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Raiderland, All about Grey Galloway
Chapter 4


CHAPTER IV

 

SWEETHEART ABBEY

"In the ancient Abbey of Dulce Cor,
The pleasant Solway near,
Two passionate hearts they laid of yore
And a love that cast out fear."

Dulce Cor.

  So on the title-page of a little book of verses, called by the proper name of the ancient monastic foundation, I wrote twenty years ago. The only remark which a certain metropoIitan journal, then at the head of literary criticism, made upon the work was conveyed in these, to me, memorable words, "The caninity of the Latin title of this hook will prevent every educated reader from venturing further."

 

  Nevertheless, had the educated critic so much as turned the page, he would have found that the little Collect of boyish verse was called after a real Abbey of Dulce Cor, otherwise Douce Coeur–a 'Dulce Cor,'. too, where certain memorable things came to pass, where many men lived and died in the odour of sanctity, and whose last abbot continued, long after the Reformation had swept away all his Scottish peers, to discharge his functions, both hospitable and spiritual.

 

  Further, the critic might have read in the same place these excellent words, "lifted" from the Scoti Monasticon, and even through the clouds of anonymous stupidity a light might have dawned upon him.

 

  "When John Baliol died in 1269, Devorgilla, his wife, had his dear heart embalmed and enshrined in a coffer of ivory, enamelled and bound with silver bright, which was placed before her daily in her hall as her sweet silent companion. At her death she desired the relic to be laid upon her heart, when sleeping in the New Abbey which she caused to be built. Hence it received the name of Sweetheart Abbey."

 

  These monks of old always chose good sites, knowing that they would have a long time in which to admire the surrounding scenery, but never did they hit on one more beautiful than that of Devorgilla's Abbey of the Heart.

 

  Under the lee of great green Criffel it lies, almost within spying distance of Loch Kinder. The sea swept close enough up to carry the holy brethren their salt and spice–shall we say? Yet it is far enough away not to fret them overmuch with its wintry blasts. There is nothing pleasanter even now than to wander through the kirkyard, across the cornfields, down the side of a mossy wall and so by little fords and white cottages up an opposite brae-face, all be-brambled and purple in the right season, till you look down on what is (take it for all in all) the most beautifully situated ruin in Scotland.

 

  Dulce Cor owes its charm partly to the rosy colour of its stone, mellow as a page of monkish vellum illuminated in gold and blue. The centuries have only rendered it more and more harmonious. The thousand suns and rains have wrought together to make this handiwork of pious men seem, even in ruin, like the breathing of an unspoken prayer.

 

  While in New Abbey, I have always a feeling that it is the Sabbath day. Not indeed a Sabbath to be feared. Rather the hush of a sweet peace seems to lie on the white cottages of the winding street, on the manse nestling amongst its trees-and yonder, lo! the good doctor coming down the road lifts his hand at sight of me with something of kindly benediction!

 

  It is good to be here. The world which is too much with us, is for a time shut out ;–though doubtless those who live always beside the Abbey have another tale to tell Such, however, was the impression of a wanderer, who will keep

The World too much with us.

in his heart a memory of fair days and quiet nights, of cornfields with the dew on the stooks, of the mouths of children stained purple with blackberrying–and over all, constant as the everlasting hills (aid-ful too, constant as the Psalmist says) the rosy towers of Dulce Cor, refreshing the heart at every turn of the road and every glimpse caught of them from the village street–a God's city set on a hill which cannot be hid.

 

  There is much to see at New Abbey, apart from the Abbey itself. There are, for instance, the delightful woodland walks. Never have I seen such a choice of trees all about–great trunks of ash and beech, the rustle of ancient woods, pines in which the blue tits creak and the squirrels chatter unseen, younger growths pushing out fresh greenery close above your head, and down by the shore the heavy overloaded foliage of oaks, leaning a little to the earth as if weary of ancestral dignity.

 

  Nevertheless at every hundred yards you come on the heather pushing up among the roots of the trees, or a vista opens out far away across the Solway. You see the glitter of silver water in midchannel, or the grey and dun stretches of the tideless flats. Yonder, you are told, is historic Caerlaverock far over the estuary, lonely on its green shore. A turn of the path and Loch Kinder lies beneath you, blue in the hollow of Criffel, a pool of moss water caught in a fold of his ample cloak, so lonely that, save for the ring of a hammer in the granite quarries above or the cry of a passing whaup high overhead, you cannot hear anything at al~ except the short clipping clatter of the wavelets on its pebbles.

 

  Above all rises Criffel, simple, restful, hardly beautiful, yet somehow harmonious too–a molehill made majestic by size.

 

  There is one demon in this Paradise, and against him I pronounce the Greater Excommunication. He is the putter-up of barbed-wire fences. However, his fate is written. I

 

Barbed Wire.

have made inquiries, and I have the highest local ecclesiatical authority (that of a fellow-sufferer) for saying that his future will be as uncomfortable as his own barbed wire, heated seven times in the furnace, can make it–be he Iandlord who oders, or farmer who profits by this engine of devilry. Anathema Maranatha!  This is pronounced for DOOM.


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