go to home page go to byland abbey pages go to fountains abbey pages go to kirkstall abbey pages go to rievaulx abbey pages go to roche abbey pages
The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The guesthouse


Rievaulx, like other Cistercian abbeys, placed accommodation for guests within the precinct in order that visitors could be received appropriately and tended by the guestmaster (or hosteller as he was also known), whilst causing minimal disruption to the community. In the early days, at least, the abbot would have dined here with guests.(1) No standing remains survive to indicate where Rievaulx’s guesthouse – or in fact guesthouses – once stood, but this was probably in the unexcavated area of the site to the NW of the galilee porch. There were probably also stables here for the use of the community and its visitors.(2)

Brawls in the guesthouse
These guesthalls could, evidently, be rather rough. Gerald of Wales recounts an ‘untoward event’ in 1180 that occurred in the refectory of the guesthall of Margam Abbey, when a young man struck another and was the next day found dead on the very spot where he had thrown his punch; in the mid-thirteenth century there was a fight in the guesthall at Furness when guests were stabbed to death by visiting grooms.
[Gerald of Wales, Journey through Wales, p. 107; Williams, Cistercians, p. 156.]

The sixteenth-century survey compiled shortly after the dissolution of Rievaulx mentions a guesthall (‘Austell Hall’) that stood to the north of the church.(3) It is likely that one or two guesthouses stood adjacent to this, similar to the arrangement at Fountains and Kirkstall. Whereas less distinguished visitors would have stayed in the hall, more noteworthy guests, such as the abbey’s protector, the bishop of Durham, would have been accommodated in the guesthouse.

Whilst there is little archaeological evidence for the guesthouse at Rievaulx, there are references to it in Walter Daniel’s twelfth-century biography of Abbot Aelred and also his ‘Letter to Maurice’. The former recounts how Aelred spent the mandatory four days in Rievaulx’s guesthouse before he was admitted as a novice, in accordance with chapter 58 of the Rule of St Benedict. His four days here seemed like a thousand years, since Aelred was impatient to embark on his year-long novitiate. Walter’s account certainly implies that the guesthouse was not out of bounds to members of the community, for he explains that during Aelred’s four-day wait he found some consolation in the companionship of the monks who visited him here and who were uplifted by his great humility.(4) Walter’s account of a fire that broke out in the monastery on Aelred’s third day in the hospice sheds some light on the structure of the guesthouse, and suggests that the southern part of the building was used as a dining area. Walter describes the great pandemonium that swept through the abbey as fire ravaged the buildings, and how Aelred remained calm and serene in the midst of this chaos. Aelred, he explains, was seated in the southern part of the hospice enjoying a tankard of local brew (cider); putting his trust in God, he threw the contents of his tankard over the flames which miraculously abated.(5)

<back> <next section>