Rievaulx Abbey: Location
The 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)
Rievaulx Abbey lies in a deep valley by the River Rye, from which
the monastery takes its name. It was chosen to be the setting for
Bernard of Clairvaux’s
first Cistercian ‘outpost’ in
the North. The founder of Rievaulx, Walter
Espec, a royal justice,
gave the site for the abbey to the monks; this was only a few miles
away from his own castle at Helmsley.
Walter was a frequent visitor
to Rievaulx. He maintained an active interest in the community
and retired there shortly before his
death c. 1153.
Rievaulx now lies within the North Yorkshire Moors National Park
and is celebrated for the beauty and tranquillity of its setting.
In the twelfth century the site was a rather desolate wasteland,
described by one contemporary as ‘a horrid and vast solitude’.
This was, however, an ideal setting for the new Cistercian community
to establish a self-sufficient abbey.
They set up their
huts near Helmsley, the central manor of their protector,
Walter Espec, a very notable man and one of the leading
barons of King Henry I.
[Walter Daniel, Life
of Aelred, p. 12]