligation to find them in food for one day of every week. [Liber Coll., etc., pp. xxxix, xl. At the time of the Reformation the endowments of the Friars came into the possession of Glasgow University, along with the relative title-deeds, and in the work here cited, compiled chiefly from these writs by Dr. Joseph Robertson for the Maitland Club in 1846, much valuable historical information is contained.] This slender donation of aliment can scarcely be classed with the long series of subsequent endowments bestowed on the friars in Glasgow, the acceptance of which involved a departure from the original constitution of the Order whereby all worldly possessions were renounced and the individual friars had to rely on voluntary alms for their support.

According to tradition the Place of the Preaching Friars in Glasgow "wes biggit and foundit be the Bischop and Cheptour." [Ibid. p. xxxviii.] The site chosen lay midway between the Cathedral and the Market Cross, and on the east side of the thoroughfare between those points. At that time little of the ground in this locality was occupied by buildings, being on the one hand too far south for the dwellings of ecclesiastics and on the other too far north for convenient occupation by the artizans and booth-holders of the burgh. On the opposite or western side of the road which fronted the site, in the line of the present High Street, lay the lands of Ramshorn, though there may have intervened a strip of ground which at a later date is found partly in possession of the Parson of Glasgow and partly occupied as the Place of the Franciscan or Grey Friars. It may therefore be assumed that in 1246 the ground selected as the site for the buildings of the Friars, forming the eastmost portion of vacant land stretching from St. Enoch's Burn on the west to the Molendinar on the east, was at the disposal of Bishop Bondington, thus confirming the accuracy of the tradition at least to the extent that he had a share in the bestowal of a site, though, keeping in view the terms of the Pope's "indulgence," it seems apparent that the Place was not entirely "biggit" by the bishop and chapter. As an indication of the mutual friendship subsisting between the bishop and the friars it is recorded that on 14th May, 1255, Pope Alexander IV. commissioned the Prior of the Preaching Friars of Glasgow to dispense the bishop of a vow he had made not to eat flesh in his own house. On account of his old age and weakness the vow was to be commuted into alms and other works of mercy. [Dowden's Bishops, p. 303.]

Not many years after the arrival of the Friars references occur in Regis/rum Episcopatus to buildings or lands situated near their premises. In 1270 Robert of Lanark, subdean, granted to the vicars, dean and subdean of the cathedral, his house, with a croft and all its pertinents, which he had bought from Philip, the fuller, who at that time held the land as a feuar of the subdean. Sasine or possession of this property, which is described as lying in the town of Glasgow, between the lands of the Friars Preachers and the house of William of Bellidstane, was given to the new owners in presence of nine named witnesses "and many others." Of the named witnesses three were dignitaries of the cathedral and the remainder were burgesses of the city, this being perhaps the earliest occasion in which we have names of that class of the inhabitants. [Reg. Episc. No. 220. The named witnesses were Sir Walter de Mortimer, dean of Glasgow; Robert, treasurer, and Richard, chancellor, canons of Glasgow; Richard of Dundover, William Gley, Roger, skinner, Galfrid, dyer, Richard Camber, and William, fuller, burgesses of Glasgow.] It was the usual practice to have near neighbours as witnesses to the public ceremony of giving sasine, and at least three of the witnesses, a skinner, a dyer and a fuller, may have resided in the Walker-gait (Vicus Fullonum), not far from the south side of the Friars' grounds, where the transferred house and croft were apparently situated. For authentication of the document the seals of the granter and of the dean, as well as the common seal of the city, were appended.

No document having the burgh seal attached is now extant of an earlier date than 1325, and consequently the form of the burgh seal of 1270 is not definitely known. Father Innes, who examined the seal attached to a document believed to have been issued about the year 1268, states that it showed the head of the Bishop (St. Kentigern) with mitre, and that the seal attached to a document dated 1293, also examined by him, contained the head above and a bell below. [Reg. Episc. Nos. 236, 245; vol. i. pp. cxxv, cxxvi.] The seal of 1325 has the Bishop's head and mitre along with the bell and other emblems. On these grounds Dr. Macgeorge was of opinion that between 1268 and 1325 three separately designed burgh seals had been in use; [Armorial Insignia of Glasgow, pp. 98-102.] but, after more or less handling in the course of four centuries, the impressed wax on the first two seals may not have been quite distinct, and perhaps the statements of Father Innes, who does not expressly say that there was no bell on the first seal or that no other emblem than a bell was on the other seal, can scarcely be taken as conclusive evidence on these points.

A charter believed to have been granted about the year 1300 contains a description of property which seems to have adjoined that of the Friars on the north. By this deed Alan, designated perpetual vicar of the church of Glasgow [Alan, whose name as vicar of GIasgow appears in the Ragman Roll on 28th August, 1296 (Bain's Calendar, ii. p. 212), seems to have held the vicarage of the parish of Glasgow. The term "perpetual" was more applicable to the benefice than to its possessor, but it was used to distinguish parochial vicars from those who sang in the choir or who took part in the cathedral services, as representing the canons while residing in their rural parishes.] and

sacristan thereof, with consent of the cathedral chapter, granted to Sir John of Carric, chaplain of the parish of Glasgow, a piece of land then vacant, lying within the burgh, opposite that of the Friars Preachers, between the lands of Malcolm called Scot on the north and the vennel or passage (viam) of the Friars on the south, to be held by Sir John and his heirs, for payment to the sacristan and his successors of three silver shillings yearly. The seal of the granter is appended to the charter, and for greater security he also procured the seals of the Official, [The administration of justice in the Bishop's ecclesiastical court was originally entrusted to the archdeacon, but when business increased the duty devolved on a judge appointed by him and named the Official.] and of the community of Glasgow. [Reg. Episc. No. 254. The witnesses were John Dubber and John, son of Waldeve, bailies of Glasgow, Roger Halcrer, John his son, Radulph Saryn, John Juet, John son of Alan, "and many others." In Glasgow Memorials, p. 190, it was suggested that the sacristan's property may have been situated on the west side of the High Street, but it appears that the east side has the better claim.]

From the croft transactions just noticed it will be observed that, though more than a hundred years had elapsed since the foundation of the burgh, little or no progress had been made in the placing of dwellings on the upper or steep part of the High Street, and that the land thus left vacant was chiefly applied for the maintenance or accommodation of churchmen and friars. As still further manifesting the goodwill subsisting between the secular clergy and the preachers, it may be mentioned that in August, 1304, the bishop gave to the latter the use of water from the Meadow Well in Deanside, on the west side of the High Street, with liberty to lead the same to their cloisters, and this grant was subsequently confirmed by the cathedral chapter. But it was not everywhere or always that the Friars found a cordial reception in their settlements, and in 1265 the Pope thought it expedient to issue a Bull pronouncing excommunication upon all persons daring to offer violence to the churches or places of the brethren. [Liber Coll. etc. pp. 149-51.] In Glasgow also the Friars may at first have had their occasional troubles, but the extant records of that period are so meagre that we have scarcely any knowledge of their movements or of the nature of the relations which subsisted between them and the community.


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