William Chambers.

The Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral online

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drennan ; and on being defeated in an insurrection which
he raised against Malcolm IV,, was compelled to end his days
as a canon of Holyrood. The abbey of Paisley — at first
a priory — was founded for Cluniac monks who came from
Wenlock in Shropshire, by Walter, son of Alan, the Lord High
Steward. Reginald, Lord of the Isles, founded at lona a Bene-
dictine abbey and nunnery. It is supposed that the Culdees in
lona adopted the Benedictine rule, and became monks of this
abbey. The existing ruins on the island are the remains of these
two houses. The last abbey founded in Scotland was a Cister-
cian house in Galloway; and its name was derived from a
touching circumstance. The Prior of Lochleven tells us that
Devorgilla, daughter of the Lord of Galloway, and wife of John
Balliol, founded this monastery in the year 1275 ; and that when
her husband died, she had his heart embalmed and placed in a
coffer of ivory, which was daily set before her as a memento of
him who was gone. And she gave orders that when she died,
she should be buried in the abbey she had founded, with the
coffer placed upon her breast. Her commands were obeyed,
and the house received the name of Sweet Heart Abbey.

The number of monks in each house varied at different
times. It is said there were in Melrose, in 1542, two hun-
dred. Probably the larger monasteries contained usually fifty
or sixty. The number was greatly diminished on the eve of
the Reformation.

Of nunneries of various orders upwards of twenty were
established in Scotland. We know little of the history of those
communities of pious virgins who 'departed not from the temple,

84 Sf Gt/es' Lectures.

but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.' Let
us hope that many of their members were successful in securing
those higher spiritual attainments for which they erroneously
forsook the innocent enjoyments, and declined the responsi-
bilities of life.

In the foregoing brief survey I have mentioned by name
only some of the chief monasteries. The various orders of
Augustinian canons had forty-eight, and those of Benedictine
monks thirty-one houses. There were at least a hundred and
fifty religious houses of all kinds, including those yet to be
specified. Many of them were richly endowed. A large por-
tion of the best soil of the country was in the hands of the
regular clergy. And the effects of this at first cannot be
regarded as injurious to the nation. The monks not only gave
much attention to agriculture, but were the first to grant long
leases of their lands on easy terms to tenants, who were not,
like those of lay proprietors, bound to give military service,
except on very special occasions. The clergy had a direct
interest in the maintenance of peace, and could not be deprived
of their estates by forfeiture or other sudden changes, which
were productive of great misery to the tenants of lay lords.
The monks were the friends of the serfs, the poor, and the
helpless ; their charity and hospitality were bestowed with
lavish profusion. Each monastery was a centre from which
religious and civilising influences of various kinds radiated into
the surrounding district. An important service rendered by
the monks was their cultivation of learning at a time when no
Scottish baron could sign his own name, or would have
reckoned it other than a degradation to possess such a
monkish accomplishment. In the monasteries the flickering
lamp of knowledge was kept alive when 'there was darkness
over the land, even darkness which might be felt.*

Having become possessed of enormous wealth, the monks
began to relax the strictness of their discipline, and declined

MedicBval Scotla7id. 85

in popular esteem. It was for this reason the Mendicant
Orders were instituted. The Dominican and Franciscan Friars
took their rise in the thirteenth century. The latter were also
termed ' Fratres Minores, Minor Friars, or Minorites. The
Dominicans were specially styled Preaching Friars, because
they devoted themselves particularly to preaching, which was
scandalously neglected by the clergy. The Popes, perceiving
how admirably the Mendicant Orders were fitted to strengthen
the Church, permitted them to preach wheresoever they chose,
without license from the bishop, or consent of the curates, and
made them responsible to the Papal see alone. They also
granted to them the right of administering the sacraments ; of
hearing confession and granting absolution; and of selling
indulgences in order to eke out their means of subsistence.
The attention of the people was arrested by the appearance of
barefooted men, wearing a coarse robe and cowl, with a rope
round their waist, expatiating on the love of God, and the
duties of religion. Supplying a real want at the time, the
Friars became rapidly popular ; and their influence was soon
felt throughout the whole of Christendom. They were the
favourite spiritual guides of the people, especially the more
ignorant, who everywhere flocked to their churches. This
brought upon them the hatred of the bishops and parochial
incumbents, whom they supplanted in popular esteem, and
whose flocks they drew away from their ministrations. They
soon exhibited the usual effects of such prosperity. They
were filled with pride. They poured contempt on the other
clergy. Their own fraternities were split into contending
factions. At length, by the laxity of their morals, they
became, in a greater degree even than the monks, a source of
weakness and scandal to the Church, and were objects of
animosity and ridicule to all who longed for its reformation.

