Convent and college
Lincluden was founded as a priory for Benedictine nuns in the 1160s. The founder was probably Uchtred, son of Fergus, Lord of Galloway. Uchtred introduced feudalism to Galloway, and the arrival of the Benedictine nuns was part of that process.
In 1389 another Lord of Galloway, Archibald ‘the Grim’, 3rd Earl of Douglas, had the nunnery replaced by a college of secular canons. His son, Archibald, 4th Earl, began the process of building what the visitor sees today, prior to his death in 1424. His widow, Princess Margaret, daughter of Robert III, was buried there in 1450, and her fine tomb still graces the choir.
The college survived the turmoil of the Protestant Reformation of 1560 but was effectively abandoned by 1600.
From nuns to canons
In 1389 Archibald ‘the Grim’ successfully petitioned the pope to have the nunnery replaced by a college of secular canons (priests). His petition hints at moral and physical decay at the convent. The buildings had fallen into disrepair, and the nuns, down to four in number, allegedly used the revenues to dress their daughters ‘born in incest’ in fine clothes.
The four nuns were expelled and replaced by a provost, eight priests and 24 bedesmen – poor or elderly residents who were allowed free accommodation. The intention was that they would pray for the souls of Archibald, his family and descendants. Additional canons were appointed during the 15th century. The last Mass was celebrated in the 1580s.
surviving architecture comprises the choir and part of the nave of the collegiate church, together with a domestic range to its north. The choir, which dates from the early 1400s, is one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Scotland.
Highlights include the stone pulpitum (screen), separating choir from nave. The pulpitum’s west face is decorated with alternating angels and cherubs holding hands, and scenes from the life of Christ.
Other notable features are the sedilia (seating for the priests officiating at Mass) and piscina (a stone basin used for washing communion vessels) along the south wall. In the north wall is the monumental tomb of Princess Margaret, Lady of Galloway, now sadly minus her stone effigy (removed for safe-keeping following repeated vandalism).
The architect responsible for the choir, though not the tomb, was probably the Frenchman, John Morow. He helpfully left an inscription on another example of his handiwork, the south transept in Melrose Abbey
. This states that he also ‘had in kepyng al mason werk … of Nyddysdayl and of Galway [Galloway]’.
- The location – in Dumfries but not of it, thanks to its quiet semi-rural situation beside the Cluden Water west of the town.
- The graceful architecture of the choir – a remarkable survival of John Morow’s handiwork.
- The stone pulpitum – with its intricate carved ornament.
- The tomb of Princess Margaret, Lady of Galloway – one of the most elaborate monumental tombs surviving in Scotland.
Region – Dumfries and Galloway
On the western outskirts of Dumfries in Abbey Lane on the A76.
Grid reference - NX 966 779.