Tongland Abbey

Parish Tongland

Location Ordnance Survey Grid Ref: NX 6977 5392

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RCAHMS Record Click here for detail on Canmore



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The Abbey The Fragmentary remains of the Premonstratensian Abbey of Tongland, survive next to the now derelict Tongland Parish Church. The abbey remains are incorporated into the previous parish church, with the most obvious feature being the 13th Century doorway with Dog Tooth mouldings. The existing Structure is composed of a west gable with a square stone belfry, north and part south wall.Situation. Situated in the small village of Tongland, the Abbey ruins sites between the grounds of Mansewood House and the disused Tongland Parish Church.Nature of remains. The ruins comprise a west gable with a square stone belfry, and parts of the north and south walls. Within the interior are several carved stone fragments of earlier windows.Historical notes. Tongland Abbey was founded in 1218 by Alan, Lord of Galloway [though it is sometimes ascribed to Fergus, Lord of Galloway with a foundation date of 1161] and was colonised by monks from Cockersand Abbey, Lancashire. During an attempt of the King of Scotland to subdue the Stewartry in 1235 the Prior and the Sacrist were killed within the Church. In 1296, during the Bruce – Balliol struggle for the Throne of Scotland, the Abbot, Alexander, swore fealty to King Edward I of England, no doubt in support of John Balliol who’s claim to the throne was through his wife, Devorgilla, daughter of Alan, Lord of Galloway. In 1430, the then Prior, James Herries, is reported to have repaired the monastery and enclosed the grounds with a precinct wall, probably similar to Sweatheart Abbey’s. During his reign (probably in 1509), James IV, asked Pope Julius II to give the abbey to David, Bishop of Galloway to allow him repair the ruins and reform its discipline. Between 1510 and 1525 the Abbey was held in commendam by David. By 1529 the abbey is again described as ruinous though still with a few monks. King James V writes to Pope clement VII and the Cardinal of Ancona seeking the annexation of Tongland to the Bishopric of Galloway, and this was sanctioned in a Papal Bull of 1530. In 1541 James V, sought confirmation of the annexation from Pope Paul III, and in 1612 the annexation was confirmed by parliament. For a brief spell between 1588 and 1606 the abbey was held in commemdation by William Melville. The existing ruins are very probably the result of the 17th Century adaption of the western transept of the abbey to form the parish church. The remains of the latest Kirk on the site are believed to sit on top of the main abbey. _______________ From the RCAHMS Inventory of Kirkcdubright 1912

The ancient abbey of Tongland is now represented by a small fragment containing a doorway situated within the burial-ground to the west of the modern Parish Church distant about 2 miles to the north of Kirkcudbright. The abbey originally occupied a level holm some height above the rocky bed of the swiftly flowing Dee. The existing fragment has obviously been altered and adapted for use as a Parish Church in post- Reformation times. The east gable with part of the side walls are almost entirely demolished, but the altered church appears to have measured about 48 feet by 17 feet 7 inches within walls varying from 2 to 4 feet in thickness The west crow-stepped gable still rises to a height of about 19 feet from the ground to the base of a square stone belfry. The remaining portions of the side walls do not exceed 8 feet in height. The only feature of interest is the doorway in the north wall, measuring 3 feet 8 inches between the outer jambs, with a semicircular arch-head of two orders supported by circular moulded caps, and with two recesses for the outer angleshafts. Though the details of this doorway suggest the First Pointed period, the arch-mouldings being of the bead-and-hollow type with small dog-tooth enrichments, yet the form of the arch, and the general character of the workmanship, indicate the imitative work in vogue towards the beginning of the 17th century. Several carved fragments have been built into the north wall for preservation. To the south of the doorway is a shield bearing arms: On a bend three acorns (for Muirhead), and in the same direction at a higher level another with identical arms but with the addition of two wyverns as supporters. Another fragment built into one of the walls of the mill-house situated to the east of the church by the water-side, measures about 18 inches square, the upper part being rounded, and shows carved upon the exposed surface the figure of an angel supporting a shield bearing arms: On a bend three acorns. Below the shield are two unicorns endorsed, and at each side a large rose. The ancient bell, which was no doubt removed from the belfry of the old church, now hangs in the tower of the present Parish Church. It is 17 inches in diameter at the mouth, and 14 1/4 inches in height. Within the border encircling the shoulder is the date 1638 and the letter T. Carved Panels.—At the east side of the south porch of the parish church is an oak bench with a framed back measuring 6 feet 6 inches by 2 feet 1 inch, containing six rectangular moulded panels each 1 foot 9 inches by 8 inches, probably a remnant of the seating taken from the older church. Each end division has a small circular panel containing a carved thistle-head with two side leaves. Two other divisions have also a central panel of the same form each containing a carved fleur-de-lis, and the two central panels are decorated, in the one case, with a circular floral ornament with a double row of leaves radiating from a raised centre, while the other has a shield bearing arms : Three boars’ heads erased (Gordon), above which are carved the initials I G • and — E. Below the shield are two initials now much defaced, but which may represent the letters I and R. On the west side of the porch there is another oak bench with a framed back 2 feet in depth divided into five plain rectangular panels. Carved upon the central part of the upper rail in raised letters are the initials I • B and I • K and the date 1647. A somewhat similar bench exists within the north-west porch, with a framed back of five rectangular panels measuring about 7 feet by 2 feet 4 inches over all. Carved upon the top rail in raised letters If inches in depth are the initials WMG EMM • and the date 1726. Tongland Abbey is said to have been founded in the 12th century by Fergus, Lord of Galloway, and it was colonised by canons of the Premonstratensian order from Cockersand Abbey in Lancashire. It was endowed by gifts from both King Robert I and his son David II. In 1587 it was annexed to the crown. Symson, writing in 1684, mentions that the steeple and part of the walls were then standing. It is supposed that the existing Parish Church occupies part of the site where the old abbey stood.