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Byland Abbey: Location

Byland Abbey: History
Later Middle Ages

Byland Abbey: Buildings
Chapter House
Warming House
Day Room
Lay Brothers' Range

Byland Abbey: Lands

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The church

(the monks) built from new their own church, beautiful and large, as it is plain to see, which may the All Highest perfect and keep for evermore.
[The foundation history of Byland] (1)

The abbey church at Byland
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
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The abbey church at Byland

The church stood at the heart of Cistercian life and brought together communal worship, private prayer, ceremony and ritual. The church building physically dominated the precinct and structured the monks’ day, for the community visited the church at least eight times daily to celebrate the Divine Office. Like all Cistercian churches, the abbey church at Byland was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the patron of the Order.

The twelfth-century church at Byland was 100 metres long. Accordingly, it was when first built the largest abbey church in the country and the equal of any European cathedral. It was only later surpassed by Fountains and Rievaulx when their choirs were extended.(2) The church was completed c. 1195 and was evidently an impressive sight, described by a late twelfth-century abbot as ‘beautiful and large’ (‘pulchram et magnam’). It was built in the Gothic style, which gave a sense of freedom, light and airiness. This form of architecture was popular in France but was quite different from anything else in the North of England at this time.(3) The architectural design of Byland would therefore have been striking and innovative, and made an impact on religious building in the North. Its influence can be seen in the Cistercian abbeys of Jervaulx and Dundrennan, and the cathedrals at Ripon and St Andrews, in Fife.(4)

The size and grandeur of the abbey church at Byland is recognised today, and the medieval church is now thought to have been one of the most ambitious Cistercian churches in medieval Europe.

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