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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic



The original foundation charter of Rievaulx no longer survives, but a copy, dating from c. 1145 or perhaps even later,(3) reveals that Walter Espec granted the community nine carucates of land by the River Rye to establish its buildings: four of these carucates were in Griff (to the SE of the present ruins) and five in Tilleston (now represented by Stilton Farm). The site was only several miles from Walter Espec’s castle at Helmsley, the head of his honour. In addition to his gift of land, Walter also granted the community rights of pasture, the right to collect dead wood and timber, and freedom from secular services. His grant was confirmed by Henry I in 1133 and reconfirmed by King Stephen in 1135 and Richard I in 1189. Walter’s grant may not have been overly generous but it was in keeping with the Cistercian ideal and enabled the new community to pursue a life of simplicity and poverty in what one contemporary described as ‘a solitary waste.’ (4)

Possible route from Clairvaux to Rievaulx
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
<click to enlarge>
Thumbnail map of possible route.

In 1132 the colony of Clairvaux monks that was to settle at Rievaulx embarked on the arduous journey to Yorkshire and for some, including Bernard’s secretary, William who was sent to lead the party, this was a homecoming. The monks’ arrival in Yorkshire did not pass unnoticed. The sight of the group passing through York was said to have inspired several monks from the Benedictine abbey of St Mary’s, who were dissatisfied with the state of monastic life there, to seek the reform of their abbey. This led to their departure and the subsequent foundation of a second Cistercian house in Yorkshire, Fountains Abbey.

The beginning of monastic life at Rievaulx was formally marked by a ceremony on 5 March 1132. Amongst those who attended to welcome the new community and mark the Cistercians’ arrival in the North were the abbey’s patron Walter Espec, his family, tenants and neighbours.

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