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The Monasteries ~

The 2 most celebrated Orders were the Augustinian canons, who followed the rule of St Augustine; and the Benedictine Monks, who adopted that of St Benedict.  Each of these embraced several species, whose names were derived from their founder, the place where they took their rise, their dress, or some other circumstance. The Augustinians comprehended the Regular Canons of St Augustine, the Premonstratensians, the Trinitarians or Red Friars, the Dominicans or Black Friars, and the Canons of St Anthony. The Benedictines included those of Marmoutier, styled Black Monks; of Cluny; and of Tiron ; the Cistercians, or White Monks ; and the Monks of Vallis-caulium. There were also the Carmelites, or White Friars ; the Franciscans, or Grey Friars ; the Carthusians, and  others. Of these numerous Orders, most had ample endowments for their maintenance. Such were termed Rented Religious. The Dominicans, Carmelites, and Franciscans, who subsisted chiefly on alms, were called Mendicant or Begging Friars. The greater houses were styled Abbeys; the lesser Priories : presided over by an Abbot and Prior respectively.

Trinitarians, Blackfriars, Carmelites and Greyfriars

The 1st mention of Holy Trinity was in 1273 when Friar Laurence of Dalery and members of Holy Trinity were witnesses to the confirmation charter of the grant of land called the 'madderyard in the Green' to the Carmelites by Thomas le Bouer, Burgess of Aberdeen. Since this was a confirmation grant, it was likely that the original gift was given some years prior to 1273 and that Holy Trinity had been established for some time (if Holy Trinity were indeed witnesses to the original charter, as well as to the later confirmation charter).

It has also been claimed that the Trinitarian Friary was established some time between 1186 x 1214. However, the early date of 1186 also seems unlikely as the order of Trinitarians were not founded until late 1189. If the supposed story of two friars of the order being sent to Scotland by Innocent III in order to establish a house in Aberdeen is to be believed, it was likely that the friary was founded between 1198 and 1216.

The house was said to be founded by King William I and Queen Ermegard in order for the Trinitarians to support poor pilgrims and to help ransom captives in the Holy Land. (This would not be surprising as the 3rd Crusade began in c. 1187 and ended in c. 1197). An unreliable date of c. 1211 has been suggested as its date of foundation because King William was said to have gifted his royal residence to the Friary at this time. In addition, he also granted the lands of Banchory, Coway, Merelley with fishing on the Dee and Don, and the Mills of Skerthar, Rothenny, Tullifully and Manimuch in the same year. If the date of foundation can be placed at c. 1211 with the gift of King William and the coming of the Friars sent by Innocent III, this would make Holy Trinity the earliest establishment of a Friary in Aberdeen.

Land, however, was used not only for the maintenance of the brothers of the house, but could also be leased out for revenues. These included lands in the Green, Shiprow, Guestrow, Fittie, Ferryhill, Castlehill, the Netherkirkgate, Gallowgate and Huxter Raw - which were given by a number of benefactors.

There are no visible remains of the Friary and from what information that we have, we know that the buildings of the Friary and Chapel were restored and a gateway built for the use of the Trades Hospital. The Gateway was taken down some time during the 1840s and 1850s when the Hospital and Chapel were removed to make way for the building of Guild Street and Exchange Street. In 1857 when removing the last of the buildings, human remains, small finds and extensive foundations were found which were believed to relate to the Friary and possibly King Williams's Palace (Bain, Incorporated Trades, 1745).


Trinitarians or Redfriars ~ 1211

These were mendicant friars, so named because they put themselves under the patronage of the Holy Trinity.

