Inchaffray Abbey was situated by the village of Madderty, midway between Perth and Crieff in Strathearn, Scotland. The only traces now visible are an earth mound and some walls on rising ground which once (before drainage) formed an island where the abbey once stood (the surrounding marshes known for eels).
Folk etymology has the name Inchaffray taken from the Gaelic innis abh reidh (island of the smooth water), but the earliest attested form of the name is the Latin Insula missarum (island of the masses), mass in Gaelic being oifrend and Welsh offeren, thus island of the offerings. A charter of Jonathan, Bishop of Dunblane, refers to the place "qui uocatur lingua Scottica Inche Affren" (="which is called in the Gaelic language Inche Affren") and comparative usage shows that Insula Missarum was taken as a translation, e.g. "Sancti Johannis evangeliste de Inchefrren" and "sancto Johanni apostolo de Insula Misserum".
A priory was created on an existing Culdee site by Gilbert, Earl of Strathearn and his first known wife Maud d'Aubigny in around 1200. Dedicated to their memory of their first-born son Gilchrist, to the Virgin Mary, and to John the Evangelist, the abbey was granted to the Augustinians of Scone Abbey. The charter survives, and also names the churches of Saint Cathan of Abruthven, Saint Ethernan of Madderty, Saint Patrick of Strogeith, Saint Makkessog of Auchterarder, and Saint Bean of Kinkell. The details of the earlier establishments are not certain, but a church dedicated to John the Evangelist is attested in about 1190. Gille Brigte's new priory became an abbey in about 1220.
Inchaffray was patronised both by the Earls of Strathearn and by the Scottish kings. In 1275 a tithe of real income was assessed on all religious houses to fund a crusade, at which time Inchaffray had an income of 246 pounds per annum, fourth among Augustinian houses, exceeded only by St Andrews, Scone and Holyrood. In time the abbey's lands and dependent churches stretched across Scotland, as far away as Uist in the west and Balfron in the south.
Abbot Maurice of Inchaffray carried the relics of Saint Fillan to bless the Scots army before the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Abbot Laurence Oliphant, who came from a notable Strathearn family, was killed at Flodden in 1514.
By 1561 Inchaffrey's fortunes had declined, its income being assessed at £667, third lowest of the Augustinian abbeys in Scotland included in the levy. With the Scottish Reformation underway, Inchaffray had been turned into a secular lordship for a member of the Drummond family in 1556, and later passed to the Earls of Kinnoull. Much of what remained of the abbey was destroyed in 1816 when a road was driven across the site.
Today a single gable end wall stands in private property, although it is visible from the road.
- Inchaff. Liber, no. 10.
- Inchaff. Liber, no. 1.
- Inchaff. Liber, no. 2.
- British Museum Collection
- Ewart et al., p. 471
- Cokayne, G.E. (2000). Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Sutton Publishing Co. pp. XII/1:383–4.
- Abbot of Inchaffray, for a list of priors, abbots and commendators
- Lindsay, William Alexander, & Thomson, John Maitland, (eds.) Charters of Inchaffray, Publications of the Scottish History Society, vol. LVI, (Edinburgh, 1908)
- Watson, W.J., The History of the Celtic Place-names of Scotland. Reprinted with an introduction by Simon Taylor, Birlinn, Edinburgh, 2004. ISBN 1-84158-323-5
- Gazetteer for Scotland
- PSAS, volume 126: "Inchaffrey Abbey: Excavation and Research 1987" by Gordon Ewart et al., pp. 469–516.