Paisley Abbey is a former Cluniac monastery, and current Church of Scotland parish kirk, located on the east bank of the White Cart Water in the centre of the town of Paisley, Renfrewshire, in west central Scotland.
It is believed that Saint Mirin (also spelt Saint Mirren, hence the name of the local football team: St. Mirren F.C.) founded a community on this site in 7th century. Some time after his death a shrine to the Saint was established becoming a popular site of pilgrimage and veneration. The name Paisley may derive from the Brythonic Passeleg, 'basilica' (derived from the Greek), ie. 'major church', recalling an early, though undocumented, ecclesiastical importance.
In 1163, Walter FitzAlan, the first High Steward of Scotland issued a charter for a priory to be set up on land owned by him in Paisley. Thirteen monks came from the Cluniac priory at Much Wenlock in Shropshire to found the community at Paisley which grew so rapidly that it was raised to the status of abbey in 1245. In 1307, Edward I of England had the abbey burned down. However, it was rebuilt later in the 14th century.
In 1316 Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert I of Scotland and wife of Walter Stewart, the sixth High Steward of Scotland, was out riding near the abbey. Heavily pregnant at the time, she fell from her horse and was taken to Paisley Abbey where she gave birth to King Robert II. However, Marjorie Bruce died and is buried at the Abbey. In the abbey itself there are signs which indicate that Marjorie's baby was cut out of her womb, a caesarean delivery long before anaesthesia was available. A cairn, at the junction of Dundonald Road and Renfrew Road, approximately one mile to the north of the Abbey, marks the spot where she reputedly fell from her horse.
A succession of fires and the collapse of the tower in the 15th and 16th centuries left the building in a partially ruined state. Although the western section was still used for worship, the eastern section was widely plundered for its stone.
From 1858 to 1928, the north porch and the eastern choir were reconstructed on the remains of the ruined walls by the architect Macgregor Chalmers. After his death, work on the choir was completed by Sir Robert Lorimer.
In the early 1990s, an ancient vaulted drain of extremely fine construction, probably 13th century in date, was rediscovered running from the abbey to the White Cart. This was excavated and many items discovered. Some of these are now on display in the abbey. These include a slate with music marked on it - which is believed to the oldest example of polyphonic music found in Scotland.
A tomb in the choir incorporating a much restored female effigy is widely believed to be that of Marjorie Bruce. Although there is no evidence that she is buried at exactly that location, her remains are thought to be within the abbey. The tomb is reconstructed from fragments of different origin - the base, is likely to have originally formed part of the pulpitum of the Abbey (a stone screen separating nave and choir), such as survives at Glasgow Cathedral.
The Abbey organ is reputedly one of the finest in Scotland and was originally built by the French organ builder Cavaillé-Coll of Paris in 1872. Since then it has been rebuilt and extended three times. The present organ has 4 manuals, 65 stops and 5448 pipes.