FOUNDING OF ABBEYS CONTINUEDABBEYS NORTH OF THE GRAMPIANSIN VALLEY OF THE TWEED, MELROSE, KELSO, ETC.VARIOUS ORDERS OF FRIARSSERMONS OF THE FRIARSOUTLOOK OF SCOTLAND.
We continue our narration of the founding of the abbeys, priories, and monasteries. The ancient face of Scotland was rapidly disappearing: a new land was rising to take the place of the old. But the change was mainly on the surface. Deep down, hidden from view by the Roman ecclesiasticism and the Norman lacquering with which King David, had overlaid it, was the old Culdee Scotland. It will slumber for a few centuries, and then when the spiritual heavens have completed their appointed revolutions, and their eternal influences have begun again to act on the nation, Columba, rising from his grave, as it were, will rebuild the fallen sanctuaries of the early Church of Scotland, and its second day will be more glorious than its first.
Only some of the abbeys and ecclesiastical foundations shall we notice, and these briefly. We have already recorded the incident which led Alexander I. to found the Abbey of Inchcolm. This abbey adjoins the metropolis of Scotland, from which, on a clear morning or calm evening, its ruins may be descried in the waters of the Forth; around it an air of seclusion and stillness as profound as if, instead of the neighbourhood of a great capital, it were placed, like Iona, amid the seas of the Hebrides. Its buildings are still wonderfully entire, more so than most of our abbeys. Their position on an island may help to account for their good preservation, for the ravages of man are even more destructive than those of time. "The stone-roofed octagonal chapter house is one of the most beautiful and perfect in Scotland, and the abbots house, refectory, and cloisters are still comparatively entire."1 The square tower which rises in the centre of the cathedral, and which forms so prominent an object in the ruins, is so similar in its architecture and form to that at Iona as to warrant the conclusion that the two are probably of the same age. Among its buildings is a cell more primitive and rude than the other chambers, and possibly, it may be, as some have asserted, the cell in which King Alexander lived during the three days the storm kept him a prisoner on the island. 2
The name of its patron saint Columba lent the abbey a high repute for sanctity. From the time it was changed from a settlement of Columbites to a priory of Augustinian monks it began to be richly endowed. Lands, houses, churches, and villages flowered in upon it, and the successors of the poor anchorite, whose subsistence had been "the milk of one cow, and shellfish," saw their barns overflow with grain, and malt, and fruits, the produce of their numerous estates, and their cellars stocked with the barrels of beer from the neighboring breweries, and hogsheads of wine from the vineyards of France. Donibristle and other fair estates on the northern banks of the Forth, with numerous churches inland in Fife; tofts in Edinburgh, Cramond, Haddington and other cities in the Lothians, the gifts of David and succeeding kings, swelled the rent roll of the abbey. One gift is so peculiar as to deserve special mention. It is that of "a thousand eels yearly out of Strathendry, in the parish of Leslie," along with two swine and a cow, secured to the canons on no less an authority than the bull of Pope Alexander III.3
The monkish chroniclers have taken care to endow Inchcolm as richly with miracles as David and other kings with lands. Columba was believed to make it the object of his special care, and if injury was done the monks, the evil doer soon felt the vengeance of the saint. If the convent was broken into and its treasures rifled, there was sure to arise such a storm in the Forth as compelled the spoilers to return to the island with their ill-gotten gain, or cast it into the sea. Lying in the Forth it was exposed to the ravages of the Danish pirates, but never was sea-robber allowed to make off quietly with his booty: he was either driven back by the angry winds, or he encountered shipwreck on Inchkeith; and all according to the chroniclers, by the interposition of Columba. But great saints like great poets sometimes nod. Columba must have been asleep or on a journey when the following mishap befell the monks of Inchcolm. The abbot and members of the convent, as Bower tells us, had passed the summer and autumn of 1421 on the mainland, to escape the visits of the English rovers. On Saturday, the 8th of November, the whole community returned to the island, effecting the short voyage in safety. On the morrow, being Sunday, the abbot