Nithsdale.1 – It is natural to turn to the ollegiate church of Lincluden to search for John Morow’s work in Nithsdale. It stands in a most enchanting glade, on the margin of the river Cluden, and no sooner do we tread the verdant sun-swept carpet covering the floor of its ruined nave than we know that the search is not in vain.

The abbey of Lincluden is said to have been founded by Uchtred, son of Fergus, lord of Galloway, about the year 1164, for a sisterhood of Benedictine nuns.2 Of this early structure only a few stones remain, half buried in the grass, in the north aisle of the nave. On the abbey coming into the possession of Archibald (the Grim), third earl of Douglas, and lord of Galloway, towards the end of the fourteenth century, he transformed it into a collegiate church for twelve canons,3 Elias being the first provost.4 Douglas died on the 12th December, 1400, and was buried in the church erected by him at Bothwell.5 He can have had no part in the erection of the church at Lincluden. It must have been founded after his death, sometime between the years 1409 and 1424.6 Alexander de Carnys would be the first building provost,7 and he was succeeded by John Cameron, who here, perhaps, first exhibited that passion for building which distinguished him when he became bishop of Glasgow.8 The choir alone stands with its walls complete, richly adorned with sculpture, and with the arms of the Douglas family connections. The stone roof with its many moulded ribs, which was designed, and, in part, executed, was never completed, and the only ceiling which the choir ever had was the timber floor of the upper room.9

Mediaeval Architect 1

Rood Screen.

This room had a plain pointed stone vault, with broad cross ribs, over which was the timber roof.10 The nave was of four bays in length. Fragments of the south wall remain; of the rest, it is only possible to trace the outline. The provost’s lodging, on the north of the church, was evidently of the same date as the choir, but a considerable part of it was rebuilt about the year 1530, by provost William Stewart.11

A stone Rood Screen stands at the entrance to the choir. It is constructed of a soft red sandstone, and is now in a very dilapidated condition. A photographic representation is given.12 The finely moulded low-arched doorway measures 5 feet 11 inches wide by 7 feet 2 inches high in the centre, the height to the springing being 6 feet 21/2 inches.13 Access is had to the loft by the staircase at the south-west corner of the choir.14 As the screen is only 2 feet 11 inches thick the width of the floor above was increased to 5 feet 4 inches by projecting richly-sculptured cornices. There was no stone parapet.15 The cornice on the east side, towards the choir, is in one course, and projects 10 inches. It is enriched with a large delicately-under-cut leaf ornament. The cornice on the west side, towards the nave, is in two courses. The upper course is enriched with a series of angels sculptured in half length, with wings extended and hands placed on their breasts. Seventeen of these figures remain. Small cherubs’ heads are carved in the triangular spaces between the wings. The sculpture on the lower course is so delicate, the figures are so small and in such high relief, that much of it has disappeared, owing to the unlooked-for exposure to the weather. Yet sufficient remains to make the story intelligible. It is the story of the early life of Christ. It is told in six scenes, which follow closely the Bible narrative:- I. The first, on the left, is almost beyond recognition. The figure of a large-winged angel is the only clue to the Annunciation, as the subject portrayed. II. The Birth of Christ is shewn in the second group, immediately over the jamb of the doorway. Mary is lying on a bed covered by a sheet which reaches to the floor. The infant Jesus lies by her side in a manger. Joseph sits on a chair at the foot of the bed with a staff in his hand. Two attendants kneel at Mary’s pillow.16 III. In the third group, to the left of the centre of the doorway, we have the Adoration of the Magi. Mary sits to the right on a chair with Jesus on her knee. Three crowned kings kneel before her. The first has a robe in his hands, and a crown lies at Mary’s feet. The second king bears a cup. IV. The group to the right of the centre represents the Visit of the Shepherds. The figures of Mary and Jesus are destroyed, although the chair on which Mary sat is perfect. Joseph sits behind it on a high stool. Six figures kneel in front of Mary’s chair facing towards her. V. The group over the right jamb of the doorway is very much wasted, but the scene is evidently the interview with Simeon and Anna. Mary sits on a chair with Jesus on her knee, and a male figure kneels in front bending towards her. Two other figures completed the group. VI. The last scene is Jesus at the Temple. The figure of the young Christ is shewn kneeling at the side of a small architectural model carved with an archway, buttresses, and pinnacles. The figures of Joseph and Mary have disappeared, all but the points of attachment to the cornice. It is possible that the inscription on the scroll in the hands of the crouching figure which was carved at the end of the cornice on the right, close to the pier, had a direct reference to this story. But the inscription is now illegible.

