With a history dating back to the 6th century and a strong claim to the title ‘cradle of the Stewart dynasty’, Paisley Abbey is one of the most historically important churches in Scotland.
A Celtic church was established on the site in the 6th century by St Mirin who introduced Christianity to this part of Scotland. Around six centuries later in 1163, a priory was founded here with thirteen English monks. Almost 80 years later the priory became an abbey, dedicated among others to St Mirin.
It is believed that Robert II of Scotland was born here in 1316. His father Walter, a High Steward of Scotland, had married Marjory, daughter of Robert the Bruce. Young Robert ascended the Scottish throne in 1328, thus founding the Stewart dynasty.
Two centuries later, the abbey’s central tower collapsed and destroyed part of the church which was walled off. Soon after, the monastery was disbanded during the Scottish Reformation and the buildings given to the Hamilton family. The surviving part of the building became Paisley’s parish church. Nothing changed until the late 19th century when a major restoration programme was launched and completed in 1928.
Among the oldest parts of the abbey is the Palace of Paisley (nowadays ‘Place of Paisley’), the only relic of the monastery, which had been sold to the Hamilton family and then to the Cochranes, later falling into disrepair. It was bought back by the Abbey in 1904 and now houses a shop, café and rehearsal rooms.The St Mirin Chapel celebrates the life of the founding saint with a medieval altarpiece showing scenes from his life. Don’t miss the Barochan Cross – a superb Celtic cross that is over 1000 years old, and was relocated from Houston in Renfrewshire.
Although no medieval stained glass survives, there is a fine collection including the Great East Window in the choir (designed by Strachan), the Wallace Memorial Window (1873), the Burne Jones window and the James Shaw Memorial Window (installed in 1989). John Clark’s modern, vibrant design commemorates the life of Shaw, Vice Chairman of the Society of Friends, using techniques dating from the 14th century.