Yorkshire is a wide, open county, so vast that it covers most of the North of England. Though its southern regions are now heavily urbanized, the north retains the raw rural landscapes that once made monks swam here like bees to the honey-pot. There is something magnetic about the high moors and sweeping dales which draws one close to mother nature and, for a monk no doubt, to his God.
Monastic institutions first established themselves in the county, way back in the days of Saxon Northumbria. The area was famous for its holy men and women and the monasteries that gathered around them: St. Hilda in Whitby, St. Wilfred in Ripon, St. Chad in Lastingham. However, Viking devastation quickly brought the Golden Age of Northumbrian Christianity to an end and the ancient abbey churches lay in ruins for several centuries.
Following the Norman Conquest (1066), however, a new breed of monks began to arrive in the North. A multitude of continental monastic orders moved in, all with different ideas about how to best serve God. The Northern Mission got off to a late start, so the widespread Benedictine monks were never a great force in Yorkshire. However, there was plenty of available land and generous lords eager to show their piety by donating it to a monastic foundation. The Augustinian 'black' canons were influential, but it was the strict Cistercians who really came into their own in the county, making Rievaulx the centre of their order in England.
For almost 470 years, the monasteries dominated Yorkshire life. The monks were neighbours to everyone. Yet, suddenly, they were gone: swept away by the greed of 'Bluff King Hal' in the 1530s. The Dissolution of the Monasteries reduced most of the great Yorkshire Abbeys and Priories to mere stone quarries for the local population. Yet, still, the ruins over half of the eighty-three monastic houses in the county remain. Some of the best are in the Dales and the Moors. They stand proud and majestic in their dramatic locations. Let Britannia introduce you.
First Stop: Fountains Abbey