Historia Yorkshire! Rievaulx Abbey

Hello everyone and happy Monday! I have decided that for the next couple of weeks/months, I will be dedicating my Monday posts to the history of North Yorkshire. This is in part due to COVID-19 reducing the range of historical sites around England and the world that I can visit, but is primarily due to the fact that North Yorkshire has a fascinatingly rich history. Being from North Yorkshire myself, I sometimes find that the north is overlooked and overshadowed by events that happened in London and the north really doesn’t get much air time in history. If the north does get a mention, it’s normally with some derogatory term attached and accompanied by the view that the further north you go, the more unsophisticated, barbaric and unruly the people get. The stigma which attached itself in history to the north, sadly permeates through society today with stereotypes proliferating modern media and the news, resulting in the north being viewed with derision and dismissed as an area of little import- unless you want a pint that is less than £6 that is.

However, I want to change this perception and use my Monday evenings to shed light on Yorkshire history put Yorkshire firmly on the historical map as a place which shaped and experienced key historical events. I will aim to bring to life some of the places and people that have made Yorkshire such an interesting place, so without further ado, lets begin with one of the most stunning places of them all; Rievaulx Abbey.

Rievaulx Abbey was a Cistercian Abbey and is situated in the small village of Rievaulx near the charming village of Helmsley. It was the first Cistercian monastery in the North of England and was founded in 1132 by a small number of only 12 monks. William I the first abbot of Rievaulx started construction in the 1130s and slowly Rievaulx Abbey started to take shape. However, it wasn’t until the second abbot, Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, that the monastery expanded and consolidated its reputation as one of the greatest Cistercian abbeys in Yorkshire, eclipsed only by Fountains Abbey.

Rievaulx Abbey 2017. Photo taken by me.

Rievaulx Abbey is situated by the River Rye which used to flow through the grounds of the abbey however was re-routed about three times during the 11th and 12th centuries – you can still see the old course of the river in the abbey grounds today! The monks at Rievaulx were involved in mining lead and iron and reared sheep, selling their goods to earn considerable profit. At it’s height, Rievaulx was one of the wealthiest in England with over 140 monks and around 500 lay brothers. The abbey received grants of land totalling around 6000 acres of land and established daughter houses throughout England and Scotland.

Rievaulx Abbey 2017. Photo taken by me

By the end of the 13th century however the abbey had considerable debts due to problems with sheep scab – psoroptic mange to be precise, a nasty skin disease. The abbey also faced numerous raiders from Scotland which added to their woes and by the 14th century, the Black Death and the subsequent loss of life made it difficult to recruit lay brothers to carry out manual labour. The problems for the abbey continued and by 1381 the abbey had only 14 choir monks, 3 lay brothers and one abbot. By the 15th century the strict Cistercian practices were all but abandoned and the monks who did live at Rievaulx at least lived a more comfortable lifestyle.

Rievaulx Abbey was, like so many others, a victim of the dissolution of the monasteries and the Reformation. At the time of its dissolution in 1538, the abbey was much reduced in size and income and only had about 21 monks left. The monastic buildings were confiscated and stripped of their valuables and rendered uninhabitable, the site being given to one of Henry’s advisors, Lord Rutland. Eventually the site passed onto the Duncombe family where in 1750, Thomas Duncombe III added two Grecian style temples to his estate which look over the abbey. Today Rievaulx is in the care of English Heritage where it stands in ruinous beauty over the surrounding landscape.

Happy history everyone! P.S Below there are a couple more photos I took of the abbey I hope you enjoy!

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