Soulseat Abbey

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Alternative Names Soulseat Abbey And Burial-Ground; Mahaar
Site Type ABBEY, BURIAL GROUND
Canmore ID 61217
Site Number NX15NW 1
NGR NX 1006 5869
Council DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY
Parish INCH
Former Region DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY
Former District WIGTOWN
Former County WIGTOWNSHIRE
Datum OSGB36 - NGR

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Notes and Activities

Archaeological Notes

NX15NW 001 1006 5869.

(NX 1006 5869) Site of Soulseat Abbey (NR) (Premonstratensian)
OS 6" map (1957)

The origin and history of Soulseat Abbey are obscure. It may have been founded as a Cistercian house in 1148 but this foundation is uncertain. It was certainly founded for Premonstratensian canons 'somewhat later in the twelfth century', and was possibly the first Premonstratensian house in Scotland.
The last commendator was deposed in June 1572 and the abbey was annexed to the parsonage of Portpatrick in 1630 (D E Easson 1957).
It is said to have been burnt and the stones used in the building of Castle Kennedy (NX16SW 6).
The only remains of the abbey are green mounds marking the foundations, some carved stones and unexcavated remains in a moat or trench which formerly isolated the peninsula on which the abbey stood.
The rose garden of Inch manse occupies the site of the cloister garden (E M H M'Kerlie 1916), and a burial-ground formerly surrounded the abbey. Part of it still remained, and was occasionally used, in 1839, when the oldest inscription was dated 1616. Symson mentions a large stone at the manse, believed locally to have healing properties.
A Symson 1684; New Statistical Account (NSA) 1845; W Macfarlane 1907.

The outline of the cruciform church can still be traced.
C A R Radford 1963

The 'green mounds' mentioned by Easson are undoubtedly those at NX 1008 5871. Here are discernible the very faint outlines of a building, perhaps Radford's 'cruciform church' but considered by the minister at the nearby manse to be the chapter house.
The 'carved stones', 'unexcavated remains' and the moat or trench no longer survive. The burial-ground is no longer in use and the stone dated '1616' was not located. There is no trace of the stone mentioned by Symson and no local knowledge of it or of the dedication of the abbey.
Surveyed at 1/2500.
Visited by OS (RD) 28 February 1968

The Premonstratensian abbey of Soulseat was founded by Fergus, Lord of Galloway (died 1161), possibly on the site of a slightly earlier Cistercian foundation; it stood on the promontory projecting from the SW side of Soulseat Loch on the site now occupied by the 19th-century manse. To the E of the manse there are the turf-covered remains of a robbed rectangular building, aligned E-W and measuring about 20.8m by 13m overall, and about 12m to the S a small area of cobbling has been revealed by prospective excavation. On the S side of the building there are a 17th-century grave-slab and a number of 18th-century gravestones. Traces of a ditch (up to 6m broad and 0.2m deep) are visible across the neck of the promontory.
In 1386 the monastery was reputedly in a ruinous and collapsed condition on account of war. In 1630 the abbey lands were secularised, its emoluments were transferred to the new church at Portpatrick, and the parish of Soulseat was united with Inch.
RCAHMS 1987, visited March 1986.

NX 1004 5870 Inspection of the foundation trench for an extension at the northern end of the former manse showed a 0.3m deep deposit of topsoil resting directly on natural gravel. A stonesided feature with a mortar and re-used slate base was exposed towards the NE corner of the trench. This feature, which abutted a rich humic deposit and was sealed by topsoil, is probably an open drain or sunken path associated with an 18th- or 19th-century garden. No medieval deposits were noted.
J Pickin 2005

 
Books and References

Chalmers, G (1887-94) Caledonia: or a historical and topographical account of North Britain, 7 vols + index Paisley
Page(s): Vol.5, 420-1, 437 Held at RCAHMS C.1.2.CHA

Cowan and Easson, I B and D E (1976) 'Medieval religious houses, Scotland: with an appendix on the houses in the Isle of Man', London
Page(s): 78, 102-3 Held at RCAHMS C.3.2.COW

Cowan and Easson, I B and D E (1976) Medieval religious houses in Scotland: with an appendix on the houses in the Isle of Man, London
Page(s): 67, 87 Held at RCAHMS C.3.2.EAS.R

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Charity SC026749