sent the Cellarer to the mainland to fetch some provisions, and certain barrels of beer which were lying at the brewery of Barnhill. The goods were shipped, and about three in the afternoon the boat set out on its return to the island. The sailors not satisfied with the progress made by the oar, and having tested the qualities of the beer before embarking, hoisted the sail to quicken speed. That moment a sudden squall struck the boat, tore the canvas in rags, and the steersman letting go the helm, the vessel filled and went down. Of the six persons on board, the Cellarer and two sailors were drowned; the other three were saved. Sir Peter, the canon, was an hour and a half in the sea clinging all the while to a rope, the one end of which was held, the chronicler tells us, by Columba. Sir Peter afterwards confidently affirmed that the saint appeared to him in bodily form. The other two owed their escape from a watery grave to an interposition of a much more commonplace character. Some one who witnessed their sad plight managed to throw them a wisp of straw, which kept them afloat till a boat had been sent to their rescue. The moral which Bower wishes to impress by the story, is that the three men who were saved from drowning had all of them that day been present at mass in the parish church of Dalgety.4
The Abbey of Inchcolm is after times became famous as a place of sepulture. The monastery was within the diocese of Dunkeld, and several of the bishops of that See were buried in the church of the abbey. Of some, the heart only, while the body reposed at Dunkeld. But, in truth, in the Isle of St. Colme sleep the dead of various nationalities. Danish pirates who came to rob, but were slain in a fight, received here unceremonious burial. English rovers who visited the island for a like purpose met here their fate, and were thrown into a grave over which was sung neither dirge nor requiem. In after days the abbey buildings experienced great variety of fortune. Ceasing to be the abode of abbot and monk, they were turned to very ordinary uses indeed. At one time we find the abbey a receptacle of pirates; at another, a lazaretto, and ships arriving in the Forth with the plague on board are ordered to disembark their crews on St. Colme. Some of the early Jameses made it a state prison, and in our own day we have seen it once more, now a barrack, and now a lazaretto.
Ages before Burns and Scott had arisen to invest the landscapes of Scotland with a beauty and grandeur that fascinate so many beholders, now that the magic of their verse has unveiled their glories, the monks had shown their appreciation of the noble characteristics of the Scottish land by selecting the richest, the sweetest, and the most picturesque spots to be found in it as the place of their habitation. They planted their abbeys and priories thickly in the borderland, setting them down by the "rushing Gala" and the "silvery Tweed," and other streams which roll along amid smiling pastoral hills, and dales of mingled woodland and cornfield, presenting a picture of loveliness which delights the eye and suggesting a sense of plenty that gladdens the heart. Nor was it only in the Lowlands amid the fatness of meadow and riches of corn land that the monastic colonists fixed their encampments. Beyond the Grampians they knew that all was not barren rock and profitless moor. They had exploited the reign of the Dee and the Spey, and found in the vales watered by the rivers many a rich acre and many a sheltered nook were monk might pitch his tent and eat of the good of the land. The solitudes of the north had a charm for meditative minds. The straths, so lonely and still, offered nothing to distract the mind or draw the thoughts away from those higher things which are supposed to form the subjects of monkish meditation. The gigantic hills planting their feet amid the dark green pines, and losing their summits as they tower upwards among the clouds, presented spectacles of grandeur which nursed in those who daily looked on them and drew inspiration from them, strength and sublimity of soul. There were besides the fine fertile plains of Moray, the bosky glens of Ross-shire, the superb valley of the Ness, offering numerous eligible spots for those who wished to sing their aves and recite their pasternosters in peace, and to know the while that when the dinner hour arrived they should find the refectory table loaded with the best which the region produced, choice venison, and abundance of both sea and river fish. The fathers had learned the art, though they had not been taught the phrase, of "making the best of both worlds."