In general design this Rood Screen strikingly resembles that in Glasgow Cathedral, already described. The delicacy of the sculpture work, the peculiar disposition of the limbs of the figures, the careful regard to a suitable perspective, and the fidelity and minuteness with which the story is illustrated, all point to its having been the work of John Morow.

It may be asserted confidently that it was erected at the beginning of the sixteenth century, for provost George Hepburn, successor to Andrew Stewart.17 Uncle to the first earl of Bothwell, he was a member of the most powerful family in Scotland. He was chosen abbot of Arbroath in the year 1502, and was made Lord High Treasurer and Bishop of the Isles in 1509. He died on the field of Flodden, 9th September, 1513.18

Galloway.19 – Crossing from Nithsdale into Galloway by the ancient bridge which may still retain some fragments of the early structure erected by Dervorgilla, the wife of Balliol, it is necessary to visit four religious houses – Sweetheart Abbey, Dundrennan Abbey, Whithorn Cathedral, and Glenluce Abbey – in order to discover, if possible, the extent and character of John Morow’s work in Galloway.

Sweetheart Abbey,20 or, as it is sometimes called, New Abbey, was founded by Lady Dervorgilla21 in memory of her husband, John Balliol, the founder of Balliol College, Oxford,22 who died in the year 1268.23 Bower says that the abbey was begun in 1275.24 The heart of Balliol was embalmed and enclosed in an ivory casket, and afterwards placed in the abbey near to the high altar. Dervorgilla died at Kempston, on 28th January, 1289,25 and was buried at Sweetheart Abbey, with the heart of her husband on her bosom.26 Although the church of the abbey is now roofless, the masonwork is still almost perfect.27 A considerable portion of the precinct wall is preserved. The old parish church which stood on the west side of the cloister, and was built of the ruins of the conventual buildings in the year 1731,28 has now been removed. Part of the east side of the cloister remains, and here, in the small fragment of the ruined chapter-house, the window on the top of an early sill is the only part of the building erected so late as the end of the fifteenth century. The fragment, however, is of little value, and is in a completely ruinous state. But the pile of sculptured stones lying in a corner of the south transept must be examined. They belonged to an altar tomb and are exquisitely carved. Six of the side panels are preserved. They measure about 18 inches high by 17 inches broad, and all are decorated with a large quatrefoil. The shield in the centre of one panel bears a lion rampant; another shield bears a fleur-de-lis with three mullets in chief; whilst a third shield is blank. The centre of the other panels are decorated with a large rose. The four remaining stones formed part of the moulded and chamfered cope. Three of the corner stones are preserved, and one from a side. The rough tooling on the upper surface may be held to indicate that the tomb was surmounted by an effigy. On the chamfered edge of the cope there is this interesting inscription:-

(1)   GILLA     *     FUDATRIX     *
(2)   HUJUS     *     MONA
(3)   STII     *     QUE     *     OBIIT     * 
(4)   *     M     *     CC     *     LXXX     *     IIII 29 

These ten stones are all that remain of the tomb of the loving and generous Dervorgilla. But it was not erected immediately after her death in 1289. It was erected at the beginning of the sixteenth century. It would be a difficult task to prove that John Morow was the inventor of the style of letter employed, as shewn in the illustration of the best preserved stone, or that he was the first to use it in Scotland. Yet it will be shewn that whilst in his work at the end of the fifteenth century, at Melrose, Paisley, and Glasgow, his inscriptions exhibit a purely Gothic character, in his work Mediaeval Architect 2at the beginning of the sixteenth century, at St. Andrews and Melrose, he used a modified and decorated Roman character, as on this tomb. The fact that the date on the tomb is 1284, instead of 1289, points unmistakably to this that it must have been erected at a time remote from the period of Dervorgilla’s death, when, even in her own abbey, the true date had been forgotten. This indication of late date, the knowledge that John Morow had charge of all mason work in Galloway, and that he was in the near neighbourhood at Lincluden, together with the fact that the work is of great refinement in design and execution, all lead to the conclusion that the tomb is an example of John Morow’s work.

Dundrennan Abbey was founded by King David I. and Fergus, lord of Galloway, about the year 1142,30 but no work of this date exists. The building is almost entirely of one style of art, – the transition from the romanesque to the pointed style, – and was probably erected about the year 1190. It is a typical example of the austere simplicity characteristic of the early work of the Cistercian order. The abbey is in ruins, and little more remains than the roofless choir and transepts. The latest work is the richly-moulded chapter-house of the end of the thirteenth century.

