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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Expansion throughout Britain and Ireland


Map of Cistercian abbeys in England

Map of the Cistercian abbeys in England.
With the foundation of Rievaulx in 1132, and Fountains soon after, the Order flourished. The eight Yorkshire houses formed a unique stronghold in the North from where the Cistercians could infiltrate the country. The speed and extent of their expansion was quite remarkable, and testimony to the tremendous appeal of the White Monks. Their poverty and sanctity attracted donors and recruits, for people wanted to be involved with these monks, whose way of life guaranteed the surest way to heaven. The Cistercians were also an attractive financial proposition to founders, for it was less costly to establish a community of White Monks whose requirements were so simple. The appeal of the Cistercians was also helped by the fact that they had royal backing - both Henry I and David of Scotland had shown their support for the monks, and others followed their example. 1147, the Golden Year of the Order, was also the highpoint of Cistercian expansion in Britain. Nine houses were founded in England at this time, and more were incorporated through the absorption of the Savigniac Congregation.(1)

Aerial view of Fountains Abbey
<click to enlarge>

Aerial view of Fountains Abbey

Most foundations stemmed from Waverley, Fountains and Rievaulx, and the Clairvaux line dominated in Britain, as in Europe. Waverley scattered its seeds throughout the South and Midlands, Rievaulx through Lincolnshire and Scotland, and Fountains in the eastern counties and Yorkshire; monks from Fountains reached as far afield as Norway, and colonised the abbey of Lyse, near Bergen, in 1146.

Cistercian expansion in England was effectively completed by c. 1150, although there was a resurgence from the thirteenth century, with the foundation of several royal abbeys - Beaulieu, Netley, Vale Royal, Hailes, Newenham, and St Mary Graces. Expansion in Scotland continued throughout the twelfth century, but the main area of growth at this time was in Wales.