There were other considerations, doubtless, which drew the steps of this host of colonists in cowl and frock across the Grampians. They remembered that this region had been the consecrated ground of the Columban Church. Here was the first scene of Columbas evangelization, and here had he planted numerous settlements. The new monks had come to undo the labours of the earlier evangelists, but they did not on that account disdain to build on the foundations of their predecessors. What of the Culdee churches had not gone altogether to decay, and what of their revenues had not been devoured by the greed of mormaer and the avariciousness of lay-abbot, would, as a matter of course, fall to their lot, and form the nucleus of new and richer endowments. Accordingly, on all the old sites of Columban occupation we now see conventual establishments of the Roman type springing up; as, for instance at Monimusk, at Deer, at Turin, at Urquhart, at Kinloss, at Rosemarkie, at Ferne, at St. Duthac, at Dornoch,, and other places, Augustinian, Benedictine, and Cistercian, drawn by instinct to the old sites in the belief, in which they were not mistaken, that there they should find the air mellowed and the soil fructified by the former presence of the Columban brotherhood.
The fine appreciation of physical qualities displayed by the monks in the selection of their resting places is seen in Melrose. A rare combination of earth, and air, and stream, and sheltering hill renders that valley a delightful residence. There, accordingly, we see them planting one of their chief colonies, and rearing one of their proudest cathedrals. The foundation of the monastery of Melrose takes us back to the middle of the seventh century. Its earlier history connects itself with that of St. Cuthbert, who is said to have lived in it ten years, from 651 to 661.5 At that early day there was not a Roman monk to be seen in the land; and the monastery of Melrose, a humble fabric doubtless, existed as an offshoot of Iona. Like so many other offshoots of Iona it changed its character under King David. In the year 1136, it was converted into a Cistercian monastery. The Cistercian order was then at the height of its renown. The mother house was Clairvaux in France. From Clairvaux a little colony of Cistercians migrated to England, and were established in the abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire. From Rievaulx, King David, who had a special predilection for the order, brought a body of Cistercians to people his Abbey of Melrose. The fathers must have been ill to please if they were not delighted with the externals of their new abode. Inside only could there have been seen despondency or gloom; nor can we wonder if its walls enclosed not a few drooping hearts, for now we behold the fathers beginning that dreary round of ritualistic performances which monk was doomed to tread, day after day, till death snatched the bead roll from his hand, and the convent bell sounded its summons for him no more.
The abbey of Melrose, as a matter of course, was richly dowered. Its Cistercian brotherhood, though a foreign importation, could cast their eyes over Scotland and say of not a few of its choicest spots, "They are ours." What right had they to be there at all? They had not fought for the country against the Dane, yet now find King David gifting its land away to the disinheriting of the men whose sires had shed their blood for the independence of the nation over which he reigned, and the existence of the throne on which he sat. Not content, it would seem, with the ample supply which was daily passing in at the convent gates from all parts of Scotland, the Cistercians aimed at enriching the revenues of their lands by the profits arising from mercantile pursuits. An incident in the history of the abbey exhibits the fathers in the character of traders. Richard II. of England in the year 1385 slept a night at Melrose. Next morning before departing his soldiers set fire to the abbey and burned it. The sacrilegious act of his army weighed on the conscience of the king, and, by way of compensation to the monks, he granted them a remission of two pence of duty on every thousand sacks of wool imported from Berwick. The purchases of the monks must have been considerable if this small remission of duty was adequate compensation for the loss sustained by the burning of their abbey. This amount of wool was much beyond what was needed for the use of the fathers, and the greater portion of it was sold doubtless by the monks to the population, by whom it would be worked up into cloth. The abbey had a stormy career. Oftentimes its building sank in ashes to rise again from their ruins. The valley of the Tweed was the main entrance-gate of the English armies when on their march to subjugate Scotland. Hardly ever did they pass this way without leaving their mark on this and the sister abbeys of the borderland. These are the destroyers which converted our ecclesiastical edifices into picturesque ruins. After the War of Independence, Melrose Abbey rose in a glory which is still able to delight the visitor. No part of the present ruins is older than the fifteenth century. King Robert the Bruce bequeathed to the abbey a singular possession; his own heart even, which the Bruce requested the Douglas to convey to the Holy Land, but the noble bearer of the precious relic perishing in a battle with the Saracens, it was brought back from Spain and deposited within the precincts of Melrose Abbey.
