Featured in “Heritage and other listed buildings” 11th October 2010
Featured in “Your country’s best” 12th September 2010
A view from the Abbey ruins looking towards the interactive museum , using a FinePix S5800
The Abbey is cared for by English Heritage and is in North Yorkshire, England.
‘Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world.’ Written over eight centuries ago by the monastery’s third abbot, St Aelred, these words still apply to Rievaulx today.
Words are not the only links to Rievaulx’s medieval monks. Over the past few years, the site has become something of an archaeological treasure, with unexpected discoveries shedding new light on the lives of the monks, and the extensive renewal and rebuilding of their abbey church in the Early English Gothic style. Archaeologists continue to study the landscape around Rievaulx, revealing the remarkable extent of the abbey’s influence and industry. Their discoveries are showcased in the on-site museum. The abbey was founded by St Bernard of Clairvaux, as part of the missionary effort to reform Christianity in western Europe. Twelve Clairvaux monks came to Rievaulx in 1132. From these modest beginnings grew one of the wealthiest monasteries of medieval England and the first northern Cistercian monastery. Rievaulx also enjoyed the protection of Walter Espec of nearby Helmsley Castle, who provided much of the abbey’s land. The monks of neighbouring Byland Abbey initially disputed land ownership with Rievaulx, but subsequently moved to their present location and relinquished the disputed land, thus allowing the major expansion of Rievaulx Abbey. You can still see traces of the channels dug by the Rievaulx monks.
A steady flow of monks came to Rievaulx, attracted by the prestige of Abbot Aelred, author and preacher, who was regarded then and later as a wise and saintly man. Following his death in 1167, the monks of Rievaulx sought canonisation for their former leader, and in the 1220s they rebuilt the east part of their church in a much more elaborate style to house his tomb. Most of this 13th-century ‘presbytery’ still stands to virtually its full impressive height, a reminder of Rievaulx’s original splendour. Rievaulx was still a vibrant community when Henry VIII dissolved it in 1538. Its new owner, Thomas Manners, first Earl of Rutland, swiftly instigated the systematic destruction of the buildings. However, the substantial remains constitute one of the most eloquent of all monastic sites, free ‘from the tumult of the world’