Kirkstall Abbey

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Kirkstall Abbey is a ruined Cistercian monastery in Kirkstall north-west of Leeds city centre in West Yorkshire. It is set in a public park on the north bank of the River Aire. It was founded c.1152. It was disestablished during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under the auspices of Henry VIII.

The picturesque ruins have been drawn and painted by artists such as J.M.W. Turner, Thomas Girtin and John Sell Cotman.

Kirkstall Abbey was acquired by Leeds Corporation as a gift from Colonel North and opened to the public in the late 19th century. The gatehouse became a museum.



Henry de Lacy (1070, Halton, – 1123), Lord of the manor of Pontefract, 2nd Lord of Bowland, promised to dedicate an abbey to the Virgin Mary should he survive a serious illness. He recovered and agreed to give the Abbot of Fountains Abbey land at Barnoldswick in Lancashire on which to found a daughter abbey. Abbot Alexander with twelve Cistercian monks from Fountains went to Barnoldswick and after demolishing the existing church attempted to build the abbey on Henry de Lacy's land. They stayed for six years but found the place inhospitable. Abbot Alexander set about finding a more suitable place for the abbey and came across a site in the heavily wooded Aire Valley occupied by hermits.[1]

Alexander sought help from de Lacy who was sympathetic and helped acquire the land from William de Poitou. The monks moved from Barnoldswick to Kirkstall displacing the hermits, some of whom joined the abbey, the rest being paid to move. The buildings were mostly completed between 1152 when the monks arrived in Kirkstall and the end of Alexander's abbacy in 1182.[2] Millstone Grit for building came from Bramley Fall on the opposite side of the river.[3]

The buildings

The English Cistercian houses, of which there are remains at Fountains, Rievaulx, Kirkstall, Tintern and Netley were mainly arranged after the same plan, with slight local variations. As an example, below is the groundplan of Kirkstall Abbey, one of the best preserved.

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