The object of their Order was the rescue of captives from the pirates of Morocco, and their official designation was: - " Ordo Sanctae Trinitatis et Captoruin," the Order of the Holy Trinity and of the Captives. The Order was instituted by Pope Innocent III. in 1197 under the rule of the Austin Friars. They wore a white robe, on the breast of which there was a cross with four equal swallow-tailed arms, divided longitudinally into two halves, alternately red and blue. They collected money to ransom captives taken by Barbary and Morocco pirates, and probably they had better means than other persons of knowing when and where there were captives from near their Monasteries. The Trinitarians were brought to Aberdeen by William the Lion in 1211, and settled close to what was the harbour at the time. The place assigned to the Trinitarians was on the west side of Market Street and on the north side of Guild Street, then the bed of the Denburn. The tide at that time came far up the burn, and Gordon's chart shows a creek or small harbour in the angle between Market Street and Trinity Quay, faced with a wall. It is usually said that King William gave the Trinitarians a residence which he occupied himself when he came to Aberdeen. It appears, however, that he had a residence in Aberdeen after the settlement of the Trinitarians. The Church of the Monastery was a long building, probably exactly where the later but now disused Trinity Church stands, and west of it there was a large garden or enclosure surrounded by a wall. The houses of the Trinitarians were denominated hospitals, and the title of one of the missing charters in Robertson's " Index ": - "Carta Hospitalis de Aberden," Charter of the Hospital of Aberden, probably refers to a gift of land to Trinity Friars Monastery in Aberdeen in 1296. It would have been fatal to their usefulness to accumulate wealth, but they received some bequests of annuities. One was a grant of ten merks annually from the island of Stroma, lying off John o' Groat's House. This was given by the Earl of Caithness, and it seems likely that this bequest had been given in gratitude for the services of the Trinitarians to some Orkney captives.

The Trinitarians held on their beneficent way till the last days of 1559, when their convent was attacked by an armed rabble from Angus and Mearns. The first steps taken by the aggressors were to strip the church of its crosses, sacred symbols and ornaments, and to expel the priests. Friar Francis, who may have offered some resistance, was killed and his body was thrown into a fire likely made with the furniture of the Church and the Monastery. The Town Council prevented the destruction of the Monastery and the Church till they and all the properties and rents of the Trinitarians were declared to belong to the Crown. The Church, however, seems to have been used for divine worship after the Reformation. An entry in the Kirk and Bridge Accounts in 1600 says: -  "Item payt to Sande Forbes for ane breid fiag steyu whereoff' is maid ane brig over the burne besyd the vnermyll (nether mill) where the minister passes" (Chartulary of St Nicholas 11. 398).  The Trinity Monastery and all its belongings were bought by Dr William Guild, one of the town's ministers, and presented by him in 1633 to the Incorporated Trades. When the Church of St Nicholas became ruinous and was deserted by its congregation they were accommodated in Trinity Church till the West Church was built. It continued, however, to be used as a church, and having itself become ruinous it was taken down in 1794 and rebuilt. In 1606 the Town Council granted a Shipbuilder permission to build a ship in Trinity Churchyard, then lying unenclosed. It had been a very convenient spot for getting the ship into the water after she was built. In making excavations in 1906 for the foundation of a house at the corner of Market Street a coffin was met with in one place and some of the timbers of a ship in another. The Trinity Convent is commemorated by the name Trinity Quay, which once extended up Guild Street as far as the Convent ground had gone.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

i         Music School
k        Correction House Wynd or Lane
l         Correction House
m       Towns Hospital
n        Aedies Wynd
o        Bow Bridge
p        The Greene or Bow Bridge Street
q        The Crofts or Tradesmens Hospital
r         The Tarnty Mill
t         Midd Mill in the Green
u        Nether Kirk Gate Porte
x        The Nether Kirk Gate
11      Shiprow Porte
12      Saint Katherine's Hill
Carmelite and Trinitarian religious orders established Friaries to the south of the Green and near Guild Street by the 13th century, centred on impressive stone built buildings. The strategic position of the Green close to the developing harbour and near one of the town “ports” which controlled trade, ensured that the area continued to be closely associated with trading.