In the reign of Alexander II. the favour which had hitherto
been shewn towards canons and monks began to be trans-
ferred to the Friars, who had eventually forty-six houses of the

86 St Giles^ Lectures.

various Orders, which were mostly situated in towns. The
houses of the Trinity or Red Friars were termed Hospitals or

I have already alluded to the practice of conferring on
religious houses the revenues of parish churches. It com-
menced, indeed, previous to the reform of the twelfth century.
Some time before the reign of Alexander I., the churches of
Markinch, Scoonie, and Auchterderran had been bestowed on
the Culdees of Lochleven by the Celtic bishops of St Andrews ;
and the monks of lona had four churches in Galloway. But
the system was adopted to an enormous extent in the twelfth
century and subsequently. In the reign of William the Lion
thirty-three parish churches were bestowed on the abbey of
Arbroath. Dunfermline had as many ; Paisley, thirty ; Holy-
rood, twenty-seven ; Melrose, Kelso, and Lindores, nearly
similar numbers. The revenues of bishoprics were increased
from the same source. In the early part of King William's
reign, the Bishop of Glasgow possessed twenty-five churches,
and several more were afterwards acquired by it. In Fife
there were not more than eight rectories at the Reformation ;
all the other parishes were vicarages. Seven hundred Scottish
parishes — probably two-thirds of the whole number — were
vicarages — that is to say, the greater tithes of corn, &c. went
to the monks and bishops ; while the vicar, who performed the
parochial duties, got only the lesser tithes or a very small
money stipend. The evil effects of such a system may be easily
imagined. The underpaid curate was despised for his poverty,
which disabled him from worthily ministering to the varied
wants of his parishioners; while those emoluments which
would have provided a comfortable subsistence for a resident
clergyman were carried off to the distant Monastery or to the
Bishop's palace.

The assimilation of the Scottish to the English Church
embraced also its architectural styles. As our country
received its faith chiefly from Ireland, so its earliest monastic

Mediceval Scotland. 87

structures resembled those of that country. The only remain-
ing monuments of the old Celtic Church, possessing any archi-
tectural pretensions, are the round towers of Abernethy and
Brechin, which are evidently of the same class as the numerous
round towers still existing in Ireland, and were doubtless used
as bell-towers and places of security. The now roofless church
of Egilshay in Orkney, with its round tower, is probably also
of Irish origin.

The Norman Conquest was followed in England by a
remarkable increase in the number, and an improvement in
the architecture of churches. In Scotland, similar effects
resulted from the Norman and Saxon immigration. In place
of the little Celtic edifices, frequently built of wood, and
thatched with straw or heather, there were now reared for the
worship of God the most magnificent structures which any age
has given to our country, and richly provided with all the
materials of an imposing ritual. The church erected at Dun-
fermline by St Margaret, of which the nave still exists, is the
earliest embodiment of the loftier aspirations now evoked, and
the first example of the substitution of English for Irish or
native influence in Scottish church architecture. This fabric
is of the Romanesque or Norman style brought into England
about the time of the Conquest — easily known by its round-
headed doors and windows, heavy round pillars, and, in its
later stages, by profuse ' zigzag ' and other ornamentation.
Additional examples of it may be seen in the oldest portions
of the cathedrals of Kirkwall and St Andrews, and of the
abbeys of Jedburgh and Arbroath ; in Kelso Abbey ; in the
rural parish churches of Dalmeny and Leuchars, and St
Margaret's chapel in Edinburgh Castle, which shew the semi-
circular apse.

