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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey ChurchThe spot was by a powerful stream called the Rye in a broad valley stretching on either side. The name of their little settlement and of the place where it lies was derived from the name of the stream and the valley, Rievaulx. High hills surround the valley, encircling it like a crown. These are clothed by trees of various sorts and maintain in pleasant retreats the privacy of the vale, providing for the monks a kind of second paradise of wooded delight.(1)

The abbey of Rievaulx was founded as the first Cistercian outpost in the North, and was to be a centre for White Monks to reform and colonise the North of England and Scotland. Its foundation was instigated by Bernard of Clairvaux and planned with military precision. The abbey attracted-profile benefactors such as Henry I and David of Scotland, and a number of recruits from the locality and further afield. The most prominent recruit was Aelred of Rievaulx, who was abbot from 1147 until 1167.

Rievaulx was intended to be as a mission centre from which the White Monks successfully spread across the country. By the thirteenth century Rievaulx had founded a family of no less than nineteen abbeys.(2) Rievaulx was renowned for its sheep-farming and export of wool, but the abbey was also an active patron of culture. Rievaulx's fortunes changed from the late thirteenth century, when the abbey suffered severe financial problems: war, famine and plague. By the time of the Dissolution in 1538 the community numbered twenty-three.

The impressive ruins at Rievaulx include extensive remains of the church, which was one of the finest in the North, and claustral buildings; five arches from the original cloister survive.

On the pages that follow you can read about the abbey’s history, lands and buildings and go on a tour of the site. In the near future you will be able to tour the models we have built of the church and the monastic precincts.

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