The ruins of Beauly Priory lie at the east end the main square of Beauly. It was one of three priories founded in Scotland by monks of the Valliscaulian order, from the Burgundy region of France, in the years following 1230.
The monks clearly liked what they found when they arrived, for Beauly was referred to in the 1230s as Prioratus de Bello Loco: Latin for "Priory of the Lovely Spot". This suggests that the name Beauly, from the French beau lieu or "beautiful place" dates back far beyond the popular belief that it was based on a comment made by Mary Queen of Scots during her visit in the summer of 1564.
Beauly's patron was Sir John Bisset, whose family's lands were later joined by marriage to the predominant landowners of the area, the Frasers of Lovat. The monastery was complete by 1272 and in 1287 Sir Simon Fraser of Lovat was buried in front of the altar in the chancel.
In 1430 Sir Hugh Fraser of Lovat complained to the Pope that the priory was being mismanaged, and as a result the buildings were falling into decay. A programme of restoration and rebuilding followed.
The church, whose ruins still stand, was only part of a complex that included a cloister to its south, complete with east and south ranges accommodating the monks and a west range providing the prior's lodging. The standing south wall of the church shows signs of earlier roof lines, indicating how the rest of the priory was connected to it.
In about 1510 the priory changed its adherence to the Cistercian order. Substantial further work took place on the church under Prior Robert Reid in 1541, after lightning damage. Reid also held many other offices and is perhaps better known as the Bishop of Orkney and the founding father of Edinburgh University.
After the Reformation the priory fell into disuse, and the lead was removed from the roof in 1582. Much of the priory became a quarry used for its stone during the construction of other buildings in the town: and it is said that some of the stone was carted off for use in the citadel built in Inverness by Oliver Cromwell's forces in 1652.
The only part of the priory complex in anything like complete form today is the north transept. This was rebuilt by the architect Alexander Ross in 1901 to serve as a mausoleum for the Mackenzie family.
Beauly Priory has been in the care of the state since 1913 and is now looked after by Historic Scotland. You may find on arrival that the gate from the main town square is locked. If so there should be a sign telling you where the key is held: usually at the Priory Hotel on the square. Otherwise see the access info above right.