Alloway and Southern Ayrshire FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY Robert Burns Cottage, Alloway, Ayr
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Sunday, 7 July 2013

29 Jun 2013 - Visit to Crossraquel Abbey

Ten members of the Society visited Crossraquel or Crossraguel Abbey, the name probably being derived from "the cross of Raighail" (St.Regulus) a free-standing prayer cross on the site, pre-dating the abbey.  We were met by Gary, one of Historic Scotland’s employees, who gave us an excellent tour. He was most knowledgeable of the site and its history, all of which contributed to a very interesting and enjoyable visit.

The abbey was founded in the 13th Century by Duncan of Carrick and housed the Cluniac order of monks, but most of the original abbey buildings were severely damaged during the war of independence with England after 1296. Most of the abbey church and cloister now dates from the rebuilding in 14th and 15th centuries with some wonderful architectural features we were amazed to see as we walked around. Unfortunately, the main abbey fell out of use following the Reformation of 1560 and much of the stonework was used elsewhere, as with other similar buildings.

We started our tour through the imposing gatehouse, at the West end of the site where, reputedly, hot oil was poured through a hole above the entrance on some unsuspecting enemies. To the right of this, we could see the two storey dovecot (pigeon tower) which stands to the North of the gatehouse.

On the South court we were shown the foundations of an unusual row of five small houses, probably used as living quarters for individual elderly monks. These were two room apartments with en-suite toilet facilities, water being provided by an underground stream which ran through the apartments. This was way ahead of the times.

From there we visited the 15th century chapter house, complete with stone benches for the monks and an arched seat for the Abbot. We finished our tour in the abbey church, the nave having some original stonework dating back to 1200’s.

Gary also related the story of the roasting of the Commendator of Crossraquel Abbey at Dunure Castle. The story is told that in 1570, a dispute arose between Gilbert Kennedy 4th Earl of Cassillis and Alan Stewart, the Commendator of the Abbey, over the ownership of some of the abbey lands and their rental. Because Alan Stewart refused this demand, Gilbert tortured him by roasting and basting his feet over a brazier in the Black Vault of Dunure Castle. As a result of this torture, Alan Stewart finally signed over the lands to Gilbert, but he never walked again.

A lot of the ruins are not visible from the road, but are accessible on foot and well worth a visit.

Barbara Finlay

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