Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Rievaulx Abbey Cistercian monastery: inner and outer precinct, water-management works, agricultural features, enclosures and ancillary buildings

A Scheduled Monument in Rievaulx, North Yorkshire

More Photos »
Approximate Location Map
Large Map »

If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.


Latitude: 54.2573 / 54°15'26"N

Longitude: -1.1187 / 1°7'7"W

OS Eastings: 457510.485011

OS Northings: 484981.44152

OS Grid: SE575849

Mapcode National: GBR NMM6.LN

Mapcode Global: WHD8L.S8G4

Entry Name: Rievaulx Abbey Cistercian monastery: inner and outer precinct, water-management works, agricultural features, enclosures and ancillary buildings

Scheduled Date: 8 February 1915

Last Amended: 4 June 1992

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1012065

English Heritage Legacy ID: 13282

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Rievaulx

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Helmsley All Saints

Church of England Diocese: York


Rievaulx Abbey is situated in Ryedale, on the east bank of the River Rye. The
monument comprises two separate areas containing the standing remains and
inner precinct of the Cistercian monastery and an outer precinct which
contains a wide variety of associated features. Well-preserved standing
remains demonstrate the usual layout of a Cistercian monastery but not the
standard orientation. Traditionally, monastic buildings were laid out so that
the church ran east-west and formed the north range of a four-sided complex
known as the cloister. Domestic buildings such as kitchens would then form
the south range, buildings such as the parlour, chapterhouse and abbot's
lodging would form the east range, and the lay-brother's quarters would form
the west range. At Rievaulx, however, the lay of the land was such that the
church was built almost on a north-south axis and formed what amounted to the
east range. However, old documents describe the complex as if it adhered to
the traditional plan and this habit, as in most modern references, is repeated
here. The earliest standing remains at Rievaulx are those of the nave and
transepts of the church, and parts of the chapterhouse and frater (refectory).
The former date to just after the foundation of the abbey and were built
between 1140 and 1150. The east end of the church and the quire, that is the
stalls between the east end and the nave where the monks sang the offices,
were rebuilt and extended in the thirteenth century. Rather than
demonstrating the architectural simplicity usually observed by the
Cistercians, as seen in the earlier parts of the church, the latter are a very
fine example of English Gothic. Flying buttresses were added in the
fourteenth century to support the vault above the quire, and, in the same
century, a sacristy, that is a room for storing sacred vessels, was built in
the angle of the quire and south transept. South of the south transept were
the library, vestry and chapterhouse. The remains of the latter are those of
a rectangular room with a semicircular end or apse, lined with an arcade
inside which the monks sat. A number of graves inside the chapterhouse
indicate that it was the burial place of the early abbots. In the thirteenth
century a shrine, indicated by two inscriptions to have been dedicated to
William, the first abbot, was added.
East of the chapterhouse lay the infirmary, built in the late twelfth century
and partly remodelled in c.1500 to form the later abbots' lodging. Along with
a thirteenth century chapel, fourteenth century infirmary buildings and the
fifteenth century abbot's kitchen, this enclosed a small court on its east
side and also formed the east range of the infirmary cloister. Other late
twelfth century buildings enclosed the infirmary cloister, including the
so-called Long House, a day room with the monks' dorter (dormitory) over, and
the reredorter or latrine with its drain running underneath. A passage went
from the covered walk on the north side, between the treasury and day room,
and joined the infirmary cloister to the main cloister. The latter measures
42.7m square and possessed an arcade of round-headed arches on double shafts
which dated to the third quarter of the twelfth century. The west range of
the cloister was formed by the late twelfth century lay-brothers' quarters and
an outer parlour remodeled in the fourteenth century. A complex of domestic
buildings made up the south range and included a warming house with two
fireplaces, an early kitchen, and the frater (refectory) with an attached
lavatorium where the monks washed their hands before meals. A separate
building, originally thought to have been a guesthouse with its own oratory or
private chapel, lay below the angle of the south and east cloister ranges and
has been identified as a fulling mill.
In addition to its main cloister buildings, Rievaulx also possesses a wide
range of associated features. These include sections of the precinct wall,
visible on all sides as part of modern field boundaries, and a block of
surviving monastic enclosures to the north of the cloister ranges. The latter
included areas used for sheep shearing, pig keeping and stabling. Cultivation
terraces, the buried remains of two gardens and the locations of numerous
documented buildings such as the brewhouse, kilnhouse, common stable and
plumber's house, and a small number of upstanding ancillary buildings such as
the tannery and fulling mill are also known to survive to the north of the
abbey in the area of the modern village. Also extant are parts of the gate
chapel, situated between the inner and outer gatehouses and now incorporated
into the twentieth century church. A system of river channels and leats
extends north and south of the abbey, through the precinct, and dates to the
early years of the monastery's foundation. The northernmost of these were
created as a result of an agreement with the monks of neighbouring Byland
Abbey who had been granted lands on the west bank of the River Rye by Roger de
Mowbray. At the time of the grant, the river did not flow along the west side
of the dale, as it does today, but along the east. This meant that Rievaulx,
sandwiched as it was, between the river and the east ridge of the valley, had
been left without valuable meadowland. It also meant the abbey had little
control over the river, though the monks had taken off a sewer to flush the
latrines. The agreement with Byland allowed Rievaulx to divert part of the
river and annexe all the land on its own side. A second grant of land from
Hugh de Malbis, and a third from his son Richard, completed the process so
that, by the early thirteenth century, the river and the abbey precinct
appeared as they do today with the old course of the river having become a
controllable leat. To the south of the abbey the river was dammed to create a
