Somewhere in the coastal Scottish town of Kilwinning is an eye-catching ruined abbey. The Kilwinning Abbey was a Tironensian Benedictine monastic community whose abbey was dedicated to Saint Winning and the Virgin Mary. Today it stands as one of the most eye-catching of the catholic ruins of Scotland standing as a testimony to the country's pre-Protestant past.

Scottland is a stunning destination - not only for its whiskey tours and vaunted Highlands but also for its architecture and ruins. In Scotland, one can find ancient Scottish Iron-age "skyscrapers" and forgotten Roman ruins.


What To Know About The Kilwinning Abbey

Nestled in the center of Kilwinning town are the remains of the peaceful home of Tironensian monks (named Tiron in the diocese of Chartres). The monks lived there for around 400 years and were first founded in the late 1100s.

  • Founded: In The 1100s
  • Colonized: The Abbey Was Colonized By Monks From The Kelso Abbey (Now Also in Ruins)
  • St. Winnin: The Man Who Is Thought To Have First Founded A Church There

The abbey was first colonized with monks from the also spectacular and foreboding Kelso Abbey. Kelso Abbey is one of Scotland’s great Borders abbeys.

Kilwinning means “the church of Winnin” - according to tradition, St. Winnin was a holy man who first set a church there way back in the 700s. The present abbey was established between 1162 and 1168. The earlier church is now completely gone save for parts of a carved stone cross dating to about 900. The stone cross artifact is housed in the North Ayrshire Heritage Centre at Saltcoats.

Many of the abbeys of the period were founded by monarchs, but Kilwinning stems from more humble beginnings and was not regally founded. Clues to this can be seen in the frequent changes in masonry types in the ruins.

Despite its humbler beginnings, many still regard Kilwinning as one of the grandest abbeys of Scotland.

Related: See The Best Roman Ruins In Scotland (North Of Hadrian's Wall)

"Casting Down" Of The Abbey

Like so many abbeys and monasteries around Great Britain, it was 'cast down' following the Protestant Reformation of 1560. Today its ruins stand as the roost for crows and as a testimony to the times gone by.

  • 'Cast Down': In The Wake of The Protestant Reformation of 1560

In 1513 the abbey was plundered by the Earls of Glencairn and Angus with it suffering more damage in the 1540s. But the real damage to the 400-year-old abbey came in 1559 when the Earl of Glencairn led a raid on the abbey.

In the raid, its vestments, books, statues, pictures, and other items were said to have been removed from the abbey and burned. The abbey is believed to have been assaulted in 1562 in an operation supposedly instigated by the famous Scottish Protestant reformer John Knox. By 1592 the abbey had largely been reduced to ruins although the nave was repaired and used as the parish kirk until 1775.

Most of the damage seen to the abbey today is more the product of neglect and abandonment with the wind and weather taking their toll over the years. Its ruin was hastened by the practical need for building materials.

Visiting The Kilwinning Abbey

The ruins of the Kilwinning Abbey are open year-round and are free to visit. Today the best-preserved parts of the old abbey are its magnificent south transept.

  • Admission: Free
  • Opening Hours: Year-Round / Always Open
  • Location: Kilwinning, North Ayrshire

Kilwinning Abbey was particularly notable for its towers - it once had three towers. The abbey's northwest bell tower collapsed in 1814, the impressive stone tower seen there today is a replacement clock tower.

Related: Admont Abbey Is The Largest Monastery Library In The World, And Also The Most Beautiful

Stay At The Living Scottish Benedictine Pluscarden Abbey

For those who would like to discover the current Catholic tradition in Scotland, consider visiting Pluscarden Abbey. One can stay for free in this Catholic Benedictine monastery founded in 1230 - they have separate accommodation for male and female guests. Guests stay for free but are expected to help the monks out with the chores around the abbey. Here one can listen to the local monks perform the famous Gregorian Chant.
  • Setting: In The Glen Of The Black Burn
  • Gregorian Chant: "The Mass and Full Divine Office" Is Chanted Each Day
  • Sevices: The 8 Daily Services Are Open to All
  • Women Hosted: In St. Scholica's Retreat Just Down the Road From The Abbey
  • Men Hosted: By The Abbey Itself
  • Men's Meals: Shared With The Monks (Women's Self-Catered)

It should be noted that this is a working Monastery and the monks have daily work and chores. It is no party destination. Silence is generally observed in the Refectory, the Church, and other monastic areas. Guests are asked not to disturb the meditation and reflection of other guests seeking the atmosphere of the Abbey.