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Publication Account

Date 1985

Event ID 1016592

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


The Cluniac priory of Paisley (it was not raised to the rank of an abbey until 1245) was founded by WaIter, son of Alan, steward of Scotland, about 1163, and it replaced an earlier Celtic monastery dedicated to St MiIin. WaIter invited monks from Wenlock Abbey, in his native county of Shropshire, to colonise the priory and in 1169 Humbold, prior of Wenlock, came north bringing thirteen monks to establish the community.

Little of the 12th to 13th century church now survives; it was burnt by the English in 1307 during the Wars of Independence and appears to have been extensively damaged. Portions of early work can still be seen in the great west doorway, in the south wall of the nave and in the processional doorway leading from the nave to the cloisters. Rebuilding began in the late 14th century but the greater part of the church belongs to a major period of reconstruction undertaken in the mid-15th century. It is of cross plan with a graceful aisled nave, an unusually long choir, and has a tower situated over the crossing. The principal feature of the choir is a decorated four-bayed sedilia (seatsfor the use of the clergy during the celebration of a mass), which lies at the east end of the south wall. Opening off the east wall of the south transept there is a side-chapel dedIcated to the Celtic saint, St Mirin; erected in 1499, it contains a frieze below the east window filled with carved panels showing scenes from the saint's life. Such friezes must originally have formed a regular feature of interior decoration but few now remain, and the Paisley group represents a most fortunate survival. The chapel roof is also of interest as it is a double barrel-vault, a form of roofing more commonly encountered in tower-houses than in ecclesiastical architecture. In the centre of the chapel there is an ornamental medieval altar-tomb; it was found in fragments and reconstructed in 1817 and is thought to belong to Margery, daughter of Robert I. However, there is some doubt about the authenticity of the monument as it may have been pieced together from fragments of more than one original structure. In the nave and transepts there are a number of medieval grave-slabs, but the most important stone monument in the abbey is the Early Christian cross from Barochan, Renfrew, which stands in the nave (described in detail below, no. 63). Only portions of the claustral buildings survive: at the Reformation parts of the south range were converted to domestic use by the Commendator and became known as The Place (Palace) of Paisley. During the early 19th century The Place fell into disrepair but it has subsequently been restored for use by the congregation.

Until the late 19th century much of the abbey church lay in ruins and only the nave was roofed; since then extensive restoration has been carried out and the whole of the church is now in use.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Clyde Estuary and Central Region’, (1985).

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