Ardchattan Priory

Open to the public, managed by Historic Environment Scotland

The charters of the Priory of Beauly, with notices of the priories of Pluscardine and Ardchattan and of the family of the founder, John Byset (1877) - book on :

The Priory was founded in 1230 for an Order of Benedictine Monks.

A former valliscaulian house on the shores of Loch Etive, Argyllshire, Scotland, founded by Duncan Mackoull, or Macdougall, in 1230, and dedicated to St. Mary and St. John the Baptist. Its name was derived from the Gaelic, meaning "hill of Cattan," which probably refers to Cailtan, an early Scottish saint of the district. The priory's early history is obscure: it is known to have sworn fealty to Edward I in 1296, although Robert the Bruce held a parliament there in 1308. In 1506 James, the prior general of the order, commissioned the prior of Beauly to visit Ardchattan and to make such reform regulations as he should find necessary. By 1538 only six monks appear to have been left at Ardchattan, and in 1602 James VI dissolved the monastery and erected it into a temporal lordship for Alexander Campbell, its former prior. It is now a ruin.

Bibliography: Edinburgh Bannatyne Club, Origines parochiales Scotiae, ed. c. innes, 2 v. (Edinburgh 1850–55) v. 2.1. m. barrett, The Scottish Monasteries of Old (Edinburgh 1913). d. e. easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland (London 1957) 70. s. cruden, Scottish Abbeys (Edinburgh 1960).

In 1558 John Campbell became Prior of Ardchattan, he was succeeded by his son Alexander in 1580, but during these troubled years of religious dissension the number of monks dwindled and the Priory become a private dwelling house.
In the 17th century the Campbells of Ardchattan and of Lochnell built private burial aisles for their families outside the south and north walls of the choir respectively.
In 1602 Alexander Campbell received the charter for the land. Some very old trees date from this time and the age of some of the trees which had to be cut down recently was confirmed as over 400 years.
In 1654, as a reprisal for the then Laird of Ardchattan supporting the Earl of Glencairn's rising against Cromwell, Cromwellian troops burnt down the church leaving the Abbott's lodgings.1
In the 1700's a new church Baile Mhaodain was built to the east using stone from Ardchattan which finally marked the end of worship at the Priory, although the parish used the ruined chapel as a burial ground until 1906.

Burial of John Carswell
The funeral of John Carswell, the Bishop of the Isles who was instrumental for the Reformation in the Highlands, is yet another fascinating example of an unexpected burial. Gillies notes: “After his censure by the Assembly, Carswell withdrew from Court and retired to Carnasarie, where he died in the year 1572. He was buried, by his own desire, at the Priory of Ardchattan. The leaden coffin lies below the floor of the kitchen of the present mansion - house, which was, with a spirit of desecration hard to excuse, built over a part of the old graveyard. Such was the weight of the coffin, the violence of the storm which prevailed on the funeral day, and the consequent hardships endured by the mourners, that a saying is still current when any extraordinary event happens, „Cha d 'thainig a leithid bho latha adhlaic a Charsalaich‟ („There has not been the like since
Carswell's funeral day‟).” P. H. Gillies, Netherlorn, Argyllshire, and its Neighbourhood. (London: Virtue & Co., 1909), pp. 152-153.

from Historic Environment Scotland
Duncan MacDougall established Ardchattan Priory in 1230 or 1231 for Valliscaulian monks. The order followed a strict form of monastic rule, with an emphasis on ascetic religious life. The monks depended on rents and tithes from endowments. Like other Valliscaulian houses, the church was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and St John the Baptist.

In the 1400s and early 1500s the priory was expanded, with an extension to the monks’ choir and the construction of a new refectory.

Founded on politics
Ardchattan Priory was founded by Duncan MacDougall, Lord of Lorn and builder of Dunstaffnage Castle. He may have invited the Valliscaulians to Ardchattan to gain favour with the Scottish king Alexander II – the king had recently founded a monastery for the order at Pluscarden, near Elgin.

The MacDougalls dominated the priory for most of its active life. It wasn’t until 1506 that the last MacDougall prior, Eugenius (Eogan) was deposed.

Priory to private residence
Valliscaulian communities were small, with no more than 20 monks allowed. At Ardchattan numbers were often less than this. By 1538 there were just six monks in residence, and by the Reformation in 1560, numbers were down to three.

In 1602, Archibald Campbell, the son of Bishop John Campbell, acquired the priory and began to turn it into a private house. The old refectory is still the family dining room.

Collection of carvings
The MacDougall Cross is among the grave markers and carved stones on display. It was commissioned by Prior Eugenius MacDougall in 1500, and carved by John Ó Brolchán, one of an Irish stone-carving family who also carried out work at Iona Abbey. It is one of the few examples of West Highland carving recording the sculptor’s name. The cross depicts:

A crucifixion scene
The Virgin and Child

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