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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

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Plan of Kirkstall abbey showing the location of the church(1/8)

The church stood at the heart of monastic life and brought together communal worship, private prayer, ceremony and ritual. It was the most visited of the buildings and structured time and space within the monastery. The church at Kirkstall was one of the first buildings constructed when Abbot Alexander (1147-82) and his monks moved to Kirkstall from Barnoldswick in 1152. Although work would have begun almost immediately, the building was probably not completed until c. 1170, with furnishings, such as the wooden choir stalls, added at a later date.

The structure of the church underwent few alterations from its erection in the twelfth century until the Dissolution. The main changes were the insertion in the fifteenth century of a massive window in the east end of the church, which stretched almost the entire width of the wall, and the raising of the tower to belfry stage in the early sixteenth century. Like all Cistercian churches, that at Kirkstall was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.