The Trinitarians or Redfriars were one of Four Orders of Friars in medieval Aberdeen, two of which were based in the Green (the other being the Carmelites, or Whitefriars.  Friars are members of a religious order who live by strict rules in large urban populations in order to minister to the needs of the poor. The Redfriars’ primary duty was to raise money to pay ransoms demanded on Christians taken hostage either on pilgrimage, trade or crusade to the Holy Land. It has been said that their Friary was founded in 1211 by King William the Lion, who gifted to them his ‘palace’ in the Green. Whilst there is no evidence to back this up it is quite likely that the Redfriars had been in the Green since the 13th century.  Although Friars and Friaries were not supposed to own land or be wealthy, they did establish very close relations with some of the prominent and important families in the town, including the powerful Menzies of Pitfodels family who dominated Burgh politics from the 15th century onwards. By these means the Trinitarians did become a rich institution with considerable interest in lands in and around Aberdeen, in particular in the Ferryhill area. The Friary came to an end at the Reformation, which reached Aberdeen in January 1560. The City Council’s records reveal that mobs came into the town from Angus and Mearns and attacked the Friary.  It is said that the Friary was burned to the ground and that one Friar died during the attack. A portrait of the alleged martyr, with the inscription ‘Saint Francis of Aberdeen.  Martyred, 4th December, 1559’ survives in a church in Majorca. There is no evidence to back this story up and it seems that the Reformation in Aberdeen was a largely peaceful affair. There is no record of any deaths as a direct result. The Friary buildings were still standing in 1661, when the first map of the town was drawn and no later documents show that the Friary had been burned. The fate of the individual Friars is less clear: many of them were simply pensioned off by the government, some converted to Protestantism and some remained Catholic but  left for the Continent

The Old Trades Hall in the Shiprow, Aberdeen. c.1850 This area, at the southern end of the Shiprow, was the site of the Monastery of the Trinity Friars until 1559 when it was burnt to the ground by Protestant Reformers. In 1631, having purchased the lands, Dr William Guild, gifted their old chapel and other buildings to be a hospital and meeting house for the seven Aberdeen Incorporated Trades. These were Hammermen, Bakers, Wrights and Coopers, Tailors, Shoemakers, Weavers, Fleshers. William Guild was one of Aberdeen's ministers and afterwards became Principal of Kings College. The Chapel became an Episcopal Church until 1794 when it was removed . The Church was vacated in 1843, when the congregation joined the Free Church, and was then sold and eventually became the Alhambra Music Hall until 1902. On the right was the Trades or Trinity Hall - often known as the Trinity Hall. It had a projecting wing tower and corbelled angle turret, and was demolished around 1857 for Railway development. The Trades had already moved into their new premises Trinity Hall in Union Street in 1846.

The old church of the Redfriars was pulled down in the 1790s and replaced by a new one. At the end of 1793 the Town Council appointed Reverend George Gordon to the vacant East Church of St Nicholas. Many of the parishioners protested vigorously about both the choice of candidate and the mode of election. When they were ignored they felt called upon to leave the congregation and set up their own place of worship.  The church, along with a session house and manse, was built at a total cost of £2000,  raised almost entirely through the efforts of those who had walked out of the East Church of St Nicholas. On Sunday 27 April 1794, the church was opened for public worship by Dr Cruden, minister of St Fittick’s Church at the Bay of Nigg. The first minister of the church was the Reverend Robert Doig. By 1825, the weekly attendance averaged about 1200, with a membership, which exceeded 1400, scattered in all parts of the city. The minister at that time, the Reverend David Simpson, was highly respected and had a tendency to take strong attitudes on certain subjects. It was said of him that he was a ‘ringleader among the teetotallers who infest the town’.  Simpson’s sympathies lay very clearly with the Disruption in 1843, when 450 ministers of the Church of Scotland broke away to form the Free Church of Scotland, the main contention being over the right of a wealthy patron to appoint the minister of his choice to a church. After the formation of the Free Church Mr Simpson preached his last sermon at Trinity Church on 11 June 1843, which incited the congregation to leave with him: almost all of them did. Ultimately the church buildings were sold in 1881, converted and opened as the Alhambra Music Hall, a sort of rival to the nearby Her Majesty’s later Tivoli theatre. Not only was the Alhambra one of several locations in Aberdeen where the public could experience the delights of the electro-graphic cinematograph, but it was also the winter quarters for the small zoo opened by John Sinclair in 1906, which boasted the ‘finest collection of lions, bears, wolves and hyenas in the north of Scotland’.

