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Publication Account

Date 1982

Event ID 1018020

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


The Abbey gave Paisley its corporate existence. The ecclesiastical institution was founded c.1169 by Walter, son of Alan, Steward of Scotland, an Anglo-Norman, who had accompanied David I from,. and received lands_ from him in Pai.sley, Pollok, Renfrew, Cathcart and Eaglesham (MacGibbon and Ross, 1897, iii, 7; Metcalfe, 1909, 4). The Cluniac Priory, which was the daughter house of Wenlock in Shropshire, was to supercede the sixth-century church of St. Mirin.

St.Mirin, however, was one of four saints to whom the priory was dedicated, along with the Blessed Virgin, St.James the Greater and St. Milburga, patron of the monks of Wenlock (Howell i 1929, 8). The priory received abbatial status in 1245 during the incumbency of Abbot William (1225-1248), who also thoroughly consolidated the establishment (MacGibbon, 1897, iii, 8). It was one of Scotland 1s wealthiest abbeys, having been granted many lands, and in the fifteenth century, in the great age of lay piety, several chantry altars were established and sumptuously endowed. It was also in the fifteenth century that Paisley's founder, Abbot George Shaw, added greatly to the existing church fabric.

Before the Reformation, the Abbey consisted of the church, the cloister and conventual buildings. The church comprised a long aisleless choir, a nave with aisles, a north transept, a south transept, with St.Mirin's Chapel attached to the south of it, and a tower and spire over the crossing (MacGibbon, 1896, iii, 10).

By the mid-eighteenth century, the choir and transepts along with several parts of the Abbey were in ruins. These ruins contained excellent building stone, a fact which did not escape the notice of the 'reckless' young Earl of Dundonald who quarried this stone, undoubtedly to aid his building schemes in the New Town (Parkhill, 1857, 29).

When this quarry was exhausted, the nobleman proceeded to take down a good portion of the ruins which were still standing; but the heritors stopped him from removing the ashlar stone above the arch of the main window of the north transept, which is one of the finest of any abbey in Scotland (Parkhill, 1857, 29). A bullet at the 1758 siege of Louisburg ended Dundonald's vandalism. By 1788. however, the church was in a bad state of repair, and although there were moves to have the abbey completely taken down, large-scale restoration work was attempted instead (Lees, 1878, 338). The roofs of the nave and aisles were renewed, the side aisles were renovated, galleries and seatings improved and boardings which obscured the clerestory windows were taken down and replaced by stone (Howell, 1929, 43).

The Abbey church from the time of the Reformation until the eighteenth century had served as sole parish church for Paisley residents. In 17.33, the town council entered into an agreement with the Earl of Dundonald as patron of the parish for the erection of new churches in the town. Consequently, the Old Low Church was built in 1738, the High Church followed in 1756 and the Middle Church in 1781. In 1781. the town of Paisley was formally divided into three parishes (Metcalfe, 1909, 383).

Information from ‘Historic Paisley: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1982).

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