|North Ayrshire has a history of Christianity stretching back to the very
beginning of missionary enterprise in Scotland. The Celtic Christians of
the period of St Columba and St Mungo found here, in this part of Scotland,
a fertile field for the propagation of the faith. Kilmarnock, Kilbride,
Kilbirnie, are all, like Kilwinning , verbal evidence of the existence of
‘Kils’ or cells of the Culdee or Celtic Church.
That there existed a religious house at this place, in the early part of the seventh century, is a generally accepted truth; the holy father of the church being St Winin; after whom, in olden times, the town was called the name of Sagtoun/Segdoune (or Saint’s town).
|Winin has been identified by some scholars with St Finnan of Moville, an Irish Saint of much earlier date; other authorities say he was a Welshman, called Vynnyn, while the Aberdeen Breviary (published 1507) gives his birthplace as Scotland. In the calendar of Scots Saints, the date assigned to St Winin is 715. His festival was celebrated on 21st January, on which day (Old style) a fair was held in Kilwinning and called St Winning’s Day.|
|The town now retains the name of this Saint as the church or cell of Winning. So why would St Winin and his band of monks build their mission on the site of the later Abbey, very likely on the spot occupied today by the Abbey Church? Because it is an obvious building site, above a bridging-point on the river, suitable for a fortified mission station and commanding a view of the surrounding country.||
Photo courtesy of Ayrshire & Arran Tourist Board
|So there is certain evidence that there was a Christian Church and a monastery of Culdees at Kilwinning several centuries before the foundation of the Benedictine house by Hugh de Morville, Constable of Scotland, and a great territorial magnate of the district, somewhere around 1140-62. Timothy Pont , who had seen the cartulary of the abbey and now lost, wrote in 1608 that the date was 1171 and Richard de Morville (one of the murderers of St Thomas a’ Beckett) as the founder, but evidence shows that King David I gave the district of Cunningham to his friend Hugh de Morville, making him responsible for the peace and security of what became North Ayrshire and the earlier dates.|
|“The structure of this monastery,” says Pont, “was solid and grate, all of freestone cutte, the church fair and staitly after ye modell of yat of Glasgow, with a fair steiple of 7 score foote of height, yet standing quhen I myselve did see it.” The length of the church was 225 feet, the breadth of the nave 65 feet and the monastic buildings covered several acres.|
|A community of Tyrinensian Benedictines was brought from Kelso and the
abbey was soon richly endowed by royal and noble benefactors, possessing
granges, large estates and the tithes of twenty parish churches giving a
revenue of some £20,000 pounds sterling per year.
| For nearly four centuries Kilwinning remained one of the most opulent and flourishing
Scottish monasteries. The last abbot and commendator was Gavin Hamilton,
who while favouring the Reformation doctrines, was a strong partisan of Queen Mary. He was killed in a battle outside Edinburgh in June, 1571. The suppression and destruction of the abbey soon followed and its possessions, held for a time by the families of Glencairn and Raith, were merged in 1603
with the other properties of the one obvious recipient - Hugh, Earl of Eglinton, whose successors still own them. The Earls of Eglinton have taken some pains to preserve the remains of the buildings, which include the great west doorway with window above, the lower part of the south wall of nave and the tall gable of the south transept with its three lancet windows. The “fair steiple” was struck by lightning in 1809 and fell down
five years later
|A little known fact tells of the link between Kilwinning , it’s abbey and a great hero of Scottish Independence -|
| “For we fight, not for glory, nor for riches, nor for
but only and alone for freedom,
which no good man gives up but with his life”
|Stirring words, known throughout the world, of the letter from the Scottish
Assembly (comprising eight Earls and thirty-one Barons) to Pope John 22nd,
or the Declaration of Arbroath as it is better known and also the first great statement of nationhood in history. The man who penned it lies in a
vault beneath the ruins of the historic abbey of Kilwinning
The reference to Bernard Linton’s burial at Kilwinning comes in a reliable medieval source ... ‘The Isle of Man Chronicles’.
| The choice of Kilwinning
is not unexpected, the monks were of the Tyrinensian Order of The Benedictines, as were those of Arbroath so he would have visited here from
time to time.
But there is an even stronger link. On his retiral from the Chancellorship, he had been appointed Bishop of the Isles which then had as its base the vulnerable Scottish outpost of the Isle of Man and to where he made frequent trips from the port of Irvine. It is most likely that he died here or on one of his journeys making Kilwinning the most suitable place in status for his return and/or burial.
|Exactly where in the Abbey it is not stated, but under the present Heritage Centre is the most likely possibility as the North Tower was often the location of the Consistory Court and a place of special importance. Until about two hundred years ago various ranges of vaults beneath the abbey ruins were still partly accessible but with the rebuilding and extension of the Parish Church, no possible means of access is now discernible nor any indication of what other treasures may be there.|