Around 1230, Duncan MacDougall, Lord of Argyll, established the Ardchattan Priory, the second of three Valliscaulian monasteries ever founded in Scotland. MacDougall established his priory shortly after King Alexander II established another near Elgin. Thus, MacDougall’s priory was likely a means to show loyalty to the king, as well as a way to ease his own path to heaven.
The life of the monks who lived at Ardchattan Priory would have been an austere one of silence, focused solely on prayer and contemplation. The monks did no physical labor and lived solely off land rents and bequests. The priory never housed more than 20 monks and, in later years, was occupied by as few as three. In 1308, King Robert the Bruce held what is said to be the last Scottish Parliament ever conducted in Gaelic at Ardchattan during a military expedition to Argyll.
Ardchattan Priory was incorporated as a cell of Beauly Priory in April 1510, and may have transitioned to a Cistercian order then. Fifty years later, monastic life at Ardchattan Priory came to an end with the reformation of 1560.
In 1602, Archibald Campbell converted the west end of the priory into a private residence. The home was later expanded to become what is today Ardchattan House cobbling together much of the priory’s ruins into the home. The home’s dining room was once priory’s old refectory. Ruins of the priory’s original 13th-century church still survive today, including the transepts and its chapels and the church’s 15th- and early 16th-century choir, burial aisles, and sacristy.
The remains also shelter a number of carved stones, one of which is the MacDougall Cross commissioned by Prior Eogan MacDougall in 1500 and carved by John ó Brolchán, a member of a renowned family of stone carvers based on Iona. The cross shows a scene of the crucifixion on one side and the virgin and child on the other.
Know Before You Go
The priory is tucked away behind the still-occupied Ardchattan House. There is a car park at the bottom of the drive where there's an honesty box to collect a five-pound entrance fee. Please be mindful and respectful when exploring, as the ruins as the house is still occupied by Campbell descendants.
For the most up-to-date visitor information, please see Ardchattan Priory Garden's official website.