Whithorn Priory

Last updated

Whithorn Priory: the nave of the cathedral Whithorn Priory 20080423 nave.jpg
Whithorn Priory: the nave of the cathedral

Whithorn Priory was a medieval Scottish monastery that also served as a cathedral, located at 6 Bruce Street in Whithorn, Wigtownshire, Dumfries and Galloway (54.7357N, 4.415954W; OS grid reference NX445405).



Seal of the Priory of Whithorn. Whithorn.Priory.Seal.2.png
Seal of the Priory of Whithorn.

The priory was founded about the middle of the 12th century by Fergus, the Lord of Galloway, (died 1161) during the reign of King David I of Scotland (died 1153), initially for a community of Augustinian Canons Regular. Around 1175, the monks were replaced by Premonstratensian canons regular, referred to colloquially in Britain as the White Canons. [1] Some time before 1161, the Premonstratensians had been established at Soulseat Abbey. [2]

The canons of Whithorn formed the cathedral chapter of the Diocese of Galloway, which was re-established about the same time, also by Fergus, the old succession of bishops having died out in the 8th or 9th centuries. The prior stood next in rank to the bishop, as can be seen from the order of signatories to an episcopal charter early in the 13th century; and the community enjoyed the right of electing the bishop, although this right was occasionally overruled in favour of the secular clergy by the Archbishop of York, of which see Galloway was a suffragan see for several centuries. [1]

The full list of priors has not been preserved; among them were: Maurice, who swore fealty to King Edward I of England in 1296; Gavin Dunbar (1514), who rose to be Archbishop of Glasgow; and James Beaton, successively Archbishop of Glasgow and of St. Andrews, and chancellor of the kingdom. Whithorn was long a noted place of pilgrimage, owing to its connection with the venerated memory of Saint Ninian. [1]

Many Scottish sovereigns, among them Margaret (queen of James III), James IV, and James V, made repeated pilgrimages to the saint's shrine, and left rich offerings behind them. The monastery, thus endowed, became opulent, and its income at its dissolution under the Scottish Reformation was estimated at over £1000. Possibly as a result, the priory was put under the rule of a commendatory prior in 1516. The last Catholic prior, Malcolm Fleming (d. 1568), was committed to prison in 1563 for the crime of saying Mass.

The whole property of the priory was vested in the Crown by the annexation act of 1587, and was granted in 1606 by King James VI to the occupant of the See of Galloway when he established Episcopalianism in Scotland in that same year.


The monastery lands continued to belong to the bishopric until the Revolution of 1688, at which date that see was the richest in the kingdom next to St. Andrews and Glasgow. The priory church, which served also as the cathedral of the diocese, had a long nave without aisles, a choir of about the same length, and a lady chapel beyond. Thomas Sydserf, Bishop of Galloway 1635–8, undertook an ambitious remodelling of the nave.

In 1684 the nave and western tower were still intact; but the existing remains consist only of the roofless nave and the extensive vaulted crypts constructed under the eastern end of the church. Such restoration as was possible has been carefully carried out by the third Marquis of Bute.

The complex is now a scheduled monument. [3]


The cathedral was subject to a major excavation and restoration 1n 1886/7 by William Galloway at the expense of John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute. [4]


See also

Related Research Articles

Ninian 5th-century bishop, missionary, and saint

Ninian is a Christian saint, first mentioned in the 8th century as being an early missionary among the Pictish peoples of what is now Scotland. For this reason he is known as the Apostle to the Southern Picts, and there are numerous dedications to him in those parts of Scotland with a Pictish heritage, throughout the Scottish Lowlands, and in parts of Northern England with a Northumbrian heritage. He is also known as Ringan in Scotland, and as Trynnian in Northern England.

Whithorn Human settlement in Scotland

Whithorn, is a royal burgh in the historic county of Wigtownshire in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, about 10 miles (16 km) south of Wigtown. The town was the location of the first recorded Christian church in Scotland, Candida Casa : the 'White [or 'Shining'] House', built by Saint Ninian about 397.

