This is an historical section of the website. The monastery is no longer open. Please read the INTRODUCTION page. The photographs show: 1. Abbey from the air beside the River Oich (foreground) and Caledonian Canal; 2. The abbey clock tower; 3. The college building (where most of the school buildings were originally housed) from inside the cloister.
Monastic life began in Fort Augustus in 1878. It was a fresh start but not something completely new, for the history of this monastic community in fact went back to the end of the 11th century. It was the custom among Celtic monks of Ireland and north-west Scotland to go on pilgrimage to the continent of Europe, settling in different places and preaching the gospel to the local population. Gradually, in the 11th century, their activities were concentrated in what is now south Germany and gradually they adopted the community-based Benedictine Rule in place of their former more individual Celtic rules.
In 1075 an Irish monk named Marianus settled in Regensburg (Ratisbon), on the bank of the Danube in Bavaria. Other monks gathered round him and a community was formed. Then c. 1110 they founded the monastery of St James of the Scots in the same town and this rapidly became the head of a group of ten monasteries of Scotic monks, Gaelic-speaking and mainly from Ireland. Their acknowledged head was the abbot of St James in Ratisbon.
This is one of the strangest episodes in the whole history of monasticism, for although the monasteries were on German soil, the monks all came from islands in the west. Perhaps stranger still, they retained the name of Scot, although in their homeland the name had ceased to mean someone from Ireland and had come to mean a native of Scotland. These monasteries flourished for a couple of centuries, recruiting all the time from their homeland, then the difficulties began to take their toll.
By the end of the 15th century they were a mere remnant of what they had been, and by a singular coincidence of history, an important group of traders from Scotland (the present-day Scotland, that is) had settled in the town of Ratisbon and even gained the privilege of citizenship. These Scots began to claim that the abbey of St James of the Scots belonged of right to their nation and had been wrongfully taken over by Irish monks! They won their case, and monks from Scotland came out to take over those monasteries.
In Scotland itself the Reformation brought about a change of religion in the year 1560. The monastic communities in Scotland gradually died out but some monks and other Catholic Scots entered the Scots monasteries in Germany. The thin stream of recruits never dried up. These Scots monasteries had a distinguished history in the 17th and 18th centuries, taking a prominent part in the cultural and academic life of south Germany and sending missionary priests back to Scotland to sustain their Church in their homeland.
The anti-religious ethos on the Continent in the Napoleonic era put an end to monastic life in much of Europe. Of the three Scots monasteries, two were suppressed and only St James in Ratisbon remained (probably because Napoleon's Marshall Macdonald, son of a Scot, used his influence). But the difficulties were too great. In 1862 Scottish monastic life in Ratisbon came to an end.
However, it was not the end. The last Scottish monk, Father Anselm Robertson from Fochabers in north-east Scotland, came back to Scotland and gave the monastic habit to a novice here, thereby making Fort Augustus the successor and continuation of his ancient monastery of St James of the Scots in Ratisbon.
There was also a monastery of English monks at Lambspringe in north Germany, not far from Hanover. When this was suppressed in the time of Napoleon, the monks returned to England and eventually it was decided that the new monastery at Fort Augustus should be the successor of Lambspringe. The survivors in their community came here. Our monastery at Fort Augustuswas thus the continuation of Scottish monasticism (both before the Reformation and after) and of English post-reformation monasticism, too.
Rt. Rev. Mark Dilworth OSB,Last Abbot of Fort Augustus, late titular Abbot of Iona.