Pluscarden Abbey

Written by Chris Thornton | 28th of February 2024
Pluscarden Abbey

In Moray, North East Scotland, Pluscarden Abbey is a significant landmark in the region's religious and architectural history. This Benedictine monastery is a direct link to an era where monastic establishments played crucial roles in spiritual and community life. Beyond its impressive architecture, Pluscarden Abbey remains an active place of worship and monastic living. The abbey provides insight into Scotland's religious past and its continued legacy in the present.

The only Medieval monastery in Britain

The abbey is home to a community of Catholic Benedictine monks, making Pluscarden Abbey the only remaining medieval British monastery still in active use.

The importance of Pluscarden Abbey is multifaceted. It offers a tangible connection to historical events while also being a living institution that upholds traditions set centuries ago. Delving into its history provides a comprehensive understanding of its contribution to Scotland's religious and cultural landscape.

Located six miles south west of Elgin within the Black Burn Glen, Pluscarden Priory is a lovely place to visit on a nice day.

Abbey church
I wonder if this wing will be rebuilt one day.

My visit to Pluscarden Abbey

After visiting a few nearby sights, my mother and I visited Pluscarden, including Randolph's Leap and Duffus Castle.

Pulling up to the small car park near the entrance to the site, we parked and then walked past the entrance sign and on up to the abbey itself. The first thing I noticed was how unusually peaceful and serene the grounds of the Abbey are; it is no wonder the monks chose this location - perfect for their religious studies.

Pluscarden Abbey accommodation block.
I think this is the accommodation block.

As we followed the long arcing path past the trees at the entrance, we saw the abbey in its full glory, a large, impressive cathedral-like building. It gave me Hogwarts vibes from the Harry Potter series! My mother mentioned that as a child, she had visited the abbey when it was still in a ruinous state while on a school trip.

Walking around the abbey grounds, we discovered a cemetery for the monks and a few religious statues.

Pluscarden Cemetary
Pluscarden Cemetary.
 
Grave markers at Pluscarden.
Grave markers for monks who have passed away.
 
Wall mounted statue.
A lovely little stone carving mounted on a wall.
 
A statue of Jesus Christ, a place for quiet reflection.
Statue of Jesus within the grounds.

Parts of the abbey are publicly accessible, and the largest interior area (the North Transept) has a large and impressive stained glass window. We briefly spoke to a monk in a white robe who welcomed us and commented on my camera lens.

Stained Glass windows. Scottish churches
The light beamed through the stained glass windows.
 
Benedictine Priory
This area reminded me of an Errol Flynn Robin Hood film!
 
The interior of the Northern Transcept.
Tall ceilings and stained glass windows.
 
Religious idols.
Religious idols are found inside the abbey.

Finally, we visited the wonderful shop, which contains many handmade items by the monks, including Benet's Balm, a beeswax skin balm, postcards, tea towels, CDs and books. The shop also has seasonal honey available.

Our brief visit to Pluscarden Abbey was lovely and very calming, and it's easy to see the allure of the simple monk life.

Pluscarden gate.
A sealed gate to a nearby field.

A Brief Chronological History of Pluscarden Abbey

1075-1200 - Emergence of austere monasticism across Europe; when the Valliscaulian Order was active.

1205-6 - Viard, founder of the Valliscaulian Order, received consent from Pope Innocent III.

1230 - The religious house of "Pluscardyn" was founded by King Alexander II. John Byset of Lovat established Beauly Priory, and Duncan McDougall founds Ardchattan Priory at Loch Etive.

1437 - Walter Bower's Scotichronicon records the three Valliscaulian houses as Carthusian houses.

1429 - Establishment of the only Scottish Carthusian monastery in Perth.

1303 - First fire at the monastery, ascribed to Edward I of England.

1390 - Second fire at the monastery, caused by Alexander Stewart, 1st Earl of Buchan, also known as the Wolf of Badenoch.

1398 - Prior Thomas Fullonis resigned, and Prior Alexander (1398 – c.1417) was elected.

1337–1453 - Duration of the Hundred Year War, which strained connections with France.

1453 - John Bonally requested a merger of his monastery and Pluscarden. A Papal Bull issued by Nicholas V on the 12th of March 1453 joined the priories.

1461 - Liber Pluscardensis penned in Pluscarden at the behest of the Abbot of Dunfermline.

1506 - King James IV stayed at the priory.

1560 - Alexander Dunbar, one of the last priors before the Reformation, died.

1586 - The last monk, Thomas Ross, recorded at Pluscarden.

Pluscarden ruin drawing.
A drawing of the abbey ruin from 1803.

1897 - John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, bought Pluscarden and began restoration work, which halted in 1900 upon his death.

1943 - Lord Colum Crichton-Stuart gave Pluscarden to the Benedictine Prinknash Abbey.

1948 - The Benedictine community arrived at Pluscarden.

