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Saddell Abbey

A Scheduled Monument in South Kintyre, Argyll and Bute

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Latitude: 55.5318 / 55°31'54"N

Longitude: -5.5119 / 5°30'42"W

OS Eastings: 178472

OS Northings: 632056

OS Grid: NR784320

Mapcode National: GBR DGS2.S25

Mapcode Global: WH0LT.97J2

Entry Name: Saddell Abbey

Scheduled Date: 8 April 1975

Last Amended: 27 January 2005

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3645

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: abbey

Location: Saddell and Skipness

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: South Kintyre

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument comprises the fragmentary remains of the Cistercian Saddell Abbey, which lie on a slightly raised promontory immediately above the confluence of Saddell Water and Allt nam Manach. The proximity of the conventual buildings to the latter stream suggest that it was used for drainage purposes. The monument is being rescheduled better to define the extent of the scheduled area, to increase the area up to the bank of the river, and to exclude the footprint of the house known as Allt Nam Manach.

The buildings originally consisted of a church, with an aisleless nave and choir and north and south transepts, together with three main ranges of conventual buildings grouped around a cloister on the south side of the church. Only the presbytery and the north transept of the church, and part of the south claustral range, survive as standing remains. All the exposed masonry is constructed of random rubble laid in lime mortar.

The presbytery measures 7.5m in length and 5.5m in width within walls some 0.9m in thickness. Part of the south wall rises to a height of 4.6m but elsewhere the walls are reduced to a height of between 0.9m and 1.5m above the existing ground-level.

The surviving, north, transept measures 7.2m in length by about 6.1m in width within walls some 1.2m thick. Apart from the remains of a large window-opening in the north gable, there appear to have been two smaller windows in the east wall. The discrepancy in thickness between the walls of the presbytery and transept, coupled with the fact that the east wall of the transept abuts the north wall of the presbytery, indicates that the transept is an addition.

Of the claustral buildings only the central portion of the south range now survives. This structure, which probably represents the undercroft of the refectory, measures about 7m E/W by 4.6m transversely within walls some 1.1m thick. There are the remains of a small deeply-splayed window in the south wall and of opposed entrance doorways at the east end, where a transverse wall has been built at a comparatively recent period. The north doorway is represented by its west jamb and draw-bar socket, together with part of the arch-springing. The south doorway retains its west jamb and draw-bar socket. The building was used as a burial-place in the post-Reformation period.

What little is known of the history of Saddell Abbey comes largely from a 16th-century confirmation charter of a number of early writs. The founder is usually said to have been Reginald, son of Somerled, who succeeded his father in the lordship of Kintyre in 1164 and died in 1207. A 13th-century list of Cistercian houses, however, which in other respects seems to be reliable, attributes the foundation to the year 1160, when the founder would presumably be Somerled. The character of Romanesque ornament on some fragments preserved in Campbeltown Museum suggests that building operations began well before the end of the 12th century. A late 14th-century document in the Vatican archives shows that Saddell was a daughter house of Mellifont, in the diocese of Armagh, itself founded in about 1142. The community was probably small in numbers and the recorded endowments are not extensive. Most of the property held was in Kintyre, but the monastery also had possessions in Gigha, Knapdale, Carrick and Arran.

In or before 1507 James IV proposed that the Abbey should be united to the bishopric of Argyll, claiming that the place had seen no monastic life within living memory. This step having been taken, the lands of Saddell were erected into a free barony and David Hamilton, Bishop of Argyll, began the construction of a castle on a site adjacent to the monastery. Considerable remains of the abbey buildings seem to have survived until about 1770, when they were extensively quarried to provide building materials for a court of offices at Saddell Castle and for other estate purposes.

Fourteen graves slabs, dating to the 14th to early 16th century, are as described in the Royal Commission Argyll Inventory Vol 1 (1971), 296, nos 2 to 15. Numbers 2 to 13 are in the recently constructed stone shelter along with a recently discovered stone of blonde sandstone which was uncovered during conservation works. The latter is a 14th-century graveslab, broken into two pieces (50cm long by 49cm wide and 82cm long and 46cm wide, and 0.15m thick). There is a relief figure of a warrior carrying a spear, shown standing in profile within a niche centrally placed on the stone. Underneath the warrior figure are the remains of a sword on a stepped base. There are traces of foliate and interlace design on the stone but it is very weathered and the details could not be deciphered.

The area to be scheduled is an irregular area with maximum dimensions 212m E/W by 82m N/S, as marked in red on the accompanying map. It includes the remains of the abbey and the graveyard and the collection of stones in the stone shelter, along with an area within which archaeology associated with the abbey and the graveyard might be expected to survive. An area is marked in red within the scheduled boundary, showing the exclusion of the footprint of the house named Allt Nam Manach. Also exlcuded from scheduling are the stone shelter for the stones; the boundary walls; any burial lairs within the graveyard which are still in active use; the top 30cm of all paths and tracks; and the top 30cm of deposits of the area outside the graveyard boundary.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance as the only Cistercian abbey to be founded from Ireland, and for its connections with Somerled, first Lord of the Isles. The archaeological remains have the potential to provide important information about the ecclesiastical architecture and monastic life of a small 12th-century Cistercian abbey. The site is also important for its outstanding collection of 14th to early 16th-century carved stones which have the potential to contribute to our understanding of ecclesiastical organisation, funerary practices and the production of monumental sculpture in western Scotland in the medieval period.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record this monument as NR73SE 1.


Alpin MacGregor A 1947, 'Unfamiliar Kintyre', COUNTRY LIFE, 19 September 1947, 572-4.

Baker F 2002, 'Saddell Abbey, Argyll and Bute (Saddell and Skipness parish), watching brief', DISCOVERY EXCAV SCOT 3, 23-24.

Brown A L 1969, 'The Cistercian abbey of Saddell, Kintyre', INNES REV, 20, 2.

Johnstone L H 2000, 'Saddell Abbey: Saddell water supply, Argyll and Bute (Saddell & Skipness parish), watching brief', DISCOVERY EXCAV SCOTland, 18.

McKerral A 1954, 'A chronology of the Abbey and Castle of Saddell, Kintyre', PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 86, 117.

O'Sullivan J 1997, 'Saddell Abbey (Saddell & Skipness parish), building and topographic survey', DISCOVERY EXCAV SCOT 23.


Ritchie J N G and Harman M 1996, ARGYLL AND THE WESTERN ISLES, Exploring Scotland's Heritage series, Edinburgh, 19, 44, 67, 75, 121-2, 149.

Siggins G 1996, 'Saddell Abbey in Kintyre', HISTORIC ARGYLL, 1, 30.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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