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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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Byland's library collection in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries

Byland's copy of the Gesta Pontificum
© British Library
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Byland's copy of the Gesta Pontificum

The library at Byland probably held about two hundred books, several of which survive today. A number of these are preserved in the British Library and include Bernard of Clairvaux’s Apologia (BL MS Royal 8 F XV), letters of Pope Alexander III (BL MS Cotton Faust. B I), an anonymous Life of St Alexis (BL MS Cotton Faust. BIV), and a copy of Henry of Huntingdon’s chronicle (BL MS Cotton Cleo. B IV).(16) One rather remarkable book that belonged to Byland is a copy of the first four books of William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Pontificum (BL MS Harley 3641). It has recently been noted that Byland was the only northern house to own a copy of this in the twelfth century. The manuscript was probably a copy produced by the monks themselves to reduce expenses in leaner times.(17) Indeed, although the monks would have received books as gifts, they would have borrowed some from other religious houses and made their own copies. This would have been a cost-effective way to expand the library holdings. It has been suggested that Byland and Buildwas may have shared manuscripts.(18)

Monks and mariners
One book on Byland’s shelves contained a tract, in French, on the mariners’ compass.
© British Library
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A book from Byland

Several interesting books that belonged to Byland are the Opus Agriculture,a treatise on agriculture (Trinity College Cambridge MS 0 3 42) and a late-fourteenth century compilation of ghost stories [BL Add 3180]. This was actually recorded by a monk of Byland, who wrote down a collection of eerie occurrences relating to the neighbourhood. They include tales of phantom beasts, a howling ghost and restless spirits whose misdemeanours in life prevented their peace in death. There is also an interesting story about a former rector of Kereby who was buried by the chapter-house at Byland, but whose body was later dug up and thrown in the water.(19)
[Read more about this wandering spirit]

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