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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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Few in number and poor at the outset, and seeking a proper situation where,
by the favour of God they might settle so as to produce fruit, they accepted
from a nobleman named Roger de Mowbray, the founder of the church of
Newburgh, a confined situation at first.
[William of Newburgh, Augustinian Canon]

The Byland community started as a colony of monks sent from Furness to Calder, Cumberland, in 1134, under the patronage of Ranulf Meschin. Gerold was appointed first abbot of the community which was officially founded in January 1135. The foundation history of the abbey names these monks as Robert of the Island, Tocka of Lancaster, John of Kingston, Theodore of Dalton, Hormi of Dalton, Roger (the sub-cellarer), Alan of Wreck, Wido of Bolton, William of Bolton, Peter of Pictavia, Ulfus of Richmond and Bertram of London.(13) In 1137, after only four years at Calder, Cumberland was devastated by the Scots causing the monks to leave and seek refuge at Furness. Alas, they were refused entrance by their former community, and while the exact reason for this is not known it may have been Abbot Gerold’s refusal to yield to the abbot of Furness or, as is more likely, a matter of finances. Furness would certainly have found it a strain to provide for the extra numbers; indeed, it may well have been to relieve pressure on Furness’ resources that a party was originally sent to Calder. It is therefore not surprising that the group received a rather frosty reception at Furness, and was censured for abandoning its site.(14)

Provisioning the community
According to the foundation history of Byland, the community was wont to receive a tenth of the goods from the household of its patron, Roger de Mowbray. This was collected by a lay-brother of the abbey, Lingulf, who followed the household and brought the provisions to his community, unless the party was too far away from Byland, in which case he sold the food and sent the money to the abbot. This arrangement did not always work, for on account of the number of guests, ‘never lacking to a great lord’, the seneschal and provisioner of Roger’s household were often obliged to borrow the tenth earmarked for Byland, to avoid a failure of supplies. However, when this reached the ears of the provisor of guests, he was so angry that he advised Roger, his lord, to make a gift of land to that value to the community in recompense.
[Fundatio Domus Bellelandae, in Dugdale, Monasticon, V, p. 350. For a translation, see Stenton, First Century, p. 72-3.]

Rejected by Furness, the group set off for York, hoping to secure help from Archbishop Thurstan who had been such a generous supporter of the Fountains community. The foundation history of Byland vividly describes how the monks embarked on the journey with only their clothes, a few books and a cart driven by eight oxen. According to one version of the narrative, the group was intercepted on the way to York by the steward of a noblewoman, Gundreda d’Aubigny, who escorted the monks to his lady’s castle. Gundreda allegedly spotted the pitiful group from a window and sought to help the monks through their misfortunes. Thus, she organised for them to live at Hood with her hermit relative, Robert de Alneto. Gundreda later persuaded her son, Roger de Mowbray, to act as the monks’ patron.(15) Roger granted the community a tenth of his household’s food to sustain them. This soon proved a rather unreliable source of maintenance, and in 1140 Roger gave instead lands in Airyholme, Scackleton and Wildon, and a vaccary in Cam.(16)

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