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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The refectory

Plan of Rievaulx abbey showing the location of the warming house(1/1)

For them everything is fixed by weight, measure and number. A pound of bread, a pint of drink, two dishes of cabbage and beans. If they sup, the remnants of their former meal are dished up again except that, instead of the two cooked dishes, fresh vegetables, if they are to be had, are served.(1)
[Walter Daniel, Life of Aelred.]

The refectory at Rievaulx
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
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The refectory at Rievaulx

The first stone refectory at Rievaulx dates from the mid-twelfth century, and lay parallel to the cloister, on an east/west axis. At the end of the twelfth century the refectory was completely rebuilt with the new building running along a north/south axis. This meant that the kitchen could now be accommodated in the southern range and accessed directly from the cloister.

The sheer size of the new refectory was impressive: it stood over fifteen metres high and extended over fifteen metres in length; on account of the terracing of the site, the building was raised with cellarage below. The interior was equally striking for the walls were lime-washed light pink with a masonry pattern traced in red and a tiled floor. Indeed, Rievaulx’s new refectory was one of the finest in the country, but it is likely that the cost of its construction, which involved buying materials and paying outside workers, was a major factor contributing to the community’s debt in the late twelfth century.(2)

A team from Bradford University is conducting the first archaeological dig at Rievaulx for over eighty years. The team is excavating the refectory to find remains of charcoal which, it is thought, was stored here to supply the blast furnace that was built here following the dissolution of the abbey. The team believes that the sixteenth-century monks of Rievaulx were at the forefront of the metal industry and on the eve of the Dissolution were on the verge of developing blast-furnace technology. Their progress, however, was terminated by the dissolution of the abbey in December 1538, but a blast furnace was built on the site 1570-c. 1650.

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