“Paisley. – Few buildings have a more fascinating history than the Abbey of Paisley, for, preserved by a strange chance, there can still be seen – it may be only in a few broken fragments – the work of all its many builders. But our field for investigation is narrowed by the Melrose evidence, and John Morow’s work must be sought in the buildings of the end of the fifteenth century.
The Abbey was founded in the year 11631 by Walter the Stewart, but not until after the middle of the fifteenth century, in the time of Abbot Thomas Tervas, was it brought to such a state that it could be described as “ane mychti place.”2 It then became one of the great treasure houses of art in Scotland, and, in that respect, a miniature of the parent-house of Clugny.
In the year 14723 George Shaw was elected abbot. A scholar and a statesman,4 he proved a worthy builder. An early eighteenth century historian wrote of him that “he laid out a great deal of money in inlarging and beautifying the fabrick of the monastery. He built a noble refectory, and all other offices that were necessary for the accomodation of the monks, with a strong and lofty tower pended over the principal gate of the abbey; the church, the precincts of the convent, with the gardens and orchards, and a little park for fallow deer, he inclosed with a wall of aisler work on both sides about a mile in circuit; upon different places of the convent, you’ll see frequently the abbot’s arms, viz. Three covered cups with a crozier behind the shield very finely cut in stone, but not mitred; also upon the middle of the wall to the north side, he caused place in three different shields the royal arms in the middle, the arms of the founder, Walter the great Stewart of Scotland, a fess cheque, on the right side, and his own on the left; there are niches at the angles of the wall of most curious graved work; in one of them there was a statue of St. James the Apostle, the patron of the abbacy, in another an image of the blessed Virgin, with this distich near it, but somewhat more inward –
Hac ne vade via nisi dixeris Ave Maria.
Sit semper sine vae, qui tibi dicet Ave.5
To preserve the memory of the founder of this noble wall, and the time the work was completed, the abbot, Mr. Schaw, was so just to himself as to cause put up an inscription upon the north-west corner which is still remaining.6
Only a few fragments now identifiable as portions of this work are preserved to the present day. The “place,” or mansion of Paisley, stands on the site of the refectory and other offices.7 The strong and lofty tower fell immediately after its completion;8 and only a very small portion of the great ashlar wall remains, on the north bank of the river Cart, on each side of the Abbey bridge.9 But here are no adornments of curious graved work in niches, and statues, and sculptured panels. All this rich decoration has disappeared, with the exception of two stones – the one carved with the Royal arms, the other bearing Abbot Shaw’s inscription.10
The panel with the Royal arms, which is figured on page 86, measures 3 feet 1 inch high, by 3 feet 2¾ inches broad. The presence of the thistle is here perhaps the point of greatest interest, as it is probably the earliest illustration of that national badge.11
The inscribed slab measures 5 feet 4½ inches by 2 feet 6¾ inches. The illustration, here reproduced from a large scale drawing, may serve to shew that the tablet is of great excellence in design and execution, and that in this and other particulars it bears a marked resemblance to the inscription at Melrose. The letters are raised above the general surface of the stone, and in many instances tied letters are used. We may regret the absence of the fifth line. If it was erased by the Reformers, as is generally said, then it is of vital importance, as helping in some small measure to a better understanding of one of the greatest epochs in our national history, to note that the most zealous care was taken to preserve all that was historically valuable in the inscription. Aided by tradition, an attempt has been made to complete the text:-12
YA CALLIT YE ABBOT GEORG OF SCHAWE
ABOUT YIS ABBAY GART MAKE YIS WAV
A THOUSANDE FOUR HUNDERETH ƷHEYR
AUTHTY ANDE FYWE THE DATE BUT VEIR
[PRAY FOR HIS SAULIS SALVACIOUN]
YAT MADE THYS NOBIL FUNDACIOUN*
Two facts regarding John Morow emerged from the examination of the Melrose inscriptions – one, that he wrought at the end of the fifteenth century; the other, that he carried out work at Paisley. There are no buildings at Melrose later than those erected at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century, and as there is no parallel, in that fair shrine, to the debased art-work at Paisley, of the middle of the fifteenth century, attention is confined to the buildings erected for Abbot George Shaw, in the search for the work of John Morow. But the internal evidence of the Paisley inscription is all-important. It has been already noted that the character of the lettering, in design and workmanship, is the same as at Melrose. The references to building operations, the poetical form of the compositions, the manner in which the names are introduced – “callit was I,” and “Ya callit” – and the devout expressions with which they close, make it clear that the inscriptions are the work of the same author. A definite date has now been secured.
In the year 1499 certain works of restoration were required at the Abbey, in St. Mirin’s Chapel.13 As it will be shewn that John Morow was busily engaged at Glasgow at that time, and as this later work at Paisley is of a very simple character, it is probable that, having supplied the design, he only exercised a general supervision. No document has been found which throws any light on his private life. The name is mentioned in the Charter of Erection of the Burgh of Paisley,14 in the year 1490, and this point is the more worthy of investigation if Paisley was one of the earliest places to be honoured by the work of this great artist.