Tarnty Gate

In 1606 the Town Council granted a shipbuilder permission to build a ship in Trinity Churchyard, then lying unenclosed. It had been a very convenient spot for getting the ship into the water after she was built. In making excavations in 1906 for the foundation of a house at the corner of Market Street a coffin was met with in one place and some of the timbers of a ship in another. The Trinity Convent is commemorated by the name Trinity Quay, which once extended up Guild Street as far as the convent ground had gone.

The Trinity Monastery and all its belongings were bought by Dr William Guild, one of the town's ministers, and presented by him in 1633 to the Incorporated Trades. When the Church of St Nicholas became ruinous and was deserted by its congregation they were accommodated in Trinity Church till the West Church was built. It continued, however, to be used as a church, and having itself become ruinous it was taken down in 1794 and rebuilt.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661


The Templars

To King David also is ascribed the introduction into Scotland of the Military Orders - the Templars and Knights of St John - instituted for the defence of the Temple of Jerusalem against the infidels, and for the entertainment of pilgrims.  The principal house of the former order was at Temple in Midlothian, and that of the latter at Torphichen. The Templars were suppressed by the Pope in 1312, and their possessions, which were numerous in this country, were bestowed on the Knights of St John The Pope conferred on the Templars the right to wear a red cross on their white mantles, which symbolised their willingness to suffer martyrdom in defending the Holy Land against the infidel.

The Templars were 1 of 3 Religious Military Orders founded after the First Crusade, (1096-99). They designated themselves the: -  "Poor Company of Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon." The main design of the Institution of the Order was the armed protection of the pilgrims who flocked to Jerusalem after the 1st Crusade to visit the tomb of Christ and other holy places. After the fall of Jerusalem a Latin Kingdom was established, with Godfrey as King and a Mosque built on the site of Solomon's Temple on Mount Moriah for his palace. This Mosque was usually called the Temple of Solomon by the Christians in Jerusalem, and as quarters in it were given to the new Order, they were styled the Templars. The Order consisted of Knights, Chaplains, and men-at-arms. The Knights wore white mantles, and the Chaplains and Soldiers black or dark brown. All were distinguished by a red cross sewn on their mantles. The Headquarters of the Order were at the seaport of Acre for the East and at Paris for the West. As they did no productive work the maintenance of the Order depended on the liberality of Christendom. The affairs of the Order were directed by a Grandmaster, under whom were officers called Preceptors or Commanders. There is no doubt that Scotland had a Preceptor, and under him there were local agencies.



Money flowed into the coffers of the Order freely, and the Templars soon had property in every country in Christendom. Sympathisers with the purpose of the Order bequeathed sums of money or annual payments from houses and lands. In Kincardine the Barony of Maryculter belonged to the Templars, and the Castleton in Durris was Templar land. The names of many places in Aberdeen show that they had once belonged to the Knights of the Temple. There is a Temple feu in Turriff, a Templand in Auchterless and another in Forgue, and similar names are frequent in the county. In the town the Knights drew feu-duties and rents from many houses.

Kennedy's " Annals " says that a branch of the Templars was established in Aberdeen and had a Convent and a Church situated at the east end of the Castlegate, in the lane which was formerly called Skipper Scott's Close, and Dr Alexander Walker believed that the Catholic Chapel of Justice Street had been built upon the site of the Templars' Church.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

Parson James Gordon says in 1661 : —
"Upon the north side of the Castlegate, among the gardens, there is to be seen a certaine obscure and scarcelie now discernible mine or foundatione of a small building overgrowne with briers and thorns, which sumtyme belongit to the Friers or Reed Freers Templar. No farther account can be givne theroff, for at this tyme the very mines are almost ruinated."


Gordon's chart of Aberdeen shows the Templars' Place as an enclosure near the north end of the gardens about 120 yards from the north-east corner of the Castlesgate. It will be seen that Gordon makes no mention of a Church; and Kennedy had no other ground for his statement than Gordon's. But if this spot had been a Templar Agency there can be no doubt that there had been a Chapel there also, for the Templars were a Religious as well as a Military Order, and it was the Chaplains who stirred up the people to contribute to its maintenance. Their wealth and military prowess led them to engage in war, the practice of the Chaplains of hearing the confessions of persons outside their own Order made enemies to them of the Franciscans and Dominicans, and the Knights Hospitallers were jealous of their success and influence.