1966 - The priory became independent from Prinknash.

A photo of the Pluscarden Abbey ruin.
The abbey as seen in the early 1900s or possibly late 1800s. Picture from Boston Public Library.

1974 - Pluscarden achieved abbey status, and Rt Rev Dom Alfred Spencer became the 1st Abbot of Pluscarden.

1987 - Pluscarden accepted St. Mary's Monastery, Petersham, US, as a dependency.

1990 - Dom Anselm Atkinson of Pluscarden appointed Superior of St. Mary's.

1993 - The newly constructed east range opens.

2011 - Dom Anselm Atkinson was elected Abbot of Pluscarden on 9 August. His abbatial blessing took place on the 3rd of October.

Pluscarden Abbey, found in a secluded glen.
Pluscarden Abbey is a very impressive building.

Visitor Information

Opening hours:

4.30 am - 8.30 pm every day.
Visitors can attend Mass or any set of sung prayers.
Mass is held on weekdays at 9 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Sundays.

Address:

Pluscarden Abbey, Elgin, Morayshire, IV30 8UA, Scotland

Contact:

Website: 
Pluscarden Abbey Website
Email: Via contact forms on their website.
Telephone: 01343 890257

FAQs on Pluscarden Abbey

Here are a few frequently asked questions about Pluscarden Abbey:

How much does it cost to visit Pluscarden Abbey?

Visiting the abbey, including the limited interior areas, is free. The monks will accept donations, and it's worth checking out the lovely items in their shop.

How do I get to Pluscarden Abbey?

Pluscarden Abbey is most easily reached via Forres or Elgin in Moray.

From Elgin (6 miles):

  1. Leave Elgin on the B9101 on the aptly named Pluscarden Road, travelling southeast.

  2. Remain on this long undulating road, passing Pluscaden Village Hall on your left.

  3. Look out for a white sign marking a right turn to Pluscarden Abbey.

  4. You will cross a small bridge that spans the Black Burn stream.

  5. The entrance is on your left, but you can park just to the right.

From Forres (9.5 miles):

  1. Leave Forres on the B9010 travelling southeast.

  2. Pass through Rafford.

  3. Look for a left turn marked with a white sign to Pluscarden Abbey.

  4. Follow this road for some distance, and then look for another left turn, again marked by a white sign.

  5. Follow point 4 above from the Elgin directions.

Pluscarden Abbey on Google Maps
What3words: ///norms.retrain.should

How many monks are there at Pluscarden Abbey?

There are currently 21 monks at Pluscarden Abbey.

Is it possible to speak with the monks at Pluscarden Abbey?

The monks who walked the grounds did seem open to speaking with the public and were very chatty. It would probably be possible to arrange an official appointment if you contacted them.

Can you stay at Pluscarden Abbey?

Yes, it's possible to book a retreat at the abbey; there are separate accommodations for men and women. The retreats are free, but donations are graciously accepted.

Note that staying at Pluscarden is not just a unique accommodation option but more for spiritual retreats where you can participate in monastic life, including prayer, reading and chores! Maybe not the ideal holiday for many, but I have to say I am intrigued by the experience despite not being a believer in god.

Pluscarden accommodation.
I think staying at the abbey would be a fantastic experience.

Who is the abbot of Pluscarden Abbey?

Dom Anselm Atkinson was elected in 2011 as abbot of Pluscarden Abbey.

How many Benedictine abbeys are there in Scotland?

There are many ruins, but the only active abbey in the UK is Pluscarden, still inhabited by monks practising their religion as it was in the thirteenth century.

Key information on Pluscarden Abbey

  • Pluscarden Abbey is a religious house found in Moray, Scotland.

  • Benedictine monks inhabit the abbey.

  • The abbey was founded in 1230 by King Alexander II.

  • Visitors are welcome at the abbey and can tour the grounds and some interior areas.

  • The monks run a shop selling many fine items they have made.

  • It's possible to stay at the abbey by booking a retreat on their website.

  • The grounds of the abbey have a very restful atmosphere.

Visit the abbey today. Enjoy not only the beauty but the architecture too!
I would like to visit Pluscarden again soon.

Conclusion

If you are interested in religion, medieval buildings or just want to speak to a benedictine monk, Pluscarden Abbey is a lovely place to visit and not very far from Elgin, the largest town in Moray.

You can enjoy the beauty of the setting and architecture and learn about the monk's way of life.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

Claim Your Free 6 Day Travel Itinerary:

Simply enter your email and we'll send it your way!

Free Scotland travel itinerary

Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?


Comments:


Sonia
16th of November 2023 @ 17:05:44

Hi Chris, another interesting story from you. I visited Pluscarden many years ago and bought a lovely coffee set from their shop which I still have. It was Prinknash pottery but I had been unable to find any mention of it since - until I read this. Now I know... finally! It's such a peaceful place to visit so I recommend it. Thanks again