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Priory of Saint Andrews

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The Priory of Saint Andrews priory was one of the great religious houses in Scotland and the metropolitan church in that country before the Reformation. Its origin is uncertain, although all agree that it must be very ancient. According to the "Registrum S. Andreae", the first founder was Angus, King of the (Picts 735-747), who gave to Bishop Regulus, who had brought to Scotland the relics of St. Andrew, meadows, fields, and other properties. The church was, perhaps from the beginning, administered by Culdees, who also had the right of electing the bishop. In 1144, however, at the request of King Alexander I, who may be called the second founder of the priory on account of his many donations to it, Robert, Prior of Scone, was made Bishop of St. Andrews. He brought with him some of his brother-canons regular whom he established in the priory. For some time the canons and the Culdees served the church together, but by order of the pope in 1147 the Culdees, who had previously been given the option to become canons and had refused, were removed and all their rights passed to the canons who from that moment till the Reformation formed the Cathedral Chapter.

When in 1297 Bishop Lamberton, who succeeded Bishop Fraser, was chosen by the canons without the intervention of the Culdees, as was done in the two previous elections, Cumyn, Provost of the Culdees, opposed the election and went to Rome. He pleaded his case before the pope in vain, and Lamberton was consecrated bishop in 1298. The Culdees, after this, disappear from St. Andrews altogether. The priory protected by bishops, kings, and noble families prospered, and like all the great monasteries it had cells or privies as its dependencies. These were: (1) Lochleven, formerly a house of Culdees, and given to the canons by Bishop Robert and King David; (2) Monymusk, where the Culdees became canons regular; (3) Isle of May, which Bishop Wishart bought from the monks of Reading and gave to the canons of St. Andrews, pleno jure; (4) Pittenweem, an old priory, which already existed in 1270; (5) Portmoak, founded in 838 for Culdees and given to St. Andrews by Bishop Roger. Kilrimont was made over to the canons by Bishop Robert, who also gave them the hospital "in susceptionem hospitum et peregrinorum". On account of his position as Superior of the Cathedral Chapter, the prior pro tempore had precedence of all the abbots in the kingdom. To the canons of St. Andrews the now famous university of that name owes its existence. It was founded by Prior Biset and his canons in 1408, and many of them lectured there. Some of the canons became bishops of St. Andrews or of other dioceses, and in other ways distinguished themselves for their piety or learning. Of Bishop Robert the chronicler tells us that he was a man of rare prudence, virtuous, and a scholar. In 1349, when the black plague made so many victims, Abbot Bower records the death of twenty-four canons of St. Andrews, who, as he says, were all "sufficienter litterati et morum conspicui". When in 1412 the new parish church was founded by the canons, the first incumbent was one of them, W. Romer, "vir multum laudabilis religiosus et benignus". Bishop Bell, returning from Rome, became a canon at St. Andrews, where he died in 1342. But evil days came for the priory when lay-priors or commendatories were introduced; relaxations and irregularities crept in, and the Reformation completed the work of destruction. Instigated by the fiery preaching of John Knox, his followers burnt down the cathedral and the priory. A few years ago the late Marquess of Bute purchased the remaining ruins with a view to restore them to Catholic use.


MARTINE, Reliquiae S. Andreae, or the state of the venerable, and Primatial See of St. Andrew's; FORDUN-BOWER, Scotichronicon (Edinburgh, 1759); GORDON, Monasticon (1875); History of Holyrod (Edinburgh).

About this page

APA citation. Allaria, A. (1912). Priory of Saint Andrews. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Allaria, Anthony. "Priory of Saint Andrews." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph E. O'Connor.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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