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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

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Abbot William, first abbot of Rievaulx (1132-45)

From him as from an inexhaustible well, streams of the religious life have watered those who have come after him and to this day flow and overflow in full measure in the house of Rievaulx and in her daughters, grateful and pleasant to drink, wholesome and of unfailing efficacy to lave those who are weak.(1)

Williams's shrine at Rievaulx
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
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Williams's shrine at Rievaulx

William was a Yorkshire man who responded to St Bernard’s call to join his Cistercian community at Clairvaux, which he called the earthly Jerusalem. William became one of Bernard’s leading men and officiated as secretary of Clairvaux. He frequently discussed issues relating to the chant with Bernard and may well have been involved in the second revision of the Cistercian hymnal, c. 1147.(2) William was chosen by Bernard to lead the community at Rievaulx, Clairvaux’s first daughter-house in England and the Cistercians’ outpost in the North. He led the new colony of monks from France to Yorkshire, where they established a new community in 1132. William was greatly admired for his devotion and abilities, and consolidated monastic life at Rievaulx. Following his death he was celebrated as a saint and buried in Rievaulx’s chapter-house. A new shrine was built to accommodate his remains c. 1250, along the western wall of the chapter-house; remains of this can still be seen.