Crossraguel Abbey evolved from a small chapel that was founded on the site around 1215AD, when the Earl of Carrick granted lands and money to the monks of Paisley Abbey. The origins of the name are unclear, but it may refer to an early Christian cross - "the Cross of Riaghail" - which may have stood nearby. Alternatively, the name may be a corruption of "The Abbey of the Royal Cross".
Initially, the monks chose to exploit the lands for income, holding on to the balance of the cash grant. However, the grant had been made on the basis that a daughter house would be built at the site. The Earl of Carrick took the issue to an Episcopal Court in 1244AD, where the monks were forced to agree that a religious house would be founded at the site.
The Abbey was established under Cluniac monastic principles, with monks dispatched from Paisley to take residence. These monks were intended to be free from the interference of their mother house, although the abbot of Paisley was allowed a yearly visit to collect an annual payment. He appealed against this arrangement to the pope, but the pope upheld the decision of the Episcopal Court, and Crossraguel Abbey essentially secured its independence from Paisley.
Crossraguel Abbey was sacked in 1306AD during Scotland's Wars of Independence with England. The abbey was rebuilt on a much grander scale during the 14th and 15th Centuries. Crossraguel survived in this form until after the Reformation in 1560AD.
Today, Crossraguel Abbey is the best surviving example of a monastic precinct in Scotland. Despite having been plundered extensively for stone, most of the buildings survive in varying degrees of repair. The 15th Century chapter house still stands, along with the gatehouse and its distinctive tower. Unusual features include a dovecote, a free-standing tower house, and an enigmatic bull carving tucked away at the bottom of an exterior wall. Some have speculated that this pre-dates the abbey and is Pictish in origin.
Despite being more modest than some of the finer border abbeys, Crossraguel Abbey is - in my view - the finest monastic ruin in Scotland. Tucked way from the tourist trail in a picturesque corner of the west coast, this is a hidden gem that will well reward those who choose to visit it.