Duncan MacDougall established Ardchattan Priory in 1230 or 1231 for Valliscaulian monks. The order followed a strict form of monastic rule, with an emphasis on ascetic religious life. The monks depended on rents and tithes from endowments. Like other Valliscaulian houses, the church was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin and St John the Baptist.
In the 1400s and early 1500s the priory was expanded, with an extension to the monks’ choir and the construction of a new refectory.
Founded on politics
Ardchattan Priory was founded by Duncan MacDougall, Lord of Lorn and builder of Dunstaffnage Castle. He may have invited the Valliscaulians to Ardchattan to gain favour with the Scottish king Alexander II – the king had recently founded a monastery for the order at Pluscarden, near Elgin.
The MacDougalls dominated the priory for most of its active life. It wasn’t until 1506 that the last MacDougall prior, Eugenius (Eogan) was deposed.
Priory to private residence
Valliscaulian communities were small, with no more than 20 monks allowed. At Ardchattan numbers were often less than this. By 1538 there were just six monks in residence, and by the Reformation in 1560, numbers were down to three.
In 1602, Archibald Campbell, the son of Bishop John Campbell, acquired the priory and began to turn it into a private house. The old refectory is still the family dining room.
Collection of carvings
The MacDougall Cross is among the grave markers and carved stones on display. It was commissioned by Prior Eugenius MacDougall in 1500, and carved by John Ó Brolchán, one of an Irish stone-carving family who also carried out work at Iona Abbey. It is one of the few examples of West Highland carving recording the sculptor’s name. The cross depicts:
- A crucifixion scene
- The Virgin and Child