The cathedral and priory at Whithorn were founded by Fergus, lord of Galloway,31 early Mediaeval Architect 3ain the twelfth century. Little can be gleaned of the subsequent history of the buildings, since priory and cathedral have been almost entirely destroyed. All that now remains is the roofless and ruinous nave of the cathedral, at one time used as the parish church. The richly-sculptured western doorway in the south wall is the one fragment preserved of the early twelfth-century structure. There are several recessed tomb-arches in the north wall, of late thirteenth-century workmanship, whilst the eastern doorway in the south wall is the latest work. It was inserted about the middle of the fifteenth century.32 Leaving the cathedral, we pass to the main street of Whithorn, where the sculptured jambs built into the walls of modern houses, and supporting the arch of the pend, demand attention. These are described as having been taken from the priory.33 The capital of the jamb on the east side, illustrated,34 bears a shield, surmounted by a mitre. The arms on the shield are those of George Vaus, bishop of Galloway from 1489 to 1505.35 There is a shield with the arms of Vaus on the western jamb, surmounting a crozier. These two jambs are doubtless but insignificant fragments of an extensive addition to the priory. The date brings them within the period when they must have been executed under the charge of John Morow. The details, however, in their design and execution, do not exhibit that refinement and delicacy which are characteristic of his own handiwork.

Although it is far removed from any village the Abbey of Glenluce, which was founded by Rolland, lord of Galloway,36 about the year 1190, has been almost entirely destroyed. Mediaeval Architect 3bA Part of the south transept remains, but only a few low featureless walls mark the outline of the rest of the church.37 The only room which has been saved from ruin is the chapterhouse. It is a very fine stone-vaulted room, about 24 feet square, with a moulded octagonal column in the centre. The Entrance from the cloister, and many of the glass-enamelled Tiles with which it was laid are still in position. The sketch Shews the entrance doorway, with a view into the interior. The close resemblance of this work to the jamb illustrated from Whithorn is apparent, and they are evidently of the same date. At first sight no other indication of date is manifest. The Arms of Scotland and the crowned lion of Galloway are carved on shields in the vaulting, and the only inscription is “REQUIESCAT IN PACE,” on the sculptured corbel above the abbot’s seat.38 If, however, the name of Hamilton was suggested by the cinquefoils frequently carved upon the walls, then a strong clue to the date and to the name of the founder is secured, since David Hamilton, natural son of the Earl of Arran, was Commendator of Glenluce at the beginning of the sixteenth century.39

The reason which led to the opinion that the late work at Whithorn was not executed by John Morow, although it was under his charge, operates also in connection with this work at Glenluce. The beauty which characterises his work at Paisley, Glasgow, Lincluden, and Sweetheart Abbey, already described, is present in a most marked degree at St. Andrews and Melrose, stamping the whole with an unmistakable individuality. But this quality is absent in the work at Whithorn and Glenluce, and, although a difficult question in mediaeval practice is opened up, it is only possible to suggest that those works were required at a time when he was busily employed elsewhere. 


(To be concluded.)

1 Nyddisdaile = Nithsdale. Treasurer’s Accounts, p. 173 (A.D. 1490).

2 McDowall, Chronicles of Lincluden, p. 17.

3 Ibid. p. 51. McDowall appears to have no historical basis for his theory that Douglas wrongfully seized the abbey and lands.

4 Ibid. p. 54. The provost is referred to in a document dated 13th June, 1404.

5 Fraser’s Book of Douglas, vol. i. p. 498. It has passed into a commonplace that Bothwell Church was founded on the 10th October, 1398 (Book of Douglas, vol. i. p. 350). It may have been dedicated on that day. The sculptured stone which lies on the floor of this church has been strangely overlooked. It is the grave-slab of Moray, the builder of Bothwell Castle, and the founder evidently of an earlier church than that erected by Douglas.

6 The proof of this is found in the beautiful tomb of Margaret, daughter of King Robert III., an d wife of Archibald (Tyneman), the fourth earl of Douglas, lord of Galloway and Annandale. The tomb is built in the north wall of the choir, and is an integral part of the fabric. Nine shields are carved on the basement, that on the extreme left bearing the arms of Annandale. Then the inscription on the back of the tomb which records the fact that, with her other titles, Margaret was lady of Annandale, does not state that she was duchess of Touraine. Douglas received a charter of the lordship of Annandale in the year 1409 (Book of Douglas, vol. i. p. 498), and he was created Duke of Touraine in April, 1424, by the King of France, a few months before his death at the battle of Verneuil (ibid.). As the date can be closely approximated the church of Lincluden is a valuable index to the progress of architecture in Scotland.

7 He is referred to so early as 1408. McDowall, p. 59. Fragments of the great slab which covered his grave are still preserved.

