The medieval abbey of Crossraguel in Ayrshire

Crossraguel Abbey
The gatehouse of Crossraguel Abbey | Credit: © Neil Ritchie, editor

Crossraguel Abbey sits about 2 miles south-west of the small town of Maybole, surrounded by the wonderful Ayrshire countryside.

Even in its ruined condition, Crossraguel is one of the best-preserved abbeys in Scotland. The name of the site comes from a great Christian standing cross which stood on the location, the Cross of Riaghail. Raighail was an Irish saint and the cross may have been erected in the early medieval period.

The history of the abbey dates back to around 1214-16 when Duncan, Earl of Carrick, gave the lands of Crossraguel to the Cluniac Abbey of Paisley, where they founded a small chapel. The earl had wished for a larger religious center to be built and in 1244 the Bishop of Glasgow instructed the monks of Crossraguel to establish an abbey. The first abbot comes on record around the year 1286.

The gatehouse from the south | Credit: © Neil Ritchie, editor

Large parts of the abbey were destroyed during the First Scottish War of Independence (1296-1328) and much of what you can see today dates from its reconstruction in the late 1300s to early 1400s.

In the year 1404 King Robert III of Scotland gave the abbot extensive powers to act on his behalf in this part of Ayrshire. It remained a relatively small community with only ten monks on record in the 15th century.

The very impressive gatehouse and the dovecot were constructed by Abbot William Kennedy in the 1530s. The gatehouse has been fully restored and visitors can climb to the top to get an excellent view of the abbey and surrounding countryside. The site also has a wonderfully restored and atmospheric chapter house.

The Chapter House | Credit: © Neil Ritchie, editor

William Kennedy also had a new residence built, the tower house, which stands on the south-east corner. This, along with the gatehouse, may have been built to accommodate his young nephew, the Earl of Cassillis, who stayed at Crossraguel for a number of years under his guardianship.

The Abbey was badly damaged by reformers in 1561, following the Scottish Reformation of 1560. The last Abbot, Quintin Kennedy, died in 1564, however, it is understood that monks continued to occupy the site until 1592.

In 1617 the lands of Crossraguel Abbey were annexed to the bishopric of Dunblane.

Inside the Tower House | Credit: © Neil Ritchie, editor

 

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