Towards the end of the twelfth century the Norman style,
both in England and Scotland, gave place to the Early English
or First-Pointed, characterised by the pointed arch, long narrow
lancet-headed windows, clustered pillars, and less massive wall§

88 Sf Giles^ Lectures,

supported by projecting buttresses — though in our country the
semicircular arch, round pillar, and certain other Norman
features, occasionally appear both in this and subsequent
styles. Most of our cathedral and abbey churches — including
the greater portion of the stately fabrics of St Andrews,
Glasgow, Arbroath, and Elgin — are of the First-Pointed style,
which continued with us, as in England, for about a century,
and embraced the latter half of the reign of William the
Lion, and the reigns of the second and third Alexander —
a period which has been justly termed Scotland's Golden Age,
when peace and plenty, law and justice prevailed, and a great
advance was made in the consolidation of the Church and the
civilisation of the people. A striking proof of the activity in
church-building which prevailed in the thirteenth century is
found in the fact, that Bishop David Bernham of St Andrews
consecrated, in the space of ten years, no fewer than a hundred
and forty churches in his own diocese — nearly one-half of the
whole number it contained. Yet it is a singular circumstance
— explain it how we may — that by far the greater number of
ancient parish churches, of which fragments still exist, are of
the Norman style of the twelfth century.

The First-Pointed style gradually merged into the Second-
Pointed or Decorated, in which Gothic architecture in England
reached the perfection of majestic beauty. This style, dis-
tinguished by niullioned windows filled either with geometrical
or flowing tracery, enriched doorways, and elaborate mouldings,
prevailed in the South during the whole of the fourteenth
century. It had been introduced into Scotland, and was used
to a limited extent, before the War of Independence. During
that great struggle such of the clergy as were of English
extraction were driven from the kingdom ; dignified ecclesiastics
sometimes took the field at the head of their armed vassals ;
religious houses were ruthlessly destroyed by the invaders ; and
the peaceful arts were of necessity neglected. At the termina-
tion of the contest, the resources of the country were so much

MedicBval Scotland. 89

exhausted that a long period elapsed ere it could undertake
great works in church-building. In this respect the fourteenth
century is almost a blank. In the latter half of it, however,
the monks of Melrose commenced the rebuilding of their
monastery, which had been destroyed by the English. The
church of Melrose Abbey is the most splendid example which
Scotland possesses of the Second-Pointed Style, to which also
the cathedral of Aberdeen is to be referred — both of them the
work of a lengthened period.

In England the next style was the Perpendicular or Third-
Pointed — having the mullions carried up in straight lines to the
head of the windows — which continued from the beginning of
the fifteenth century till the Reformation. This style can
scarcely be said to have taken root in Scotland, though the
choir of Melrose Abbey is a fine example of it. It was no
longer from England but from France — our steadfast ally —
our countrymen now took their architectural models ; and the
Scottish style which was contemporary with the Perpendicular
in England was a modification of the French Flamboyant — so
called from the flame-like forms of its window tracery. A
specimen of this style may be seen in portions of Dunkeld

The ground-plan of the larger churches, whether cathedral
or conventual, usually took the form of a Latin cross, having a
choir as the head of the cross to the east, a nave to the west,
and north and south transepts. The choir was the portion first
built, the remaining parts being in most cases added at long
intervals of time. Thus it happens that the architecture of a
great church exhibits the changing styles of successive ages.
Monasteries had a Chapter-house, refectory, dormitory, and
other domestic buildings surrounding a quadrangular court on
the south side of the nave of the church ; but sometimes, for
local reasons, on the north side, as at Melrose and Balmerino.
Cathedrals served by secular canons had only the Chapter-
house : the canons lived in their own separate manses around

go 6"/ Giles' Lectures.

the Cathedral Close or Chanonry. The uniformity both of
general design and minute details which exists in churches of
the same age, but far removed from each other, strengthens the
belief that those splendid memorials of the Middle Ages were
the work of travelling guilds of Freemasons, though the de-
signers of them were doubtless Churchmen, who were devoted
to the study of architecture and kindred arts.

