Sunday, September 13, 2015

Saturday - 12th September

Rievaulx Abbey

When you look at the ruins of this Abbey and remember all the other abbeys that were brought low by Henry V111th it is almost a 'Palmyra' experience, take the following figures and see what a profound effect it must have had on the country..... 
The dissolution of the monasteries in the late 1530s was one of the most revolutionary events in English history. There were nearly 900 religious houses in England, around 260 for monks, 300 for regular canons, 142 nunneries and 183 friaries; some 12,000 people in total, 4,000 monks, 3,000 canons, 3,000 friars and 2,000 adult man in fifty was in religious orders (the total population estimated at the time was 2.75 million).
money needed to fund war, the king's need for a divorce settlement, there were obviously many other reasons, the acts of destruction as the buildings were handed out to the favoured,  but it must have sparked off a revolution of sheer panic in the countryside. Removing lead roofs leading to the decay of the buildings and then the taking of stone to build other houses added to the onslaught.  True the religious houses had got rich over time acquiring wealth from rich patrons, land that was bountiful in its produce, but it must also have been a very stable way of life for the peasantry.
The monks were served by lay brothers in their brown habits, who did the manual labour, but they got tired of being the unpaid worker and slowly over time left the monastic houses.  Which meant the monks had to employ, and pay, local people.
There is little doubt that these great monastic houses, edifices to the power of religion, are stunning in their ruined grandeur, the works of men brought low by greed, or perhaps history moving on, the power of the crown against the church.......

Tanning vats.

Restored colonnade around the  green space of the cloisters

The chapter house

Shrine of Abbot William
This I think is the refectory, but the pillars would have supported the floor above.  You can see the two stages of building in the different stonework.


  1. I am fascinated by the iconography in that final carving, with the beasty (wolf?) looking at itself in a mirror. I've never come across that before but I am sure there was an easily understood message there for the general populace about vanity or something similar. I've never been to Rievaulx but everyone who does go says how wonderful it is.

    I love your Palmyra analogy, and oh, how archaeological hearts are grieving at the loss of such irreplacable heritage.

  2. Vanity probably Jennie, the third abbot Aelred (1147-67) was instrumental in remodelling and building a larger abbey, and it seems he got his hands on a 'Bestiary' book, which would probably account for the carving.

    It was LS who saw it in terms of a 'Palmyran' analogy, history is of course full of great events and destruction. We saw another attack on the 'popish' church later in the Civil War in England of course.