Some dozen miles south from Melrose stands the abbey of Jedburgh. It was founded by David while still Earl of Cumbria, and was at first a priory, afterwards elevated to the rank of abbey, and stocked with canons-regular from Beauvais. It possessed ample lands in Tweedale, and had numerous dependencies in distant parts of Scotland. It exercised over all its lands the right of regality, that is, the power of trying offenders and putting them to death. This was a dangerous power to be lodged in such hands, and was often grossly perverted for the defence of criminals instead of their punishment, and the defying of the kings laws in the room of upholding them. During the minority of James V. the abbot of Jedburgh was accused of giving harborage within the sacred walls of his abbey to the brigands of the Forest, which led to a war betwixt the abbot and the Duke of Albany, then regent of the kingdom. These were not exactly the uses for which the abbey had been founded and endowed, and if in this way it drew upon itself attack and demolition, it had no one but its proud and turbulent abbot to blame for its misfortunes.
Lying still further into the border country than Melrose, Jedburgh Abbey suffered more from the incessant raids and spoilzies of which this district of Scotland was then the theater. In some years it dropped its ecclesiastical character altogether, and became little better than a military fort. Instead of litanies and prayers in its oratory, and shorn monks going in and out at its gates, it was filled with armed men and rung with the sounds of battle. Now it was the fierce borderers that held it, and flung defiance from its walls at some storming party of English; and there were occasions on which the defence was so obstinate that, rather than yield, the besieged submitted to be burned in their stronghold. At times the canons would doff surplice and rosary, and, arming themselves with mail-shirt and sword, would take their stand by the side of the warlike burghers, and mingling in the conflict would contest every inch of the ground, retreating before the enemy from the court of the abbey to the church, from the church to the tower, and seeing they could retreat no further, standing at bay, and holding the tower in defiance of the fire and steel till it was wrapt in flames and all in it had perished. On one occasion we find the abbey garrisoned by the Spanish as the allies of the English, while the French, then in alliance with the Scots, are the besiegers. This was the sort of life, a rough one verily, which the Abbey of Jedburgh led for some two centuries. Better for the tranquillity of the district that never had one stone of it been laid upon another. It drew into the rich valley of the Jed the tempests of war, and doomed the inhabitants to see the produce of their fields trampled into the dust by armed men, and themselves given over to die by the sword or by the flame.
We notice next the Abbey of Kelso. It stands hard by the confluence of the Tweed and the Teviot. The united steam rolling along, adding its fertilising influence to a rich soil and a warm air, makes the valley a paradise of flower and fruit, of meadow and golden grain. The ruins of the abbey are the only sinister feature in a landscape otherwise sweet and peaceful. They stand up in unadorned strength, more like the remains of a Norman castle than the former abode of peaceful monks; and in truth the abbey has had as warlike a history as the military aspect of its ruins bespeak for it. It stood, even more than Jedburgh, on the great highway of war, and suffered from Edward and his soldiers. When it had rest from their depredation it was subject to the no less destructive incursions of the freebooters of the boarder. The wealth believed to be hoarded in it made these unpleasant neighbours not infrequent visitors in the valley of the Tweed, and on the occasions their rapacity and violence fell indiscriminately on monk and husbandman, on serf and lord; and abbey and district led an unquiet and anxious life.
The order established at Kelso was that of the Tyronenses, so called from Tyron, a town of Picardy, in the north of France. There was the head establishment of the order of which Robert of Abbeville was the founder (1109). Monkery being but the outward and mechanical imitation of a separation and purity which are spiritual and inward, was unable to maintain itself for a long time in the estate of its original institution. Order after order sunk into gross degeneracy. A remedy was sought in the institution of new orders, associated under stricter regulations, but these being also works of the flesh in due time developed, according to the law of their nature, into fleshly corruption. The famous St. Bernard thought he had discovered a cure for this inevitable tendency to putrefy. Brought up in the strictest school of asceticism, and having a salutary dread of whatever tended to effeminacy, he though it not good that the whole time of a monk should be given to meditation; and as the best preservative from the temptations which are incident to idleness he sought to devise occupation for both head and hands of the recluses. Accordingly in the order in which he took so great an interest, the monk and the citizen were conjoined. Among the Tyronenses there were found skilful farmers, expert carpenters and smiths, while others of the order excelled in the arts of architecture and drawing. Their hours of devotion alternated with periods of manual labour, and this made them all the more able to withstand the allurements of the wine cup and other solicitations which beset the indolence of the monastery.