Collegiate churches or Provostries had their origin in the
reign of David II. They were so called as consisting of a
College or Chapter of secular canons or prebendaries presided
over by a Provost or Dean, and instituted for the more orderly
performance of divine service, and for the singing of masses
for the souls of their founders and others. The prebendaries
were frequently the clergy of the neighbouring parishes, the
revenues of which, as also those of chaplainries previously
founded in their churches, were applied to the endowment
of the new institutions. The parish churches thus deprived
of their proper incumbents, were, like those bestowed on
religious houses, served by vicars. This new application
of parochial tithes to non-parochial purjDOses still further
extended the evils arising from the want of adequately pro-
vided and resident clergy. The earliest example of a colle-
giate church appears to have been that of Dunbar, instituted
in 1342 by the Earl of March for a dean, arch-priest, and
eighteen canons. There were in all thirty-three churches
of this class. Most of them were founded in the fifteenth
century, and were built in the Middle-Pointed or Flamboyant
style of architecture, with the French feature of a three-sided
eastern termination resembling an apse. Their plan is cruci-
form, but only in a few cases has the nave been actually
erected. In 1466, St Giles', the parish church of Edinburgh,
was erected into a Collegiate church by King James III. for
a Provost, sixteen prebendaries, and other officials, who were
endowed with the revenues of its chaplainries and altars, said
to have numbered about forty. Gavin Douglas, the translator

MedicBval Scotland. 91

of Virgil's ^neid into Scottish verse, and afterwards Bishop
of Dunkeld, was for some time Provost of St Giles'.

The clergy of the Mediaeval Church may be said to have
been in those days the sole promoters of education. Con-
nected with most of the monasteries and cathedrals there were
schools, taught or superintended by the monks. There were
also many burghal schools at an early period, presided over,
doubtless, by churchmen. In the twelfth century, or soon after
it, there were schools at Abernethy, Perth, Stirling, Dundee,
Glasgow, Ayr, Berwick, Aberdeen, St Andrews, and doubtless
in other towns. About 1268, Balliol College, Oxford, was
erected by the Lady Devorgilla, founder of Sweet Heart
Abbey; and in 1326, the Bishop of Moray gave certain endow-
ments to the university of Paris, which formed the beginning of
the Scots College there. But as yet Scotland had no univer-
sity of its own; and Scotch students could only acquire the
higher learning of the time by repairing to the English or
Continental universities, as it appears they did in considerable
numbers, especially to Oxford.

The fifteenth century witnessed a wonderful revival of learn-
ing throughout Europe, and the Church promoted its diffusion
by means of universities. The universities of Europe, estab-
lished under Papal sanction, formed a vast brotherhood, open
alike to rich and poor; and the scholar who had acquired a
certain grade in one, was thereby made free of all. To Henry
Wardlaw, Bishop of St Andrews, who had himself studied at
Oxford, belongs the honourable distinction of having founded
the first university for Scotland ; and his episcopal city was
chosen for its seat, as being in several ways admirably adapted
for that purpose. The foundation charter was granted by the
bishop in 141 1, and this was confirmed in 1413 by Pope
Benedict XIII. The Papal bull was received in St Andrews
with the most exuberant demonstrations of joy. The ' Studium
Generale,' as a university was then called, was instituted on the
model of the university of Paris, for the study of theology,

92 Sf Giles' Lectures.

canon and civil law, medicine, 'and other lawful faculties,'
with the power of conferring degrees. It was to be governed
by a Rector, subject to an appeal to the Bishop and his suc-
cessors, who were to be its Chancellors. The students, as
at Paris, were divided into 'nations,' who, through their Pro-
curators, elected the Rector; and they were lodged, as at
present, throughout the city. The Professors were parochial
clergymen, exempted from residence in their parishes ; and
their benefices constituted their whole income, there being
neither fees nor endowments. Their work was at first carried
on in rooms in different parts of the city, there being no central
buildings yet provided for the University. In 1430, a Pasda-
gogium was erected for the Faculty of Arts. The university
soon acquired celebrity, and the number of its students rapidly
increased. It was greatly encouraged by King James I., who
countenanced by his presence the disputations of the students,
and invited to it distinguished Professors from the Continent.
Separate Colleges were afterwards founded — St Salvator's, in
1450, by Bishop Kennedy; St Leonard's, in 15 12, by Arch-
bishop Alexander Stewart and Prior Hepburn ; and St Mary's,
in 1537, on the site of the Psedagogium, by Archbishop James
Beaton. These Colleges being well endowed, the masters and
students were maintained within their walls. The result, how-
ever, of this more exclusive system was a falling off" in the
number of students. The university of Glasgow was founded in
1450, by Bishop TurnbuU, and that of Aberdeen in 1494, by
Bishop Elphinstone ; the constitution of both being in most
respects similar to that of the Mother university. King's
College, Aberdeen, was erected in 1506, and Hector Boethius,
the Scottish historian, was its first Principal.

