Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey

Location: Rievaulx, North Yorkshire  Map

Tel. 01439 798228
Active: 1132- 1538 (closed by Henry VIII)

Apr-Sep: daily 10am-6pm
Oct: Thu-Mon 10am-5pm
Nov-Mar: Thu-Mon 10am-4pm
Closed: 24- 26 Dec, 1 Jan
Cost: £5.30 adults, £2.70 children


Description of Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey Map

Rievaulx Abbey is a medieval Roman Catholic monastery of the Cistercian order situated in Rievaulx, North Yorkshire in United Kingdom.  Rievaulx Abbey was found in 1132 by 12  monks who were blessed by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux to leave their home in Clairvaux in France to move to the island. New abbey of the White Monks served as their base for missionary work in the North England as well as Scotland regions. Help from benefactors such as Henry II (1135-1154) and King David of Scotland (1124-1153) further increased wealth and influence of the Rievaulx Abbey. At some point it numbered over 150 monks and over 500 lay brethren. A big influence on the prestige and fame of the monastery came when its third abbot Aelred took charge of the community. Famous author and an inspiration preached he attracted many people to the abbey and after his death was canonized by the church.

Rievaulx Abbey


The abbey ruins lie in a wooded valley near the River Rye near Helmsley in North Yorkshire. Today the area is part of the North York Moors National Park.



Founded in 1132 by twelve Clairvaux monks as a missionary center for the colonization of northern England and Scotland, the abbey quickly grew to become one of the largest in Yorkshire, rivaling Fountains Abbey. Ten years after its founding, more than 300 religious were already living there. Especially under the Abbot Aelred of Rievaulx the number grew very strongly; at his death there were about 650 choir monks and brothers.

In order to have enough flat building land, the river was diverted three times in the 12th century. The monks also knew how to use their abbey economically: Lead and iron were mined and the sheep's wool produced here was sold all over Europe. With 24 km² of land holdings, 140 monks and even more lay brothers, the abbey grew into a powerful institution.

Nevertheless, at the end of the 13th century, Rievaulx had high debts, on the one hand as a result of intensive construction work and on the other hand after the loss of many sheep due to an epidemic. In the 14th century there were also robberies. Receiving new lay brothers became more difficult after the population was severely decimated by the plague. In the end, the only option left to the monks was to lease out their land. In 1381 there were only 14 monks and 3 lay monks and the abbot; as a result, some buildings were downsized.

The abbey was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1538 as part of the dissolution of the English monasteries. At that time there were 72 buildings for 21 monks, the abbot and 102 servants.



The present church ruins, which were built in the second half of the 12th century and whose nave has not been preserved, show a distinctive three-story Gothic pointed arch architecture without tracery. Like most churches in England and Scotland, the chancel, reserved exclusively for monks, has a straight end and was almost as long as the nave intended for lay people and pilgrims. It can no longer be determined whether the church, which used to have side aisles, was vaulted or had a flat wooden ceiling. Remains of the cloister and the refectory can also be seen.

Rievaulx Abbey