large fishpond known as Le Stanke. To the north it became a mill-leat on
which three mills were built: the corn-mill, fulling mill and a water-powered
smithy. Rievaulx Abbey was founded in 1131 by Walter Espec. It was intended
as a Cistercian mission centre from which Cistercian colonies were sent out to
found daughter houses throughout the North of England and Scotland. Its first
abbot was William, a former secretary of St Bernard of Clairvaux in France.
Its most famous abbot, however, was its third, St Ailred. Under him, Rievaulx
became one of the handful of great Cistercian mother houses in the British
Isles and one of the most prosperous. This prosperity did not last, however.
At the end of the twelfth century a costly reconstruction of the south
cloister range was carried out and, in c.1230, the even more costly
enlargement of the church. By the end of the thirteenth century the abbey was
heavily in debt and little building work was carried out in the succeeding
centuries. In the fifteenth century, several sections, including the
chapterhouse, were demolished as being too large for the abbey's needs,
showing that it had declined in numbers as well as in wealth. At the
Suppression in 1538 there were only twenty-two monks where there had been one
hundred and forty monks and over five hundred lay-brothers in St Ailred's
abbacy. After the Dissolution, the site was granted to Thomas, Earl of
Rutland and passed, with the Helmsley estates, through the Manners, Villiers
and Duncombe families. The abbey ruins have been in State care since 1918 and
are also a Grade I Listed Building. Several other features with Listed
Building status lie within the area of the scheduling. These include the
Grade II Listed Rievaulx mill and cartshed which, though eighteenth century,
are believed to overlie the monastic corn-mill, the Grade II Listed abbot's
well and seven seventeenth to nineteenth century Grade II Listed houses of
which two, Rye House and Swiss Cottage, also contain earlier material. The
Grade II Listed Church of St Mary stands on the site of the monastic gate-
chapel and incorporates thirteenth century masonry in both the nave and west
front. It is not, however, included in the scheduling being in current
ecclesiastical use. In addition to the church, several features within the
protected areas are excluded from the scheduling. These include all post-
medieval and modern buildings and outbuildings, all modern fencing, all
English Heritage fixtures and fittings such as the ticket-office and
exhibition centre, the fixtures and fittings of the abbey car park including
the public conveniences, the electricity sub-station and the surfaces of all
paths, roads, driveways and the surface of the carpark. The ground beneath
all these features is however, included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597
to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both
religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious
communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks,
canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of
religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated
from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England.
These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to
tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide
variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a
result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout,
although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for
the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into
the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship,
learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some
orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were
established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest
of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish
churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 75
of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St
Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or "white monks",
on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic
orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual
labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas
where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were
often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen,
dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers
eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were
especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on
sheep farming. The Cistercians made a major contribution to many facets of
medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving
archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Rievaulx was the first outpost of the Cistercian Order in the North. At the
height of its prosperity under Abbot Ailred, it was one of the greatest
Cistercian houses in England. The main monastic buildings, including the
abbey church, survive well and retain important architectural evidence of the
changing wealth of the community. In particular, the abbey church contains
the earliest large Cistercian nave in Britain and is older than any now
surviving in France. Unusually, the whole precinct layout of the abbey can be
recovered from the evidence of early documents and extensive remains survive
throughout this former precinct both as upstanding features and as buried
remains. The extensive water-management earthworks demonstrate well the
lengths monastic communities would go to to ensure a water supply that was
sufficient to support their domestic, agricultural and industrial activities.
Together, these various features allow the development and workings of the
whole precinct to be studied and provide a rare and important opportunity for
detailed analysis of the monastic economy. This exceptional state of
preservation, combined with the high level of surviving documentation, makes
Rievaulx of particular importance to European Cistercian studies.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Coppack, G, English Heritage Book of Abbeys and Priories, (1990)
McDonnell, J, A History of Helmsley Rievaulx and District, (1963)
Coppack, G, 'Journal of the British Archaeological Association' in Rievaulx Abbey, (1986), 100-133
Coppack, G, 'Journal of the British Archaeological Association' in Rievaulx Abbey, (1986)
Coppack, Glyn, (1990)
Monograph on excavations and surveys to 1990's, Forthcoming in late 1990's
Official HBMC Guide, Sir Charles Peers, Rievaulx Abbey, (1967)

Source: Historic England

Other nearby scheduled monuments is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact for any queries related to any individual ancient or schedued monument, planning permission related to scheduled monuments or the scheduling process itself. is a Good Stuff website.