Medieval Cistercian farm unearthed in northern England

Started by Vox Clara, December 02, 2022, 10:47:01 AM

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Vox Clara

From Aleteia:

Medieval Cistercian farm unearthed in northern England

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Daniel Esparza - published on 12/01/22

The medieval farm was managed by Rievaulx Abbey since its foundation, back in 1132.

A new archaeological excavation is taking place in northern England. Near the town of Helmsley, within the North York Moors National Park, a high-status medieval farm that was managed by the Cistercian Rievaulx Abbey is being unearthed. According to the article published by, the finds include rosary beads, pottery and glazed tiles.

Rievaulx was founded in 1132 by 12 monks from Clairvaux Abbey in France (St. Bernard's own foundation). It soon became one of the greatest British abbeys: At its peak, 650 people actively lived and worked there, including monks, direct and indirect employees and other officials associated with the maintenance of monastic activities, including the farm.

The excavation of this medieval farm is funded by the North York Moors National Park Authority, the tenant farmer and a local archaeologist, explains. As is often the case with this kind of excavation, local volunteers took part in the dig.

Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries.

From 1536 to 1541, through a set of administrative and legal processes, Henry VIII transferred the ownership of abbeys, churches, monasteries and other possessions of the Catholic Church in England to the treasury of the English crown.

Among these, countless manuscripts, libraries, works of art, farms and other productive buildings were taken over by the government – including those owned or managed by monasteries and abbeys. Those that were not destroyed, expropriated, or simply shut down were handed over to political allies.

These expropriations would provide Henry VIII with an extraordinary, unexpected income without resorting to deeply unpopular measures (such as higher taxes), while also eliminating the influence of the Roman papacy over the English crown.

On December 3, 1538, Henry VIII ordered the monks of Rievaulx to leave the building, expropriating every valuable object in it – particularly the lead used in stained glass, which was melted down and used to make ammunition.

Today, a museum is housed in the abbey, led by English Heritage, a charity that is responsible for the preservation of more than 400 historic sites across England. The museum exhibits some of the artifacts that monks once used at the abbey, and chronicles of the history of the Cistercian Order in England.

Make sure to visit the slideshow below to appreciate the ruins of Rievaulx abbey.

Medieval monks spent Advent in prayer and in work.

The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey in the north of England
Before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1538, Rievaulx was one of the largest and wealthiest monasteries, with 140 monks and as many as 500 lay brothers in residence.

Throughout the year, a medieval monk's day was spent largely in manual labor and in prayer. Christmas was no different, although the shorter days made for less time spent doing both.

Christmas at Rievaulx Abbey
In addition to the eight daily offices, which began at 3:30 a.m., there were three Masses on Christmas Day — Midnight Mass, Mass at Dawn, and the Mass of the Day, also known as High Mass. The monks would also hear a sermon in their chapter house in the morning.

Rievaulx Abbey today
The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey are a popular tourist destination and are open to visitors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Audio tours are available to accompany one through the ruins. A museum displays artifacts that tell the story of the once-great Abbey.

Vox Clara

The above-referenced article from

Archaeologists uncover medieval farm in England

An archaeological dig in northern England is uncovering a high-status medieval farm that had close links to the Cistercian monastery. The finds have included jet rosary beads, pottery and glazed tiles.

The excavation is taking place near the town of Helmsley, which is located within the North York Moors National Park. The site was known to be the location of a medieval grange built shortly after the foundation of Rievaulx Abbey in 1132 and was managed by the abbey until its dissolution by Henry VIII in 1539.

The excavation was jointly funded by the North York Moors National Park Authority, the tenant farmer and a local archaeologist. The community dig was led by John Buglass, founder of North Yorkshire-based JB Archeology, with close involvement from Keith Emerick, Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Historic England. Sixteen volunteers took part in the dig, contributing the equivalent of 129 days across six weeks.

"This is one of those unexpected digs that shows just how much we can still learn from sites we thought we understood," explained John Buglass. "Through the hard work of volunteer archaeologists from inside and outside the National Park, we have managed to add some significant understanding to our knowledge of the monastic granges of Rievaulx."

Miles Johnson, Head of Historic Environment at the North York Moors National Park Authority, detailed some of the interesting discoveries: "Whilst it's not surprising that we found evidence of medieval farming, the prestige and range of the uncovered artefacts points to this being a place of high economic importance that reflected the status of the Abbey.

"For the archaeologists to find a cellar and what we think are glazed roof tiles from a medieval farm of this period is almost unheard of. Some finds also relate to the process of iron smelting, which was clearly happening onsite and indeed there was also an iron hunting arrow."

As successful farmers, the Cistercian monks at Rievaulx Abbey had a significant impact on the landscape of the North York Moors. They developed large scale moorland grazing and stimulated the rapid growth of the wool trade that became so significant in England's later history. The monks even diverted the course of the River Rye on more than one occasion to allow for their developments.

"This is a truly remarkable discovery," adds Keith Emerick of Historic England. "Although we know where many monastic farm sites are located, relatively little is known about them. The excavation of such impressive remains and their associated finds adds a huge amount to our understanding of the medieval world."

The excavations, which covered only a small part of the site, have now been completed, but work on analysing the finds and interpreting the materials recovered will continue over the next year.

Top Image: The archaeological dig – photo courtesy North York Moors National Park Authority


Monastic farms or granges oft times were excavated in the past as places that were well known via primary sources like rolls and monastic registers, but archaeology has advanced allowing more to be discerned from less disturbance. Full scale digging can be destructive. North and South Dublin still have notable remains of monastic manors or granges like Monkstown Castle, a manor of the Cistercians of St Mary's Abbey Dublin or Swords Castle, a manor of the Archdiocese of Dublin or what's now the Dominican Priory in Tallaght which still has the tower castle core of the onetime summer palace of the Archbishops of Dublin.
Padre Pio: Pray, hope, and don't worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.