They took the side of the Pope in a quarrel with Philip IV. of France, and he resolved to crush them. He accused them of heresies and heinous crimes which it now seems impossible to believe they committed ; but they were found guilty, and the Order was suppressed in France in 1312, and its property was transferred to the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St John. At the Reformation their property in Scotland fell to the Crown, and the lands of the Order were erected into a barony by Queen Mary in favour of Sir James Sandilands of Torphichen, the last Preceptor or Commander of the Order in Scotland; and the detached lands and houses once belonging to the Templars were soon disposed of.

1789 Survey Map - Alexander Milne

The Mauchlin Tower Site of the Red Friars Monastry - Knights Templar is halfway down Justice Street and is recorded on Milnes map of 1789.


THE DOMINICANS - Blackfriars ~ 1221
St Dominic, the founder of this Order of Friars, was born in 1170 in Spain. He did not come into public notice till he was 25 years of age and, after ten years at the University of Salamanca, had become a canon in a Cathedral. He made himself distinguished by the fervour of his preaching and the severity of his asceticism. Having gone on an embassy to Denmark he was so impressed by the corruption of the clergy and the declension of the people from the faith of the Church that in 1216 he founded an Order of Mendicant Friars devoted to preaching and practising poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Order adopted for a distinguishing dress a white robe and hood when within their Cloister, with a black cloak and hood over it when they went outside their gates; and hence they were popularly called the Black Friars. The Order speedily extended over Christendom. Its preachers and teachers became famous, and from its schools sprang Popes, Cardinals, and learned Doctors, among the latter Thomas Aquinas. John Adam, Prior of the Order in Aberdeen, was the first who took the degree of Doctor of Divinity in King's College.

The Dominicans were brought to Aberdeen by Alexander II. (1214-49), who gave them a large piece of ground with a house on it, lying between Schoolhill and the Loch. The west boundary of their ground extended to the back of the houses in Blackfriars Street, and the east approached Harriet Street. Within this area they built a "very splendid" Monastery and Church. They had got a supply of water from a deep well. In the course of excavations made in 1833 some remains of the Monastery were found, from which it appeared that the front was 60 ft long and faced the south. Among the ruins there was found a gold ring and also a small hollow silver heart-shaped ornament, with a ring for suspending it from the neck. It fell into the possession of Mr George Melvin, one of the masters of Gordon's Hospital and afterwards schoolmaster of Tarves. It was bequeathed by him to the Parish, and it is now in Tarves Museum. It measures with the ring an inch and a half in length and an inch in width.

On or before 1230 AD, King Alexander II gifted to the order of Blackfriars in Aberdeen what had formerly been his 'Palace' and Gardens.  This was situated approximately where the Robert Gordon's College and the Art Gallery now are on the north side of Schoolhill Blackfriars Street today records the gift and situation.  By 1338 the Blackfriars also owned substantial land and property in the Castlegate.

The Monastery and the Church were dedicated to John the Baptist, and the small knoll at the east side of Schoolhill Station is called St John's Hill on Gordon's chart. The Brethren received in 1397 a gift of land at the Boat of Kintore from John Keith for religious services for him and his relations. Kings of Scotland and private citizens in Aberdeen made gifts of crofts and houses and annuities to them. They were patronised by the Keiths, Earls Marischal, and they had an annuity of £10 from the Barony of Dunnottar for soul masses for members of the family, who most probably were buried within the Church of the Monastery. The silver heart had been an ornament worn by one of the ladies of the Keith family. The Friary prospered and became wealthy. This led to luxury and indulgence ; but some reforms were made in the Priorate of John Adams (1503-08).

Of Aberdeen's religious houses at the reformation, only the Monastery of the Dominicans had no separate church.  The Blackfriars owned land at Kintore, Banchory & Devenick and Dunnottar as well as the Castlegate and other town property.  They became dissolute until Friar John Adam, later Principal of the Order of Scotland and the first graduate in theology of King's College, took them in hand in 1503.  The Monastery, in ancient times, was a place of sepulchre of the family of the Earls of Marischal who were their chief patrons.  They prospered in Aberdeen until the Reformation when on 4th June 1560 the reforming invaders from Angus looted the buildings and in 1587 all of their properties were granted to George Keith, 5th Earl of Marischal, the benefactor of Aberdeen's Marischal College.  

