The local landowner, Sir John Bisset, invited the monks of the Valliscaulian order to settle next to a series of bends in the River Beauly about 1230. Religious life continued here for over 300 years, until the Reformation brought their quiet, cloistered lives to an abrupt end.
The Valliscaulians were a lesser known reformed Benedictine monastic order, founded towards the end of the 1100s by a Carthusian monk. They were a particularly austere order, and only 21 houses were ever founded. Scotland had three:
• Beauly Priory
• Ardchattan Priory, near Oban
• Pluscarden, near Elgin
The surviving abbey church takes the form of a cross: a three-bay choir to the east, a seven-bay nave to the west, and at their junction two flanking transepts to the north and south.
The entire building was laid out in a single operation, though the surviving structure shows architectural features built at different points during its time as a place of worship, such as:
• the Y-tracery windows of the 1200s lighting the presbytery
• three trefoiled windows lighting the monks’ choir
• the graceful west front, rebuilt in the 1500s by Abbot Robert Reid
The priory and its grounds preserve a diverse range of burial monuments, from impressive tombs of the 1400s to headstones of townspeople from the past 200 years. The grounds also feature several mature trees, including an ancient elm.
The church houses several funerary monuments, including one to Prior Alexander Mackenzie, who died in 1479. It can be found at the entrance to the south transept, though it now lacks its effigy. Another, dedicated to Kenneth Mackenzie, can be found in the north transept and still has its effigy intact.