From Burgundy to Beauly
Beauly Priory was founded around 1230 by monks of the Valliscaulian order. They came from their mother house in Burgundy, in France, and settled beside the Beauly River, at the place where it enters the Beauly Firth. They were invited to do so by the lord, Sir John Bisset. And there their successors lived for the next 300 years, until the Protestant Reformation of 1560 brought their cloistered and contemplative life to an abrupt end. Today their legacy lives on, in their pretty, tree-fringed abbey church, roofless but otherwise largely intact.
In search of perfection
The Valliscaulians were one of the less well-known reformed Benedictine monastic orders. They aspired to return to the ideals of poverty, chastity and obedience espoused by St Benedict of Nursia around 530. They were founded in 1205 by Viard, a lay brother from the Carthusian abbey of Louvigny. They established themselves at a place near Dijon called Val des Choux, ‘valley of cabbages’, or vallis caulium in Latin – hence their name. Few Valliscaulian houses were set up elsewhere, but Scotland was to have three – Ardchattan, near Oban, Pluscarden, near Elgin, and Beauly. All were founded around 1230.
Beauly, meaning ‘beautiful place’, must have seemed to the founding monks a wonderful place to devote themselves to the worship and service of God.
A place of worship
Only the abbey church now survives. It takes the form of a Latin cross, with a three-bay choir to the east, and a seven-bay nave to the west, and at their junction two flanking transepts to north and south.
Neither the choir nor the nave was aisled. The entire building, except the south transept, was laid out in a single operation. However, the surviving structure exhibits architectural styles from throughout its time as a place of worship. These include the 13th-century Y-tracery windows lighting the presbytery, the three trefoiled windows lighting the monks’ choir, and the graceful west front, rebuilt as late as the 1540s by Abbot Robert Reid.
A place of burial
The church houses some fine funerary monuments. There is one to Prior Alexander Mackenzie (died 1479) at the entrance to the south transept, now minus its effigy. Another one, dedicated to Kenneth Mackenzie of Kintail (died 1492), stands at the entrance to the north transept, still with its knightly effigy. Other Mackenzie tombs lie in the north transept, which was restored in 1900–01 as their burial aisle and is normally locked.
- The location – a secluded spot in the pretty town of Beauly, fringed by trees and framed by wooded hills.
- The west front – an eye-catching vista-stop at the north end of Beauly.
- The burial tombs – poignant reminders of the noble Mackenzie family.
Region – North and Grampian
In Beauly on the A862
Grid reference – 26 NH 527 464
1 April - 30 Sept: Daily, 9.00 am to 5.00 pm
1 Oct - 31 March: Daily, 9.00 am to 4.00 pm
Telephone: 01667 460 232