Glasgow. – When Bishop Robert Blacader came to his See in Glasgow in the year 1484,15 his Cathedral was complete. Founded on very modest lines in 1136,16 it had grown slowly but steadily, by the labours of its long line of bishops, until at the end of the fifteenth century it surpassed all the other cathedral churches of the realm. The King was a Canon of the Cathedral,17 and was not unfrequently within its walls.18 His regard for the church and his love for the bishop were especially shewn in the keen interest he displayed in securing a Bull from Pope Innocent VIII. declaring the See of Glasgow metropolitan.19
Archbishop Blacader, to increase the dignity of his church, and – if I understand the spirit of the time aright – not without the desire to leave behind a monument to perpetuate his own memory, erected the stone Rood Screen which still divides the choir from the nave.20 The work was probably begun in the year 1492,21 and must have been completed by 1497, as a chaplaincy was founded at the altar of the Holy Rood in that year.22 The Screen – of which a photographic representation is given [below]23 – stands on the level of the choir floor between the eastern piers of the central spire. The jambs of the richly-moulded low-arched doorway24 rest on bases at the floor level, but there are no capitals interrupting the mouldings at the springing of the arch. It is greatly to be regretted that the eight statues and carved corbels which adorned the panels on each side of the doorway have disappeared. The parapet at the top of the Screen – its most attractive feature now – is of beautifully designed tabernacle-work and open tracery, resting on a moulded and sculptured cornice.
The carvings on this cornice have, as yet, received no attention at the hands of the student. As they are striking objects to the casual observer, who has usually a ready answer to every difficult question, it is no matter for surprise that there is a current interpretation. They are commonly believed to illustrate the Seven Deadly Sins. Rarely, however, does the casual observer hit the mark, and he has been very unfortunate here.25 The figures of ecclesiastics, at the ends, are probably portraits. As such they would be known and admired, but as there is no clue to guide us now, identification is impossible. The task of interpreting the meaning of the seven intermediate sculptures has been rendered one of some difficulty by their peculiar arrangement. I can now prove, however, that they illustrate the Seven Ages of Man. Old Age occupies the centre, over the doorway; Infancy, Youth, and Manhood, are on the north side; with the Schoolboy, the Lover, and the Sage, on the south. By this arrangement, I think the artist endeavoured to give point to his story by placing Infancy and Old Age together. But he may have had a still higher purpose in view if, in the death-like visage and shrunken frame of Old Age, he appealed both to the careless and devout, as they passed beneath the shadow of the arch, to behold the end.26 Art is too subtle for the pen to do more, in a few words, than describe the general character given to each age. I. Infancy: a young wife sits with an infant on her knee, with her husband alongside. II. The Schoolboy: the master is behind a pile of books asleep, it may be, and the scholar plucks at his chin. III. Youth: a woman pinches the ear of a youth, whose smiling face, and knee drawn up in pretended agony, reveal the age of frolic and freak. IV. The Lover: he sits with his arm round his mistress’s neck, “sighing like furnace.” V. The Soldier: armed cap-à-pie, he fights with a lion. VI. The elderly Sage: with his wife beside him, he holds a long roll in his hands. VII. Old Age: again a married pair is figured, and again the symbolism is confined to the man. The artist was gallant, and the wife is comely still. These carvings, as now for the first time explained, add a new interest to the Cathedral, in that they anticipated the words of the melancholy Jaques by just one hundred years.27
Of the many altars which adorned the Cathedral in early times, only two have been allowed to remain – one on each side of the doorway in the Rood Screen. They differ in size, in design, and in date. The smaller one, on the north, has an ornamental front of five panels, with straight-lined pediments, and figures bearing scrolls. Its north end, carved with the arms of Archbishop Blacader, and that portion of its base which abuts on the lower wall of the Rood Screen, are of later workmanship than the rest of the structure. This altar was probably first erected about the year 1480. There is no evidence that the south altar was ever reconstructed.28 The archbishop’s arms occur on its north end, close to the steps; the front is divided into six panels, with ogee pediments, and figures bearing scrolls; and on the south end the archbishop’s arms are repeated as illustrated [below].29
In the year 1503 Archbishop Blacader founded chaplaincies at two altars at the entrance to the choir.30 The one on the north side, called the altar of the Name of Jesus, is described in the charter as having been constructed and repaired by him. The other, on the south, called the altar of the blessed Mary of Pity, is described as entirely his own work.31 The charters confirm the evidence of the stones.32
On the completion of the Rood Screen, the archbishop turned his attention to the old Aisle of Car Fergus, the roofless lower story of a great south transept which had been abandoned at the end of the thirteenth century.33 The walls were repaired, and to this work of restoration we owe the two panels on the exterior carved with his arms, and the row of curious sculptured beasts. In these we have one or two pages of a mediaeval bestiary in stone. The sketch given below illustrates three of the more grotesque forms.34 An interior view of the aisle is shewn… The vaulted roof is the finest example of such work in Scotland. There is nothing to compare with it for the richness of its moulded ribs of the beauty of its many carved bosses. These are crowded with arms, with beasts, and birds, and fishes, and foliage, in the richest profusion.
As there are nearly one hundred carvings, and no two of them are alike in subject or in manner of treatment, the natural feeling is one of amazement at the seemingly inexhaustible resources of the artist’s mind.35 The arms of King James IV. and of the archbishop frequently occur. There is a large letter M, under a royal crown, on the capital of the middle pier on the south wall.36 This is the initial letter of the Queen’s name. King James was married to Margaret in the year 1502.37 The name of the aisle is carved on the vaulting, immediately in front of the entrance door.
The sketch shews an open car with the corse of St. Fergus which St. Kentigern brought to this place for burial.38 The scroll is inscribed –
THIS + IS YE + ILE OF + CAR
Archbishop Blacader died in the year 1508.39
There is no difficulty in discovering John Morow’s work in the beautiful Rood Screen, and in the vaulting of the Aisle of Car Fergus.40 The Melrose inscription states that he wrought at Glasgow. The style of the art at Melrose indicated the end of the fifteenth century, but is marked by the strongest individuality, and, as will be still further shewn in a subsequent chapter of my studies, is distinguished throughout by a special quality and beauty.
P. MACGREGOR CHALMERS.”