A Valliscaulian house
Ardchattan Priory was established in 1230 or 1231 by an obscure order of monks from France, the Valliscaulians. They followed a strict form of monastic rule, with emphasis more on the ascetic religious life than on manual work. Houses were limited to no more than 20 brothers, and the monks’ livelihood depended on rents and teinds (tithes) from endowments. Their church, in common with all Valliscaulian houses, was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and St John the Baptist.
The original priory was rebuilt in the 15th century, when the monks’ choir was extended and a new refectory (dining hall) constructed. Monastic life eventually came to an end with the Protestant Reformation of 1560. The buildings and endowments were appropriated by John Campbell, later bishop of the Isles, and have remained with the Clan Campbell ever since.A political foundation
The priory was founded by Duncan MacDougall, Lord of Lorn and builder of <Dunstaffnage Castle>, near Oban. At this time kings of Scotland and Norway were fighting for control of Argyll and the Inner Hebrides. Duncan may have invited the Valliscaulians to Ardchattan to ingratiate himself with the Scottish king, Alexander II. Alexander had recently established a monastery for this obscure order at Pluscarden, near Elgin. The Valliscaulians, whose mother house was in the Val des Choux (‘valley of the cabbages’) in Burgundy, only ever set up daughter houses outside France in Germany and Scotland. The third Valliscaulian house in Scotland was Beauly, west of Inverness, founded by the Bisset family.
From priory to private house
The priory was dominated by the MacDougalls throughout most of its existence. Indeed, by the end of the 15th century, the position of prior was monopolised by the family. But in 1506 the last MacDougall prior, Eugenius (Eogan), was deposed. The new prior, Duncan MacArthur, attempted in vain to revive the zeal of the founding brethren. In 1538 there were just six monks in residence, and by the Reformation in 1560 a mere three.
In 1602, Archibald Campbell, son of Bishop John Campbell, began the process of converting the old priory into a private house. While the church remained in use as the parish kirk until 1732, the monks’ cloister was converted into a house. The old refectory is still the family dining room. The MacDougall Cross
Among the numerous fine grave markers and carved stones on display is the MacDougall Cross. Commissioned by Prior Eugenius MacDougall in 1500, it was carved by John Ó Brolchán, a stone-carver from Iona. It is one of the few examples of West Highland carving recording the sculptor’s name. The cross bears a crucifixion scene on one side and an image of the Virgin and Child on the other. Highlights
- The journey – a drive along the north shore of Loch Etive.
- The church – enough remains to convey the intensely religious life pursued by this obscure order.
- The carved stones – a fine collection of West Highland sculpture.