The Tyronensian Abbey of Kelso was endowed with lands in Peeblesshire and other parts of Scotland. The See of York strove to subject it to its jurisdiction, and exercise metropolitan power over it. The dispute was referred to Rome, and the reigning Pope, Alexander III., decided in favour of its independence, and soon thereafter the abbey rose to eminence, and planted itself out in the other monastic houses. The great Abbey of Arbroath was supplied with monks from Kelso, and was at its beginning a dependency of the southern establishment. But soon the daughter surpassed the mother in magnificence, and the proud abbots of the princely house of the shore of Angus disdained to be subject to the older but less powerful abbey on the Tweed. The other offshoots of Kelso were Lesmahagow, Lindores, and Kilwinning. On these establishments the right of sanctuary was conferred. Their door stood open to the murderer and the robber, who once across its threshold was safe, and so long as he chose to remain under its roof was shielded from the arm of the law. The ground was holy; the foot of justice would but pollute it. The terms on which this right was bestowed on the Abbey of Lesmahagow were as follows: "Whoso for escaping peril of life and limb shall flee to the said cell, or come within the four crosses that stand round it, of reverence to God and St Machutus, I grant them my firm peace." It appears from the Canons of the Scottish Church, drawn up by the Councils held at Perth in 1242 and 1269, that the abuse of "sanctuary" had become such that it was not uncommon for robbers to pursue their nefarious trade during the day, and at night retire to the church to sleep, whence they issued the next morning to resume their unholy occupation. Before beginning the business of a new day the robber must needs have absolution for the deeds of the previous one, which was not to be obtained without a large sum, in the name of penance, to the church.
Among the temporalities granted to the abbey was the town of Kelso. The abbot was constituted its feudal lord, and as such had the right to say who was to be admitted on the roll of its burghers; who was to have the privilege of carrying on any trade or profession in the town; who could buy or sell in its market, and on what terms. And further, as their feudal superior, the abbot had the power of trying offenders, and adjudging them to punishment: in short, he had the lives of its citizens in his hands. In this way grew up that power of civil jurisdiction which the Roman Church wielded in our country in the middle ages, and of which she made so cruel a use, when it drew towards the Reformation. Its abbots, priors, and bishops constituted themselves into a court of law, tried causes, and pronounced sentence on those it pleased them to regard as offenders, cosigning to prison, or dooming them to strangling and burning. They could employ the arm of the civil power to execute their cruel decrees. We do not hesitate to say that it was basely unpatriotic on the part of David and other Scottish kings to give to ecclesiastics such a power over the natives of the soil. We must bear in mind that these ecclesiastics were foreigners. From their abbot downwards every man of them was an alien in blood as well as in religion; yet what do we see the kings of Scotland doing? Why, robbing their own subjects to enrich a horde of greedy churchmen from across the sea. What had this army of mummers done that they must be fed on the best of the land, till they wax fat, and play the tyrant and make the Scottish people hewers of wood and drawers of water to them? And who gave David a right to sell his subjects into the power of a foreign priesthood, and endow that priesthood with the acres the Scots had tilled for generations, and the churches in which their fathers had worshipped in old time? The real character of what David now did can neither be concealed nor justified. To say that it was an act of piety and devotion is to use language which affronts religion. It is not religion to sell ones country, or gift away the properties, the liberties, and the lives of its citizens to aliens, and if it is a king who does it, the crime is only the more heinous in that it is done by the man whose duty it is, before that of all others, to defend the honour of his country, and the freedom and happiness of his subjects.
When we come to survey Scotland under the Papacy we shall be in circumstances better fitting us to answer the question, What benefits did the monastic system confer on our country? At present we dismiss the subject with a few more facts of a general kind touching the incoming of the monastic corps.