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

The Dominicans devoted their learning, eloquence, and energy to the reformation of the Catholic Church from the Conservative point of view. Hence their order was particularly obnoxious to the Scotch Protestant Reformers, and one of the first acts of violence in the Reformation was the destruction of their Monastery at Perth in 1559. In the last days of that year the interiors of the Church and Monastery in Aberdeen were plundered and destroyed, and the inmates were expelled. The Town Council took possession of the buildings in the interests of education and religion and retained them till the Crown disposed of them in 1565-6, along with the other property of the Order. After passing through various hands they came into the possession of George, Earl Marischal, in 1587, and in 1593 he made them over as an endowment to the New College and University which he founded in the Greyfriars Monastery. From a Crown charter granted to the Earl in 1592 ("Records of Marischal College," I. 4-7) we see that the place of the Blackfriars then consisted of three portions, namely, the monastery and church [with its cemetery] and other subsidiary buildings - barn, kiln, and pigeon-house, with garden and orchard; an incroft lying to the west of the Monastery and included within the same walls; and the yard croft, lying between the wall on the south and the Loch on the north. These parts are shown on Gordon's chart, 1661. When the Monks were expelled in January, 1560, Friar Abercromby took with him the writings connected with the properties of the Order, and they were not recovered till 1617. The University had to get decrees in court against the numerous occupants of the properties before it could establish its rights and get payment of rents. In 1732 the University feued the Blackfriars property between the Schoolhill and the Loch to the Town Council, to be the site of Gordon's Hospital, and in 1883 a part of the hospital ground was parted with to the Town Council, for the site of an Art Gallery which was opened in 1884.


THE CARMELITES  ~ 1273
The Carmelites are one of the Four Orders of Mendicant Friars. They took their name from Mount Carmel, and they claim that their Order was founded by Elijah the prophet, and settled by him upon the mount. Several early Popes allowed this claim, but it is not admitted now by anyone outside their ranks. It is known that in 1185 there were Monks of some sort on Mount Carmel, and Albert, Patriarch of Constantinople, recognised them and gave them rules for their conduct in 1209, and these rules were sanctioned by Pope Honorius in 1126. Twelve years later they were driven away from Carmel, and some of them came to England with returning Crusaders. Their first Monastery in England was at Alnwick, founded in 1240 (Dugdale's "Monasticon").

Carmelites or Whitefriars
The Carmelites, or Whitefriars, arrived in the Green in 1273. Over the 300 years that the Carmelites resided here they built up close connections with the townspeople. This meant that hundreds of people left money, personal belongings and land to the friars as tokens of their gratitude to and love for the community. The community would never have been particularly large: perhaps 6 friars at the most at any given time. By the 15th and 16th centuries the friars were involved not only with the community of the Burgh but were also involved in teaching at King’s College.  At the Reformation of early 1560 their buildings were heavily robbed and documentary evidence suggests that many accessible items of stone, slate and timber were removed for re-use.  However, archaeological excavations in the 1980s and 1990s revealed substantial portions of the Friary Church foundations as well as the west range of the Cloister where the friars lived, worked and studied. Parts of the lead-piped Friary water
supply were also recovered along with numerous artefacts, fragments of painted and stained window glass, roof furniture, glazed floor tiles and book-cover decorations, which help to recreate a picture of how the friary looked and functioned.  Personal items such as brooches, buckles, beads, and a bracelet were found mainly in association with the skeletons of over 200 individuals, Friars and locals alike, who had been buried within the church and graveyard between the late 13th century and the Reformation. The site passed through various different owners and eventually came into the possession of Marischal College. Until the 18th century the College leased the land out, initially as a market garden before they laid the modern pattern of streets across the site in the late 18th century. The outline of the western end of the Carmelite Friary church is marked out in the car park off Rennie’s Wynd where there is also a small information panel.

