Crystall, Thomas (DNB00)

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CRYSTALL, THOMAS (d. 1535), twenty-second abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Kinloss, near Forres in Moray, owes the preservation of the facts of his life to the history of that foundation having been written by John Ferrerius, a Piedmontese monk of literary ability brought by Robert Reid, the successor of Crystall and afterwards bishop of Orkney, from Paris to Kinloss in 1533.

Crystall was born in Culross in Perthshire, and educated in its monastery, a house of the Cistercians, where his talents, especially for music, attracted the attention of James Rait, the abbot, and his brother William, a skilled musician, who trained the young chorister. So great was the charm of his voice that Culross, Cupar, and Kinloss contested for its possession; but William Galbraith, abbot of Kinloss, obtained the prize by arrangement with his parents and the abbot of Culross, and he was admitted as a candidate or novice on the feast of Epiphany, 1487, and became monk in the following year. His diligence and learning gained him the favour both of Galbraith and William Culross, the next abbot, and Culross having become infirm procured the succession of Crystall to the abbacy, although still a junior monk, in 1499. He at once applied himself to the recovery of the property of the foundation, which had been much encroached on. His suits with the neighbouring town of Forres, the Earl of Moray, and the prior of Pluscarden for rights of fishing in the Findhorn, and those with John Cumin and the Earl of Huntly and his sister, Agnes Ogilvy, as to disputed boundaries, are similar to records of other monasteries. Crystall was eminently successful, and received on this account the gratitude of his brethren. The revenues of the abbey, which were more than doubled, enabled him to increase the members of the society from fourteen to twenty, and without diminution of their pay to improve their diet. He also restored the buildings of the abbey which had fallen into decay, as well as those at his own churches of Ellon and Avoch, and erected mills at Strathisla, another estate of Kinloss. His benefactions to the monastery and the church of Ellon of sacred ornaments and vestments brought from Flanders and France, his bells dedicated to St. Mary, St. Anne, and St. James, his altar, and his own tomb are described in somewhat tedious detail by Ferrerius. His care for the library is of interest; for, although the books presented by him were the ordinary copies of the Latin fathers and schoolmen, this was the nucleus of the library of the next abbot, Robert Reid, whose endowment was the first beginning of the university of Edinburgh and its library. Crystall declined further promotion either in his own order to the abbacies of Melrose and Dryburgh, which were offered to him, or to the bishopric of Ross, but more than once acted as visitor of his order, enforcing discipline with strictness, restoring the foundations of Deer and Culross which had fallen into disorder, and even removing an abbot of Melrose from his office. He was a patron of learning, though himself more occupied with business, and sent such of the monks as showed a turn for letters to the Black Friars of Aberdeen, where John Adamson, a Dominican, then taught. His charity to the poor and his own relatives was upon a scale worthy of a bishop. Attacked with dropsy, Crystall was attended by Hector Boece, the principal of the newly founded university at Aberdeen; but the case was beyond medical skill, and he died on 30 Dec. 1535, having before his death nominated Robert Reid as his successor. Ferrerius gives a list of the monks admitted during his tenure of office, and the places they held in the time of his successor. Crystall, like his successor Reid, is a specimen of the best class of monks, who if they had been more numerous might have saved the system from some of the corruptions which led to its abolition.

[Ferrerii Historiæ Abbatorum Kynlos, Bannatyne Club, 1839; Records of the Monastery of Kinloss, edited by John Stuart, LL.D. 1873.]

Æ. M.