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Rievaulx Abbey was founded in 1131 by Walter Espec. Because of the site's topography the church and the rest of the abbey was orientated north-south. It was intended to be a Cistercian mission centre from which Cistercian colonies were sent out to found daughter houses throughout the north of England and Scotland. The abbey underwent expansion from 1145-65, with further building in the late 12th century (for example in the refectory area). It reached the peak of its power circa 1200, but costly building programmes in the first half of the 13th century (for example the addition of the presbytery) left the abbey heavily in debt. There is also evidence that the economic production of the Abbey, which was heavily dependant on wool production, suffered in the late 13th century, partly due to epidemics amongst the estate's flocks of sheep. Some further smaller alterations including the sacristy were made in the 14th century, but in the 15th century parts of the abbey were demolished, indicating that it had declined in numbers as well as wealth. By 1538 when the abbey was surpressed during the Reformation, there were only 22-23 monks and just over 100 lay people, whereas there had been 140 monks and over 500 lay brothers during St Aelred's charasmatic abbacy in the 1160s. Extensive ruins and earthworks remain including: the inner and outer precincts, water-management works, agricultural features, enclosures and ancillary buildings. The abbey and monastic precinct were mapped as part of the North York Moors NMP. Other features associated with the site were recorded separately as child monuments. The features are extant on the latest 2009 vertical photography. This site is an English Heritage Property.

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Further information about monuments may be obtained by contacting Archive Services, through the Historic England website.