It is asserted that they were settled in Aberdeen by Alexander 11. (1214-49), but there is no evidence that the Carmelites came to Aberdeen till Alexander III. had been 20 years on the throne. "The Records of Marischal College" (I. 13-17) contains notices of many charters in favour of the Carmelites, the earliest of which is dated May 7, 1361 ; but it confirms an older charter dated 1274. The Carmelites and other Friars were then at the height of their popularity, and though poverty was one of their rules wealth came to' them unsought ; and from " The Records " we see that before the Information the Dominicans and the Carmelites had accumulated a vast amount of property in crofts, houses, and annual rents.  The Carmelite Place was bounded on the north by the Green; on the west by the Denburn, from which it was separated by a road, but the railway has now taken the place of the Denburn; on the south the Denburn or the Sea, according to the state of the tide, was the boundary; and on the east the boundary was a straight road nearly in the line of Rennie's Wynd. The north-east corner of the convent ground was a little to the west of the end of Back Wynd (See Gordon's Chart).

The Carmelites, a world-wide religious order of Friars originated as hermits on Mount Carmel in Palestine. This Friary was founded in 1273 and was occupied until the Reformation in 1560. It was one of the most important religious centres in Aberdeen. Marked out on the ground is part of the church. Also found was part of the west range which included a kitchen. The excavated buildings date to the 14th and 15th centuries and there was evidence of earlier timber structures. Finds included large quantities of painted and stained glass window glass, window leading, pottery, a lead water pipe, coins and a gaming die, which all added to the picture of life in this area of Aberdeen. Analysis of human skeletons provided valuable evidence about the medieval population of Aberdeen.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

The Carmelites when within their gate wore at first a white, but latterly a dark-brown dress. They put over it a white cloak with a hood when they went abroad, and hence they were called the Whitefriars. Probably they chose this colour because the Virgin Mary was reverenced as the patron of the Order, and white was regarded as emblematic of her purity. The Carmelites were begging Friars, and therefore they went about barefoot. One of their rules enjoined them to be silent and to labour with their hands. They had crofts across the Denburn, which they had cultivated themselves. On Gordon's Chart their place is shown as a rectangular block of ground lying north-west and south-east, about a hundred walking steps (211 feet) in length, and nearly as much in breadth. This would give an area of nearly an acre and a half to be cultivated by the brethren.

Carmelite Street & Carmelite Lane
This is the site of the Carmelite Friary excavated by the City of Aberdeen Archaeological Unit in 1981 and 1994. The Carmelites, a world-wide religious order of friars originated as hermits on Mount Carmel in Palestine. This friary was founded in 1273 and was occupied until the Reformation in 1560. It was one of the most important religious centres in Aberdeen. Marked out on the ground is part of the church. Also found was part of the west range which included a kitchen. The excavated buildings date to the 14th and 15th centuries and there was evidence of earlier timber structures. Finds included large quantities of painted and stained glass window glass, window leading, pottery, a lead water pipe, coins and a gaming die, which all added to the picture of life in this area of Aberdeen. Analysis of human skeletons provided valuable evidence about the medieval population of Aberdeen.


[Picture: 1028.---Franciscan, or Grey Friar]THE GREYFRIARS ~ 1461
The Greyfriars were a branch of the Religious Order called the Minorites, founded by St Francis of Assisi in Italy about 1209, The rule of guidance which he gave to his first few followers when he sent them out was : - " Go and preach, two and two. Preach patience ; tend the wounded ; relieve the distressed ; reclaim the erring." The original rule as to property would have made all the members of the Order pious beggars even for their daily bread and nightly bed. Poverty for the sake of God and Christ was strictly enjoined, and the holding of property was forbidden; but it was found necessary after a time to make some relaxations. This spirit of self-renunciation attracted multitudes to the Order, and its missionaries spread over all the world.  The Franciscans came to Aberdeen in 1461, about a 100 years before the Reformation. For a time they had no place of their own but went about through the town on errands of mercy, bareheaded and barefooted, wearing a long grey robe girt at the waist with a cord. Apparently they had been made welcome by the citizens on account of their labours of love and mercy. It could not have been long before 1469, for the principal agent in securing a footing for the Franciscans in Aberdeen, Brother John Richardson, died in 1469, and was buried, not in the convent church, but near the high altar in St Nicholas, as the Convent Church had not been finished then.