The erroneous doctrines of the Mediaeval Church, and the
superstitious observances founded upon them, form too large a
subject for discussion here. I can only refer to some of those
peculiarities which come under our notice most frequently in
narratives of the period. Of this description are the honour and

Medi(Eval Scotland. 93;

worship which were given to crosses and crucifixes, to pictures
and images of the saints ; the belief in Purgatory ; and the
masses and penances performed in order to obtain deliverance
from its fires. The intercession of the Saviour was practically-
obscured by a belief in that of the Blessed Virgin and the
saints. We meet with an affecting instance of this in the case
of good Bishop Brown of Dunkeld, who, on his death-bed — in
the year 15 15 — expressed himself as assured of the safety of his
soul, not for his own merits, but through the sufferings of Christ,
and the intercession of the Virgin, and of St Columba (patron-
saint of Dunkeld.) The ' day' of the patron-saint of a church
— the anniversary of his death — was celebrated with religious
rites, and frequently with a procession, in which his image was
borne aloft amid the reverence and genuflexions of the people.
The local fair was also held on this day. As regards the
Sabbath, when the religious services were ended, the remainder of
the day was usually devoted to marketing and games, in which
the curate sometimes joined with his parishioners. A peculiar
feature of those times was the religious Play or Mystery, as it
was termed, in which some portion of Scripture was dramatised,
the characters being personated by priests. These plays, in
which the modern drama had its origin, were first instituted by
the clergy for the purpose of impressing the events of sacred
history on the minds of a rude and ignorant people who were
destitute of books ; but they too often degenerated into mere
buff"oonery. Another practice very characteristic of the Middle
Ages was that of making pilgrimages to the shrines of certain
saints, whose intercession was believed to possess exceptional
efficacy, and to whose bones were ascribed miraculous powers.
The shrines which enjoyed the greatest celebrity were those of
St Ninian at Whithorn, St Adrian on the Isle of May, St
Palladius at Fordoun, St Duthac at Tain, St Mary at White-
kirk, and Our Lady of Toretto at Musselburgh. From
Chaucer's tales of pilgrims travelling to k Becket's shrine at
Canterbury, and from the numerous sums of money given by

94 St ales' Lectures.

King James IV. to musicians and others while he was on
pilgrimage to Tain and Whithorn to expiate his sins, we may-
see how on those journeys amusement was combined with
devotion. Pilgrimages were also made by our countrymen, as
by others, to the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem ; and though the
Crusades, which the Popes so zealously promoted for the rescue
of Palestine from the sway of the Infidels, excited less interest
in Scotland than elsewhere, yet contributions both of brave
knights and of money were oftener than once made towards
the Holy War.

There is now left to me only room for a few general remarks,
with which I shall conclude. The remodelling of the Scottish
Church in the twelfth century was undoubtedly for that period
a beneficial reform. Some portion of the ancient endowments
was recovered, and new benefactions were bestowed with a
degree of liberality which has never been equalled in our
country's history. The people were more systematically
supplied with the ordinances of religion. The clergy, both
regular and secular, were brought under stricter discipline.
Divine service was celebrated with greater solemnity ; while in
the doctrines then inculcated there was probably but little
more admixture of error than in those held by the later Celtic
clergy. In its subsequent development the Scottish Church
followed that of Western Christendom, with which it was now
united. The establishment of Papal supremacy over the nations
of Europe was gradual ; and Scotland, partly from its remote
situation, pardy from the character of its people, maintained its
independence longer than most countries. Our sovereigns
frequently resisted the domination of Rome ; and two of them
— William the Lion in 1180, and Alexander II. in 12 17 — thus
drew upon themselves and the nation the dreaded punishment
of a Papal interdict, whereby the churches were closed, and

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersThe Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral → online text (page 12 of 37)