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Cistercian Abbeys: Meaux

Meaux cloistral earthworks
© Stuart Harrison
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Meaux cloistral earthworks

The abbey of Meaux was founded in 1150 by William le Gros, count of Aumale, in lieu of going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. According to the foundation story, William’s age and expanding waistline had prevented him from fulfilling this vow, but a chance encounter with Adam, a monk of Fountains, caused him to redirect his pious energies.
Adam, who was at that time helping to establish communities at Kirkstead, Woburn and Vaudey, offered to seek dispensation for the count to release him from his promise if he founded a religious community. This set the wheels in motion for the foundation of Meaux, which was colonised by monks from Fountains, and led by Adam who presided as abbot until 1160. Adam was, it seems, actively involved in the building of the abbey, and has been described as a ‘monk-mason’.(1)
The site, in the flood plain of the R. Hull, was near water, woodland and pasture, and unlike most Cistercian houses, established on flat ground. The marshy land was prone to flooding and the community suffered dampness. They were forced to disband and disperse for a brief spell in 1160, returning later that year to reorganise the site and erect new buildings. The monks were never entirely free from problems, and continually struggled with debts, lawsuits, raids and internal rebellion.
Meaux was suppressed in 1539, and the buildings destroyed in 1542; the stone was removed for Henry VIII’s use at Hull, where he was erecting new fortifications.
The fourteenth-century chronicle of the house by Abbot Thomas Burton (1396-9) survives; it spans some 250 years and is a valuable source of the abbey’s fluctuating fortunes. Whilst none of the buildings remain, aerial photography of the site shows the outline of the site.