In 1469 Richard Vans, Laird of Menie (near Balmedie) and probably a son of ex-Provost John Vans, gave the Greyfriars a piece of land worth £100 on the east of Broadgate (Broad Street). The Convent and the Church had both been built in 1469, for the "Necrologia" of the Convent mentions in that year the death of Brother Walter Leydess, carpenter, who constructed the bell-tower and the cells for the brethren. The consent of the Crown, the Bishop of Aberdon, and the Pope was obtained, and the Friars were interred in the ground July 12, 1417. The property was burdened with an annuity of £26 8s for the support of a Chaplain at the altar of St John the Baptist in the Church of St Nicholas, and the Provost had the appointment of the Chaplain. In the instrument of sasine it is narrated that Provost Andrew Alanson, following the example of his predecessor,
Alexander Chalmers, renounced the annuity in favour of the Brethren. What seems to have taken place was that, by the consent of all parties concerned, the duties and emoluments pertaining to the altar of John the Baptist in St Nicholas Church had been transferred to an altar dedicated to the same saint in the church of the Greyfriars, and the "Necrologia" shows that there was an altar in it dedicated to him. If it had not been that the honour due to their founder required that the church and the high altar should be dedicated to the praise of St Francis, of all the saints in the calendar John the Baptist, the first monk, Milton's "glorious eremite," with his long robe of camel's hair, the leathern thong at the waist, his bare feet, and wild desert meat, was the worthiest to be the Patron Saint of the Greyfriars.

Marischal College stands in a Court, entered by an old arched gateway from the East Side of Broad Street, near its mergence into Gallowgate. The original buildings were those of a Franciscan Friary, suppressed at the Reformation. A new edifice, retaining the portions of the old buildings that were not destroyed by fire in 1639, was erected in 1676, and an extension superseding those portions was built in 1740-41. But the whole was unsubstantial and in constant need of repair: and in 1837-41 it was replaced on the same site by a very extensive and most imposing pile, designed by Archibald Simpson


The Reformation
By the middle of the 16th century the Monasteries had come to be regarded as hives of indolent drones and quite out of date. The people grudged the annual payments for houses and crofts, and they coveted the ground in possession of the Monasteries. When the men of Angus and Mearns came to Aberdeen on December 29, 1559, they got little or no help from the citizens in their attacks on the Monasteries and their Churches, but in a few days they came back reinforced and were joined by the citizens in plundering the Convents and Churches and expelling the Priests. On January 4, 1560, the Town Treasurer informed the Council that certain strangers and some neighbours and in-dwellers of the burgh had plundered the Convents of the Blackfriars and Whitefriars and had stripped the lead off their Churches, and that they were then commencing to demolish the buildings for the sake of the slates, timber and stones. He desired to have the opinion of the Council regarding the property of these Friars, and it was ordered that it should be taken possession of by the town. Having got rid of the Monks the people were content to let the buildings alone. For a few years the Government had too much on hand to attend to these Convents and the annual rents and payments seem not to have been collected. In February, 1565-6, the Crown set the property of the two convents on a 19 years' lease ; but the tenant had not been able to collect the rents or enter into possession, and he soon disposed of his tenant-rights. Various other tenants held the properties, but none of them for long, In 1587 they were purchased by George Keith, Earl Marischal, who probably knew how they could be made valuable. In 1593 he made over both the Blackfriars and the Whitefriars houses and lands and annual rents to his New College. In the Crown Charter which he obtained in 1592 the Carmelite property is thus described :- " All and whole the manor-place, with the houses, buildings, gardens, orchards, kilns, barns, and other houses and pigeon-houses of the Carmelite brethren occupied by William Menzies, senior, and his sub-tenants," which description implies that the place was much as it had been left by the Carmelites. By 1661 all the original buildings had been removed except the corn kiln, and the walls also had been broken down, so that people could cross the ground in any direction. In 1891, in digging the foundation of a house in Carmelite Street, the lowest stage of a buttress supposed to have been part of the Church was found, built of dressed sandstone, (" Chartulary of St Nicholas," II. 141).


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Last modified: 01/09/2013