The canons-regular of St. Augustine were, we have seen, the first to arrive in Scotland, in the year 1114, in their white tunics and black gowns, they showed a marvellous aptitude to spawn and multiply. Twenty years had not elapsed since their first coming into the country till we find the Augustinians at Scone, at St Andrews, at Holyrood, at Inchcolm, and at other places. Eventually they had not fewer than twenty-seven houses in Scotland. Other orders followed. The gates of the country once opened, host after host of these cell-bred men marched in and squatted down on the land. Had they come in mail their entrance would have been challenged; but the insight of the Scots had departed with the gospel, and they permitted themselves to be conquered by a worse foe than the Dane without fighting a battle. After the Augustinians came the Red Friars or Redemptorists, founded 1198; the Black Friars or Dominicans, founded 543; the White Friars, or Carmelites, who hailed originally from Mount Carmel.6 There followed, or it may be preceded,for we cannot be sure of the exact order in which this hooded and speckled army arrived in our country or fix the year when their "holy" feet first touched its soil,the Premonstratenses from Premontre in France, the Cluniacenses from Clugny, the Benedictines, the Tyronenses, the Cistercians, the Carthusians, and the Franciscans. Troop after troop came rolling into our country, and their houses began to dot the land north and south.
Coeval with the planting of houses for men, we find houses for women springing up in various parts of the kingdom. The Cistercian convent at Berwick had several nunneries attached to it.7 This monastery was afterwards suppressed by Robert III. in 1391, for favouring the English, and the Abbey of Dryburgh was endowed with its property. It may interest the reader to know, when he thinks who sleeps in that abbey, that Dryburgh was a Premonstratensian establishment. Nor did King David stop at this point. He introduced into his kingdom the military orders of the Knights Hospitallers, the Knights Templars, and the lazarists of Jerusalem.
David gave the finishing touch to his work by the erection of cathedral chapters. To these bodies were given the right of electing the bishop. The bishoprics, of which there were now nine in Scotland, were divided into rural deaneries. In the diocese of St Andrew there were eight deaneries; in that of Glasgow there were nine; Aberdeen had five; Moray and Dunkeld had each four; the other dioceses do not appear to have been divided into deaneries.
Magnificent cathedrals, mitred bishops, and lordly abbots, with their numerous following of canons, and friars, and nuns, are, or ought to be, but the means to an end. What was the end sought to be served by the creation of so powerful a staff of richly endowed ecclesiastics? These fraternities have been summoned into existence to maintain the worship of God in Scotland, and instruct its people in divine truth. Nothing has been withheld from them which may help them to fulfil their end. For them rise gorgeous temples; for them the earth ripens her harvests; for them the people toil and sweat. In King David they have found a nursing father. We expect to see Scotland burst into a glory which shall far excel that of her early day. Her renown for piety will go forth among the nations of the earth, and the youth of distant lands will flock to her shores, as at a former day, to learn the wisdom of her schools. When we think of the great things that were accomplished by the little Iona, what may we not expect from this splendidly equipped church? But alas! One thing it lacks, and lacking this one thing, all the seeming advantages of this magnificent apparatus are to no purpose. Iona conquered because it was instinct with divine force. At the heart of the mighty organization which David has set up we find only earthly forces. The powers and grandeurs of the world can never overcome themselves. And hence the erection of this imposing ecclesiasticism forms the date not of a new era of light but of the beginning of the dark years of Scotland.
Yet this new church of David did, after a fashion, maintain divine service in the country. The cathedrals were opened for worship, but to what purpose? The public services of that church within the pale of which the Scots had now been brought was everywhere conducted in Latin. That is the sacred tongue of Rome. If instead of Gaelic the Latin had been the mother tongue of the Scots, they might have joined in the services of the cathedral and been edified by them. As it was, their understanding could not be reached. The music of the litanies and chants might charm them, they might regale the eye with the rites and dresses of the clergy, but beyond this they could not worship. It is probable that the congregation, on these occasions, consisted of the priests and the Anglo-Norman immigrants, and that few or none of the Scotch peasantry took part in the service. "The Roman breviary and missal, or rather that modification of them, in use in the church of Sarum, was adopted almost universally."8 The Roman Catholic historian just quoted might have traced the service in the Scottish Cathedrals, to a yet older and more classic model. The ritual of Rome is founded on that of heathendom. The Pope sings mass in the dress of the Roman Pontifex Maximus when offering sacrifices to Jove. Astarte has transferred her crown as Queen of Heaven to the head of Mary. The lighted candles are the modern form of the "Flame worship" so universal among the early nations. The "cross" was used for ages as a sacred symbol in the worship of the Egyptians before it appeared on the ensigns of Christianity, and the statues the flowers, the incense and the lustral water of the Roman churches did service in the Greek temples before finding their way into the "Christian Church."
