Nizelles Abbey originated as a little college set up by the monks from Moulins-Warnant Abbey to educate younger members of the local nobility. Over the years a succession of donations from grateful former pupils, backed up by generous financial support from Christine de Franckenberg, abbess over the canonesses at nearby Nivelles, made it possible for the little priory at Nizelles to be expanded into an abbey. A new church was consecrated in 1441.
Unfortunately the generous benefactress died the next year, in 1442, and the money stopped flowing. There followed more than three centuries during which the abbey finances were never on an entirely secure footing. Privations became part of the monks' daily routine. Indebtedness was compounded by natural and political catastrophes. There was a destructive fire in the winter of 1502/03. The abbey was torched again in 1577 after being pillaged by French soldiers participating in the religious wars of the period. There was a third destructive fire at the start of the 17th century. On several occasions during the three centuries prior to 1782 plans were drawn up at Cîteaux Abbey (the Cistercian mother house) to decree the closure of Nizelles: nevertheless each time the place was burned down it somehow proved possible sufficiently to rebuild or restore the abbey.
The first years of the 17th century found the abbey in a condition of particular ruin and devastation. It was saved by Cambron Abbey. On 4 December 1601 Robert d’Ostelart, abbot of Cambron, sent over three of his monks, including one named Jean d’Assignies, to re-establish Nizelles. The Nizelles annals of the time record that initially they had to eat their meals standing up, and because there was no table they had to turn over the barrel in which they had brought over some provisions from Cambron and eat their meals off that. In 1602 the three monks at Nizelles were joined by Bernard de Montgaillard who was sent by the chapter at Cîteaux to serve as abbot. Personally austere, and experienced as a monk, Bernard proved an energetic administrator: born in 1562, by the time he came to Nizelles he was already well known to the secular authorities locally. He obtained for the abbey the protection of Archduke Albert, then governor of the Spanish Netherlands (approximately modern-day Belgium) and of Albert's duchess, Isabella. As abbot, Bernard contributed much to restoring the fortunes of Nizelles, although the abbey never returned to its 1442 prosperity. The rebuilding he instigated came to an abrupt halt in 1605 when the Cistercian authorities redeployed him to Orval Abbey.
The decree of 18 March 1783 by which Joseph II, the archetypal enlightened despot, closed down monasteries identified as 'unnecessary', was the death knell for the abbey at Nizelles. The abbey was deconstructed and divided into two farms, one of which occupied the monastic buildings.
In 1787 monks returned to Nizelles during the Brabant Revolution when the Habsburgs were briefly removed from power in the Southern Netherlands, but the return of monks to Nizelles and (at this stage) the removal of the Habsburgs proved temporary. With the impact of the French Revolution, one of the monastic farms was sold. The abbey church was converted for use as a grain store: it was later largely destroyed by fire, in 1845.References:
Dating from the 15th century, Kisimul is the only significant surviving medieval castle in the Outer Hebrides. It was the residence of the chief of the Macneils of Barra, who claimed descent from the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages. Tradition tells of the Macneils settling in Barra in the 11th century, but it was only in 1427 that Gilleonan Macneil comes on record as the first lord. He probably built the castle that dominates the rocky islet, and in its shadow a crew house for his personal galley and crew. The sea coursed through Macneil veins, and a descendant, Ruari ‘the Turbulent’, was arrested for piracy of an English ship during King James VI’s reign in the later 16th century.
Heavy debts eventually forced the Macneil chiefs to sell Barra in 1838. However, a descendant, Robert Lister Macneil, the 45th Chief, repurchased the estate in 1937, and set about restoring his ancestral seat. It passed into Historic Scotland’s care in 2000.
The castle dates essentially from the 15th century. It takes the form of a three-storey tower house. This formed the residence of the clan chief. An associated curtain wall fringed the small rock on which the castle stood, and enclosed a small courtyard in which there are ancillary buildings. These comprised a feasting hall, a chapel, a tanist’s house and a watchman’s house. Most were restored in the 20th century, the tanist’s house serving as the family home of the Macneils. A well near the postern gate is fed with fresh water from an underground seam. Outside the curtain wall, beside the original landing-place, are the foundations of the crew house, where the sailors manning their chief’s galley had their quarters.