Glasgow Cathedral Church in Glasgow, Scotland

Glasgow Cathedral is a parish church of the Church of Scotland in Glasgow, Scotland. It is the oldest cathedral in mainland Scotland and the oldest building in Glasgow. The cathedral was the seat of the Archbishop of Glasgow, and the mother church of the Archdiocese of Glasgow and the Province of Glasgow, until the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century. Glasgow Cathedral and St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney are the only medieval cathedrals in Scotland to have survived the Reformation virtually intact.

The Bishop of Galloway, also called the Bishop of Whithorn, was the eccesiastical head of the Diocese of Galloway, said to have been founded by Saint Ninian in the mid-5th century. The subsequent Anglo-Saxon bishopric was founded in the late 7th century or early 8th century, and the first known bishop was one Pehthelm, "shield of the Picts". According to Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical tradition, the bishopric was founded by Saint Ninian, a later corruption of the British name Uinniau or Irish Finian; although there is no contemporary evidence, it is quite likely that there had been a British or Hiberno-British bishopric before the Anglo-Saxon takeover. After Heathored, no bishop is known until the apparent resurrection of the diocese in the reign of King Fergus of Galloway. The bishops remained, uniquely for Scottish bishops, the suffragans of the Archbishop of York until 1359 when the pope released the bishopric from requiring metropolitan assent. James I formalised the admission of the diocese into the Scottish church on 26 August 1430 and just as all Scottish sees, Whithorn was to be accountable directly to the pope. The diocese was placed under the metropolitan jurisdiction of St Andrews on 17 August 1472 and then moved to the province of Glasgow on 9 January 1492. The diocese disappeared during the Scottish Reformation, but was recreated by the Catholic Church in 1878 with its cathedra at Dumfries, although it is now based at Ayr.

Dundrennan Abbey

Dundrennan Abbey, in Dundrennan, Scotland, near to Kirkcudbright, was a Cistercian monastery in the Romanesque architectural style, established in 1142 by Fergus of Galloway, King David I of Scotland (1124–53), and monks from Rievaulx Abbey. Though extensively ruined, Dundrennan is noted for the purity and restraint of its architecture, reflecting the austere Cistercian ideal. It is also built from very hard-weathering grey sandstone, so the original architectural forms and mouldings are well preserved.

Candida Casa was the name given to the church established by St Ninian in Whithorn, Galloway, southern Scotland, in the mid fifth century AD. The name derives from Latin: casa and candidus/candida, referring possibly to the stone used to construct it, or the whitewash used to paint it.

Christian of Whithorn was Bishop of Whithorn (1154–1186), the second incumbent of that Episcopal See since it had been resurrected by King Fergus of Galloway earlier in the 12th century.

The Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway is one of the seven dioceses of the Scottish Episcopal Church. It covers Dumfries and Galloway, Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and west Stirlingshire. The diocesan centre is St. Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow.

The Prior of Whithorn was the head of the monastic community at Whithorn Priory, attached to the bishopric of Galloway at Whithorn. It was originally an Augustinian establishment, but became Premonstratensian by the time of the second or third known prior. As most of the priors of Whithorn appear to be native Galwegian Gaels, it would appear that most priors before the 16th century at least were drawn from region, something unusual in medieval Scotland. The following is a list of abbots and commendators.

Abbot of Fearn

The Abbot of Fearn was the head of the Premonstratensian monastic community of Fearn Abbey, Easter Ross, Scotland. The Abbey was founded by canons from Whithorn Priory in Galloway, with the patronage of Fearchar mac an t-Sagairt, mormaer/earl of Ross. The foundation took place in the 1220s, according to the two distinct foundation dates given in the sources, either in 1221 or in 1227. Until about 1238, the Abbey was located at Fearn, near Edderton, but it was moved to the Tarbat parish in that year and known thereafter as "nova Furnia". Despite the fact that the head of Whithorn Priory was a prior and Fearn an abbot, Fearn seems to have remained subordinate to Whithorn until at least the end of the 14th century, and even in 1440 Abbot Fionnlagh II was confirmed by the prior of Whithorn.The reason for this is that Whithorn was a cathedral priory; the nominal head of its community was the bishop, but its actual head was the prior, as was the common use in England at places like Durham and Carlisle, but this was not usual in Scotland. In these circumstances the cathedral prior had the same rights as an ordinary abbot.

