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Cistercian Abbeys: CULROSS

Name: CULROSS Location: Culross Abbey town County: Fife
Foundation: 1217 Mother house: Kinloss
Relocation: None Founder: Malcolm, earl of Fife
Secularised: 1589 Prominent members:
Access: Parish church and Historic Scotland – open to the public

Culross Abbey
© Stuart Harrison
<click to enlarge>
Culross Abbey

Culross was founded in 1217 by Malcolm, earl of Fife (d. 1230), and was colonized by monks from Kinloss. The idea was first contemplated in 1214 when Malcolm petitioned the Cistercian General Chapter to inquire into the suitability of the site he had chosen and the sufficiency of the initial endowment. Monks may have been present at the site before the convent was sent from Kinloss to take possession in 1217-18. The abbey was never wealthy and the community was relatively small. However, the monastery was known for its gardens and scriptorium which produced illuminated manuscripts and fine binding. It is also said that there had been a school within the precinct which was attended by the youth of the burgh; apparently the pupils were instructed in grammar and trained in virtue.
In 1561, the annual income of the abbey was valued at £1600; a modest income when compared with the likes of Coupar Angus, Melrose and Kinloss. In 1540 there were sixteen monks at the abbey but the number had dropped to ten by the 1550s. From 1511 the abbey was ruled by a series of commendators and from 1531 these were invariably drawn from the Colville family.
In 1589 the property was erected into a temporal lordship for James Colville of Easter Wemyss and in 1609 he was created Lord Colville of Culross. In 1633 the east choir of the abbey church was taken over for use as a parish church while the adjoining buildings fell into decay. In 1642 the north transept was converted into a tomb house by Sir George Bruce of Carnock; carved effigies of him, his wife, and eight children can still be viewed there today. The abbey church was restored in 1823, although this operation removed many of the original features, including the transept chapels. Another restoration took place in 1905, reinstating the chapels and leaving the buildings much as they are seen today. The eastern parts of the church are still in use for worship and are generally open to the public. The ruins of the claustral ranges are now in the care of Historic Scotland and are also open to the public.