At this epoch the Bible would seem to have disappeared from Scotland. We do not see it in the abbey; nor do we find the reading of it among the prescribed exercises of the monks; yet doubtless copies of it lingered in the land in Culdee cell, or in Culdee family, the work of some pious scribe of a former generation. The preaching of the gospel must have all but entirely ceased. Of the Culdee churches many were in ruins; others had been gifted to the abbeys, with the lands that appertained to them. It was the office of the friars to maintain service in the churches, but alas! The friars preached, if they preached at all, in Saxon or in French, while their hearers understood only in Gaelic. In the course of a century or so the friars may possibly have acquired the power of preaching in the language of the Scots, but before that time, it is reasonable to conclude, their gift was considerably rusted, if not altogether lost; and when at last their mouths were opened by found they had nothing to say, or nothing that was worth saying. We lose trace or record of public instruction from this time onward. We hear no Sabbath bell; we see no congregation of grave and devout worshippers on their way to the sanctuary. The convent bell rings, and duly as clockwork there is heard from abbey and monastery the song of mattins and vespers; but from glen and mountain side there comes no more the grand melody of the old psalms sung by assembled thousands in the rich and plaintive music of the Gael. These glories belonged to the past; the Sabbaths of the present how unspeakably sad!
At length the friars ventured into the pulpit, and essayed to preach, but alas! The sermons to which their hearers were doomed to listen. They are not easily characterised. We shall give a specimen, and leave the reader to judge for himself. The field of selection is limited, for only a few examples of the "Pulpit Eloquence" of the age have come down to us. The following illustrations are from a friendly source. We quote from the Monasticon. Davies says: "Every Sunday a sermon was preached in the galley,9 from one to three in the afternoon; previous to which, at twelve, the great bell of the convent tolled three-quarters of an hour, and rung the fourth quarter till one oclock that the people might have warning to come and hear the word of God. The friars also preached there, and there were sermons on saints days and other solemnities. Some of these sermons were very strange and ridiculous, as the following extracts will show. A lark is a bird which sings a song proceeding from the recollection of the benefits of God. For the lark, when she begins to mount, lightly sings Deum, Deum, Deum; when she comes a little higher, she sings many times Deum, many times Deum; when she comes highest of all she sings entirely Deum. Thus does the pious soul from gratitude."
Among other specimens the compiler of the Monasticon gives the following of the preaching of the friars. "You have seen a man carrying a lighted candle in the open air, and guarding it with his two hands least it should be blown out." This noways uncommon incident is thus spiritualised. "The monks soul is the candle, his body the part illuminated; the three winds liable to blow it out are the World, the Flesh, and the Devil; the two hands that hold the light are Alms and Fasting." "A sermon to the nuns on flowers emitting odour," says the Monasticon, "like the lily, is a string of allegorical puns." Another in the manner of the "Abbey of the Holy Ghost" is as follows: "The first girl is Chastity, the second Humility, the third Mercy, and she is cellaress, which provides meat and drink; the fourth is Modesty, and she is mistress of the novices; the fifth is the Infirmaress, and she is patience; the sixth is Obedience." The following is a better example, and has a little flavour of the Bible about it. It is a climax, and runs thus: "And this is great, greater, greatest; great, to abjure and scorn the world; greater, to rejoice in tribulation; greatest, to pant sweetly after God."10
These selections show that the friars had a decided genius for metaphor and allegory; but the step between the rhetorical and the grotesque, like that which divides the sublime from the ridiculous, is a little one, and the friars not infrequently overpasses it. Above all things, they had a horror of being dull, and sedulously cultivated the comic vein, being much better pleased that their hearers should laugh than that they should yawn. Moreover, the wide field of mythological fable and traditional legend lay open to them, and they industriously gleaned from that luxuriantly stocked region all that was most strange and wonderful for the amusement if not the instruction of those who gathered to hear them. Their happiness efforts only tickled the ear or amused the fancy, they never penetrated the bosom or touched the conscience.
