Island sanctuary | The Augustinian monastery of ‘Inchmaquhomok’ | Safe haven | Island paradise
The enchanting ruins of Inchmahome Priory stand on the largest of three islands in the Lake of Menteith. The priory was established around 1238 by a small community of Augustinian canons. Their founder and patron was Walter Comyn, Earl of Menteith, whose residence was on the adjacent island of Inch Talla. The secluded location offered the brethren isolation from the secular world, and tranquillity in which to carry out the worship of God.
The island sanctuary functioned for over 300 years, offering solace not only to the canons but also to royal visitors. King Robert Bruce visited three times, and Mary Queen of Scots once, in 1547, when she was four. In 1560, the Protestant Reformation effectively brought monastic life at Inchmahome to an end.
The Augustinian monastery of ‘Inchmaquhomok’
Around 1238, Augustinian canons arrived on the island to establish a monastery. They did so at the behest of the mighty Earl of Menteith, with the agreement of the Bishop of Dunblane. The priory was built on the low-lying eastern half of the island. The earl retained the west half to compensate for the lack of garden space on Inch Talla.
The canons built their church first. The impressive processional doorway in the west front closely resembles the one at Dunblane Cathedral, suggesting that masons may have been brought from there. Other notable features include the bell tower in the nave, and the fine fixtures in the choir, including an unusual three-seat sedilia, used by priests during Mass.
The cloister buildings to the south of the church are now largely ruined. The chapter house in the east range survives well, having been converted to a mausoleum in the 1600s. It now houses a fine collection of carved stones, including the charming double effigy of Walter Stewart (died 1295) and Countess Mary, depicted in a loving embrace.
At the disastrous Battle of Pinkie (near Edinburgh) in September 1547, a vast Scottish army was routed by disciplined English forces. This was the last great conflict in the War of the Rough Wooing, intended to coerce Scotland into agreeing a marriage between Mary Queen of Scots and King Edward VI of England.
Queen Mary, then aged four, was brought for safety from Stirling to Inchmahome, with her mother Mary of Guise. She stayed for just three weeks, but there are many stories about her accomplishments during her visit. Her name is still attached to the little boxwood bower in the centre of the island.
Monastic life ended soon after the Protestant Reformation in 1560. A new life as a tourist attraction began in the 1800s, thanks largely to the writings of Walter Scott and the arrival of the railway. The influx of English visitors even resulted in the change of name – from ‘Loch of Inchmahome’ to ‘Lake of Menteith’.
The lake and island continue to attract many visitors. A variety of trees and flowers surround the romantic ruined buildings, including three gnarled sweet chestnut trees thought to date from the 1500s, and in the spring the island is awash with colour. The lake also attracts fishermen throughout the season.