By Brenda B Taylor
The ruins of many churches are located in Scotland. Congregations moved on to other locations, and some like the Beauly Priory, were dismantled during the Reformation of the 16th century. The ruins tell a story of the people who served and worshiped there. Memories are preserved on the grounds, in the old walls, floors, and tombs still intact.
The ruins of Beauly Priory lie at the east end of the main square in Beauly, Inverness-shire, Scotland. The reclusive Valliscaulian order of monks from the Burgundy region of France founded the priory in the years following 1230. Despite vows of poverty, the impressive church betrays the wealth and power they had acquired.
In the 1230’s the monks referred to Beauly as Prioratus de Bello Loco, which is Latin for “Priory of the Lovely Spot”. This suggests the name Beauly, from the French beau lieu or “beautiful place”, dates back further than the comment made by Mary Queen of Scots during her visit in the summer of 1564. Beauly’s monks were later supported by the Frasers of Lovat.
The church, whose ruins still stand, was part of a complex including a cloister and accommodations for the monks.
In about 1510 the priory changed its adherence to the Cistercian order. Substantial work on the buildings took place under Prior Robert Reid in 1541. Reid held many other offices including the Bishop of Orkney and the founding of Edinburgh University.
After the Reformation the priory fell into disuse, and the lead was removed from the roof in 1582. Much of the stone was used in the construction of other buildings in the town. Rumor says some of the stone was carted off for use in the citadel built in Inverness by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1652.
In 1901 architect Alexander Ross rebuilt the north transept to serve as a mausoleum for the Mackenzie family. Beauly Priory has been in the care of the state since 1913 and is now looked after by Historic Scotland.
In August of 1818, John Keats and his friend, Charles Brown, stopped at Beauly on their way to Cromarty. Their visit produced a collaborative poem, On Some Skulls in Beauley Abbey, near Inverness. The majority of the lines are by Brown with Keats contributing the first line of the poem, the first four words of the second line, and three stanzas.
A memorial to Alexander Chisholm who died in 1793 and his wife, Elizabeth Wilson, who died in 1826.
Beauly Priory is mentioned in the Scottish historical romance, A Highland Emerald. Aine MacLean Munro, Sir William Munro’s new wife, becomes ill with a fever when her horse stumbles while fording the River Moriston and she almost drowns. William secures shelter at the priory for their party, and Maighstir Gregory, a priory monk, gives Aine a potion, restoring her back to health.
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Our party rode into the outer yard of the priory. A monk, dressed in a brown linen cassock adorned with a rosary and large gold cross, opened the iron gate and approached William. My husband dismounted. “Maighstir, I am William Munro of Fàrdach Castle, Chief of Clan Munro. We are on our way home and desire to shelter with you for the night. My wife, Lady Aine, has been ill and needs rest.”
“Aye, Sir William. I ken of ye. Ye are laird of Ferindonald on whose lands we border. Ye are welcome to rest here as our guests for as long as ye need. I am Maighstir Edan, prior of Beauly.” The priest bowed his tonsured head with folded hands. “We are at yer service, Sir.”
“Thank you, Maighstir. My lady is verra tired.” William assisted me in dismounting. My legs wobbled, so he held my arm, giving me strength to walk into the priory.
I clung to my husband’s strong arm, barely able to make my legs move forward. The priest led the way into a gated yard, smelling of herbs and flowers. Blossoms of red, yellow, blue, and purple bloomed in profusion. When we walked by the beds, I caught the odor of thyme, rosemary, basil, and lavender mixed with the sweet scent of heather. One bed carried the pungent smell of wild onion. Maighstir unbolted a large iron studded door then motioned us ahead. We entered a cloister, a colonade on one side opening into a large quardangle with a fountain and flowers to match the herb garden. The quiet cloister seemed void of life until a monk approached from the opposite end of the corridor.
“Maighstir Gregory, we have guests for the night. Sir William Munro, his wife Lady Aine, and his entourage. Please find suitable quarters for them.” The priest motioned to our party with a sweep of his hand.
Gregory nodded. “I have a private room for Sir William and his lady and a place in the priests quarters for the others.”
“What of Breda?” I asked concerned she would have to sleep with the men.
“One small room is vacant in the servant’s quarters off the kitchen where she will be welcome.” He glanced at Breda. “However, she will be away from you for the night, Lady Aine.”
Breda looked alarmed. “Lady Aine has been verra ill. She may need me during the night.”
“I will sleep in the priests’ quarters with my men and let Breda share Lady Aine’s room.” William’s voice sounded with disappointment. I felt certain he looked forward to spending the night with me.
I searched his face. “Thank you, Sir William.”
He lifted a brow. “You’re welcome, M’Lady.”