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Cistercian Abbeys: SADDELL

Name: SADDELL Location: Saddell village County: Argyll and Bute
Foundation: 1160/1207 Mother house: Mellifont
Relocation: None Founder: Somerled, lord of the Isles
Secularised: c. 1507 Prominent members:
Access: Accessible to the public

According to tradition, Saddell Abbey was initially founded in 1160 by Somerled, the Warrior King, whose descendants became the Clan of MacDonald and the Lords of the Isles, who ruled over West Scotland until 1493. However, it seems that the original plans were not realised until 1207 when Somerled’s son, Reginald, provided the abbey with a site above Carradale bay, half way down the Kintyre peninsula. A group of monks was brought over from Mellifont, in Ireland, to colonise the house. It is therefore not surprising to find that the surviving architectural details are strongly Irish in character. The history of Saddell Abbey is an obscure one. In c. 1507, James IV, in a letter to the Cardinal of St. Mark, declared that the abbey had not seen monastic life within living memory and had fallen to the use of laymen. James IV believed there was no hope of reviving monastic life here and asked for permission to unite the place in perpetuity to the cathedral of Argyll, in the bishopric of Lismore. The request was successful and some time after 26 November 1507, the pope transferred the abbey to the bishop's lands. In 1508, Bishop David Hamilton of Argyll built himself a castle residence near Saddell, using much of the stone from the abbey. In 1512 James IV made a request to Pope Julius II to move the cathedral of Lismore to the site of the abbey, for the inaccessibility of Lismore and its state of decay meant that it was now deemed unsuitable. However, the proposal had no result and Saddell Abbey was left to further ruin. After 1508 the bishops of Lismore are occassionally styled ‘commendators of Saddell’. Today the site is occupied by a graveyard. Some remains of the abbey can still be found on the site; these include the lower parts of the presbytery, the north transept of the church and parts of the refectory walls. The graveyard is open to the public at all times.