Such was the instruction to which the Scots were now delivered upthe scenic exhibitions of the cathedral, and the hebdomadal buffoonery of the friars. There was nutriment here for neither the intellect nor the soul. Under such a regimen what may we expect the Scots to become? They can become nothing else than a withered, dwarfed, frivolous, shrivelled-up race, incapable henceforth of any lofty aspiration, or any noble achievement. Their destiny has been fatally changed. They will count for nothing in the future history of nations. To them knowledge will owe no new enlargements of her domain, nor will liberty have to thank them for new triumphs of heroism. So did it seem, and so would it have been, if other and counteracting influences had not come into play to preserve from extinction a race impregnate with rich and powerful idiosyncrasies. The troops of black-robed men who were swarming all over the land had not come from the monkeries and cells of foreign countries to assist at the burial of the Scottish nation, and sing dirge and requiem over its grave, although it looked at this moment as if this were the meaning of their portentous appearance. The Scots were not to close their career in the twelfth century, and be consigned to the catacombs of history, like the mummified monks in the Convent of the Cappuccini at Rome, and be shown in after ages as the relics of a nation which, having become the bondsman of the church, died with the collar of the abbey round its neck.
The Scots had themselves to blame for an inundation which submerged their past and threatened annihilation to their future. They saw the night coming, but they did not watch. Star after star disappeared from their sky, still they felt no alarm. They could not believe that the day was going away. And now there is darkness over all the land. There is a morning beyond, but at what a distance. Of those now living there is not one that shall see the breaking of the new day. In the tenth generation, but not before, must the Scots return from the captivity into which we now see them being carried. But first they must be purified, and the purification of nations must be accomplished in the fire. Their voluntary submission to one yoke will be chastised, as it often is, by their enforced submission to another. To spiritual bondage will be added political slavery. Their faculties are at this hour too benumbed to feel the smart and shame of the first; the second will gall them to the quick. They will go back to the battlefield to recover their manhood. Their war with the Dane was past, or almost so, that with Edward of England was yet to come. In those more terrible struggles the lethargic sleep into which the Scots have sunk will be effectually broken. Stirred again by the aspirations of patriotism, they will cast off their stupor, and advance with freshened energy to their second and greater battle, even that of breaking their spiritual chains and setting free the soul.
1. Monasticon, i. 60.
2. On one occasion when Sir James Simpson visited the island, he found this interesting cell the abode of two pigs; on another visit he found it tenanted by a cow. More tragic facts have come to light in connection with the abbey. "A human skeleton was found several years ago immured and built up within these old ecclesiastical walls."Monasticon, i. 54.
3. Aberdour and Inchcolme, by Dr. William Ross, p. 121. See in Dr. Rosss work an enumeration of the various possessions of Inchcolm.
4. Dr. W. Ross, Aberdour and Inchcolme, pp. 116, 117. See also Monasticon, i. 54, 55, and Scoti-chronicon, lib. xv., cap. 38, and lib. xiii., cap. 34.
5. Bede. Skene, Celtic History of Scotland, ii. 206.
6. The Carmelites had at least one home in Scotland. A Carmelite Priory was founded at South Queensferry in 1330 by Sir George Dundass, as attested by documents in the charter chest of the family. After the Reformation it passed into possession of the Crown, and was given back by James IV. To the family of its founder, Dundas of Dundas. It is now undergoing restoration as a place of worship.
7. Of Alexander II., John Major says,"Ubicunque locorum mulieres religiosae instituuntur." Hist. Scot., lib. iv. Cap. 10, p. 146.
8. Bellesheims History of the Catholic Church of Scotland, i. 306.
9. A loft in the convent for the abbots family to view processions.
10. Gordon: Monasticon, i. 19, 10. Glasgow, 1868.