Rievaulx Abbey

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Rievaulx Abbey is a former Cistercian abbey headed by the Abbot of Rievaulx. It is located in the village of Rievaulx (pronounced /riːˈvoʊ/ ree-VOH), near Helmsley in North Yorkshire, England.

It was once one of the wealthiest abbeys in England and was dissolved by Henry VIII of England in 1538. Its ruins are now a tourist attraction.

Contents

Foundation

Rievaulx Abbey was founded in 1132 by twelve monks from Clairvaux Abbey as a mission centre for the colonisation of the north of England and Scotland. It was the first Cistercian abbey in the north. With time it became one of the great Cistercian abbeys of Yorkshire, second only to Fountains Abbey in fame.

The remote location was ideal for the Cistercians, whose desire was to follow a strict life of prayer and self-sufficiency with as little contact as possible with the outside world. The patron, Walter Espec, settled another new Cistercian community, founding Wardon Abbey, Bedfordshire, on one of his inherited estates, again on unprofitable wasteland,

Financial prosperity

The abbey lies in a wooded dale by the River Rye, sheltered by hills. To have enough flat land to build on, a small part of the river had to be diverted to a point several metres west of where it formerly flowed. (The monks altered the course of the river three times during the 12th century.) The trace of the old river is still visible in the abbey's grounds. This is one illustration of the technical ingenuity of the monks, who over time built up a very profitable business mining lead and iron, rearing sheep and selling wool to buyers from all over Europe. Rievaulx Abbey eventually became one of the greatest and wealthiest in England, with 140 monks and many more lay brothers, receiving grants of land totalling 6,000 acres (24 km²) and establishing daughter houses in England and Scotland.

However, towards the end of the 13th century the abbey had incurred a great deal of debt with its building projects and lost revenue due to an epidemic of sheep scab (psoroptic mange). This ill fortune was compounded by Scottish raids in the early 14th century.

To make matters worse the decimation of the population caused by the Black Death in the mid 14th century made it difficult to recruit new lay brothers for the manual labour. As a result the abbey was forced to lease much of its lands. By 1381 there were only fourteen choir monks, three lay brothers and the abbot left at Rievaulx, and therefore some buildings were reduced in size.

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