Paisley Abbey, Scotland

Having been to Arran we had a night at the Premier Inn in Gourock, then decided to go to Paisley. A municipal museum which has some good stuff and needs more visitors – http://www.renfrewshire.gov.uk/webcontent/home/services/leisure+and+culture/arts+and+museums/els-jcp-paisleymuseum

“You ought to go and see the Abbey” one of the staff said, so we drove round the town and managed to find a parking space. We followed the sign for the shop and cafe, and coffee and fruit cake increased the sugar levels. Then we went into the Abbey – wow! Jan was a very welcoming guide, and pointed us in the right direction. We had a good explore. http://www.paisleyabbey.org.uk

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The Abbey was founded in 1163 when Walter Fitzalan signed a charter at Fotheringay. David I made him High Steward of Scotland, and bought 13 monks from Wenlock in Shropshire to set up a priory answerable to the Abbey of Cluny. I wonder what Shropshire monks thought being sent so far north. It was dedicated to St Mary, St James, St Mirin (Irish monk and missionary) and St Milburga (Benedictine abbess of Wenlock). By 1286 the rich and powerful abbey served all the SW of Scotland, and suffered on occasions when the English arrived!

In the C14 the Abbey was restored, and here the sixth High Steward, Walter Steward, married Marjory Bruce, daughter of Robert the Bruce in 1315. A year later she died in the Abbey Infirmary after a riding accident, but the monks delivered her baby safely by Caesarean. The child became Robert II, and Queen Elizabeth can trace her lineage back to him. Richard III was buried here – interesting picture which gives an impression how colourful this church (like all of them) would be. Here is the picture, and Marjory’s tomb.

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There was another restoration in 1498, but the tower collapsed around 1553, destroying the quire, crossing and north transept. These lay open to the skies for the next 350 years. The nave was walled off and after the Reformation served as the Parish Church. Restoration started in 1858 in the North Transept, with more work around the turn of the century – the quire is C20 (lovely stone in the ceiling, bosses and capitals). More work at the end of the century, and plans for a fourth cloister. We entered from the cafe, the cloisters, and went up into the quire (I will stick to the Anglican spelling, quire is the place where the choir sings). Modern wood, and I didn’t find everything the guidebook says is worth finding, a decent organ – and we were told they have an excellent choir.

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The Communion Table (we’re in Scotland now) is of Donnington stone, the inlaid slab on top of porphyry. The unity of the Trinity, the Paschal Lamb, the Crucified and Risen Lord, the Crown of Thorns and the Crown of Glory. The East Window was designed by Douglas Strachan, ‘Christ enthroned; his universal dominion.’ He also designed the Peace Window, beautiful in blue. The modern one is by John Clark.

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They have made a small exhibition centre off the Quire, which had some fascinating things excavated from a medieval drain. It includes a fragment of slate with some music, and various other pieces of carving.

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Back in the crossing the lectern is rather lovely. There’s a large regimental memorial to the 4th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in the North Transept.

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DSC00899The Nave has some nice glass – some of it Burne Jones (I think) – the Barochan Celtic Cross, and a memorial to John Witherspoon, the only clergyman to sign the American Declaration of Independence. He crossed the Atlantic to serve as Principal of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). Apparently his wife took some persuading to get on a ship … . http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/signers/witherspoon.htm

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We had a wander round the outside and up into the town – some stunning Victorian buildings (the Town Hall sits opposite the Abbey), modern shopping centres, but not the most prosperous area. It has taken me 51 years to go to Paisley (as opposed to ‘through Paisley’) – if you haven’t been, the Abbey is worth a visit.

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