Soulseat Abbey

Saulseat or Soulseat Abbey was a Premonstratensian monastic community located in Wigtownshire, Galloway, in the Gaelic-speaking south-west of Scotland.

David I and the Scottish Church

Historical treatment of David I and the Scottish church usually emphasises King David I of Scotland's pioneering role as the instrument of diocesan reorganisation and Norman penetration, beginning with the bishopric of Glasgow while David was Prince of the Cumbrians, and continuing further north after David acceded to the throne of Scotland. As well as this and his monastic patronage, focus too is usually given to his role as the defender of the Scottish church's independence from claims of overlordship by the Archbishop of York and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Gilbert of Glenluce

Gilbert was a 13th-century Cistercian monk, abbot and bishop. His first appearance in the sources occurs under the year 1233, for which year the Chronicle of Melrose reported that "Sir Gilbert, the abbot of Glenluce, resigned his office, in the chapter of Melrose; and there he made his profession". It is not clear why Gilbert really did resign the position of Abbot of Glenluce, head of Glenluce Abbey in Galloway, in order to become a mere brother at Melrose Abbey; nor is it clear for how long Gilbert had been abbot, though his latest known predecessor is attested last on 27 May 1222. After going to there, Gilbert became the Master of the Novices at Melrose.

Odo Ydonc was a 13th-century Premonstratensian prelate. The first recorded appearance of Odo was when he witnessed a charter by Donnchadh, Earl of Carrick, on 21 July 1225. In this document he is already Abbot of Dercongal, incidentally the first Abbot of Dercongal to appear on record.

Ninian Spot [de Spot] was a royal clerk and prelate in the 15th century Kingdom of Scotland. He spent much of his youth at university, eventually obtaining Master's Degree.

David Arnot Scottish prelate of the Catholic Church from 1509 to 1526

David Arnot was a Scottish prelate of the Catholic Church. He was the Bishop of Galloway (Scotland) from 1509 to 1526. He was from the Arnot family of Arnot, Fife.

Roman Catholic Diocese of Galloway

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Galloway is an ecclesiastical territory or diocese of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. The pre-Reformation Diocese of Galloway, held to have been founded by St Ninian in the fifth century, had broken allegiance with Rome in 1560, and disappeared in 1689. The territory of the modern diocese incorporates, the local authority areas of Dumfries and Galloway, South Ayrshire, East Ayrshire and parts of North Ayrshire, (Cumbrae). The bishop's cathedra is at St Margaret's Cathedral, Ayr.

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow

The Archdiocese of Glasgow is the metropolitan see of the Province of Glasgow in the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. The episcopal seat of the developing diocese was established by Saint Kentigern in the 6th century AD. It is one of two Latin Church metropolitan archdioceses of the Roman Catholic Church: the only archdioceses in Scotland. It is the elder of the two bishoprics. Innocent VIII first raised Glasgow a metropolitan archbishopric in 1492. The Metropolis has the dioceses of Motherwell and Paisley as suffragans within the Ecclesiastical Province. The archdiocese is sede vacante as of June 2021.

William Galloway (architectural historian)

William Galloway (1830–1897) was a 19th-century architect mainly remembered as an architectural historian. He also worked as an architectural illustrator and photographer.


  1. 1 2 3 Hunter-Blair, Oswald. "Whithorn Priory." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 21 January 2019]
  2. "Premonstratensian Cathedral", Whithorn Trust
  3. Historic Environment Scotland. "Whithorn Priory, monastic settlement and priory (SM12992)" . Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  4. "Dictionary of Scottish Architects - DSA Architect Biography Report (June 16, 2021, 1:24 am)". www.scottisharchitects.org.uk.

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Whithorn Priory". Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Coordinates: 54°44′01″N4°25′04″W / 54.73361°N 4.41778°W / 54.73361; -4.41778