8 The sacristy and the vaulting of the chapter-house of Glasgow Cathedral, and the great tower of the castle, were his work. A shield bearing the arms of Archibald, the fifth earl of Douglas, and second duke of Touraine, is carved on the vaulting of the chapter-house. There is a reference, in a charter confirmed at Bothwell in 1429, to a penalty in lease to be paid to the “kirkwerk” of Glasgow. (Douglas Book, vol. iii. p. 417). It is interesting to find a Douglas associated closely with King David II., about the middle of the fourteenth century, in the erection of St. Monan’s Church, Fife. The Douglas arms are carved on the vault, with those of the king.

9 Grose supposed that this stone roof had been destroyed (Antiquities of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 4). It may still be seen, however, that those parts of the ribs at the springing of the vault, which of necessity required to be built with the wall, were left unfinished.

10 This upper room vault was in existence in 1789 (Grose, Antiq. of Scotland, vol. ii.). This peculiar feature may still be seen in St. Mirin’s Chapel, Paisley.

11 McDowall, p. 173.

12 The photograph shews the full extent of the Screen as viewed from the nave. The sacristy door and the tomb of lady Margaret may be seen through the doorway. This tomb, which had originally a wrought-iron grill across the archway, was desecrated towards the end of last century, and the effigy was broken in two. On a recent visit I saw fragments of a human skeleton lying at the bottom of the sarcophagus in a heap of gravel. Through the kindness of Mr. Watson, of the Dumfries Standard, a letter I wrote on the subject reached Mr. Maxwell, factor on Terregles estate. The bones are now to be decently buried and the effigy restored to its place on the tomb.

13 The low-arched doorway in the Rood Screen of Glasgow Cathedral measures 6 feet wide by 7 feet 4 inches high in the centre, the height to the springing being 5 feet 8 inches.

14 This stair is of older date, and is continued up to the rooms over the choir and nave, and to the roof.

15 The fragments of sculptured stones which are supposed to be portions of a parapet (McDowall, p. 169) are probably parts of the front of the High Altar. The corbels which supported the altar table are in situ.

16 Curiously enough this was supposed to be a picture of the Entombment (Grose, Antiq. of Scot, vol. ii. p. 5).

17 McDowall, p. 73. Andrew Stewart died bishop of Moray in 1501. Walcott’s Scoti-monasticon, p. 146.

18 Crawford’s Officers of State, p. 368.

19 Galway = Galloway, Exchequer Rolls, vol. X. p. 340 (A.D. 1492). Galway is used by Captain Grose so late as the end of the last century. Mr. Frederick Pinches, in his history of the Abbey Church of Melrose, supposed that Galway in Ireland was meant.


21 Bain’s Calendar of Documents, iii. 69.

22 Ibid. i. 2401. King Henry III. lent John de Balliol 20l on 22nd June, 1266, for the use of his scholars at Oxford.

23 Ibid. i. 2501.

24 Scotichronicon, lib. viii. c. 24.

25 Bain’s Cal. ii. 405.

26 Wynton, VIII. viii. 39.

27 It illustrates well the progress of church architecture in Scotland.

28 Harper’s Rambles in Galloway, p. 207.

29 The lines figured 2, 3, and 4 are corner stones, and the position of the corner is indicated by the red [letter and symbols]. The stones 1 and 4 are somewhat weather-worn, having formed part of the parish church now removed.

30 Scotichronicon, lib. v. c. 43.

31 Scotichronicon, lib. v. c. 43.

32 It bears the arms of Alexander Vaus, bi7shop from 1426 to 1450. Laing’s Seals ii. 1091.

33 Pococke’s Tour through Scotland. Scot. Hist. Soc. p. 15.

34 I visited the cathedral in a storm of wind and rain, and am indebted to Mr. W. T. Hawthorn, Whithorn, for a photograph from which my drawing is made.

35 Keith’s Scottish Bishops. See of Galloway. The arms are quarterly – first and fourth a bend for Vaus; second and third three covered cups for Shaw. Blaise Vause of Barnbarroch married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir John Shaw of Haillie. Pococke’s Tour, p. 15.

36 Scotichronicon, vol. ii. p. 538.

37 Portions of the east and north walls of the choir were found a few weeks ago by the parish minister. The piscina of the eastern aisle of the north transept was discovered in situ.

38 I have no doubt that a shield bearing arms was carved on the upper part of the keystone of the doorway.

39 He was Bishop of Argyle. Keith’s Scottish Bishops, p. 288.

4 thoughts on “A MEDIAEVAL ARCHITECT. Part 3. – HIS WORK IN NYDDYSDAYLL AND GALWAY., P. M. Chalmers, pp.307-316.

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