Rievaulx Abbey is a Cistercian abbey in Rievaulx, near Helmsley, in the North York Moors National Park. It was one of the great abbeys in England until it was seized in 1538 under Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Rievaulx Abbey was founded in 1132 by twelve monks from Clairvaux Abbey in France. It was the first Cistercian monastery in the north of England and quickly became one of the most powerful and renowned centres of monasticism in Britain. The abbey reached its peak in the 12th century, when it had a community of over 600 monks and was responsible for founding over 30 daughter houses throughout England and Scotland.
The abbey’s fortunes declined in the 13th century, due in part to a series of natural disasters, including a flood in 1287 that destroyed much of the abbey’s buildings. In 1538, the abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII and its buildings were sold off and the abbey was further damaged in the 17th century during the English Civil War. The ruins of the abbey have been standing ever since.
What to see at Rievaulx Abbey
Visitors to Rievaulx Abbey can explore the remains of the church, cloister, chapter house, and the monks’ living quarters. The ruins provide an insight into the monastic lifestyle and the architectural achievements of the time.
The ruins are extensive and well-preserved. The most impressive feature is the abbey church, which was once one of the largest and most beautiful in England. The church’s nave and transepts are still standing, as are the remains of the choir and chapter house. Other surviving buildings include the cloister, the infirmary, and the guesthouse.
There is also a museum on-site where you can learn more about the abbey. The museum’s exhibits include artefacts found at the site including medieval stone carvings, chess pieces and gold coins.
The abbey ruins are set in a beautiful location in a wooded valley. The River Rye flows past the ruins, and there are several walks that take in the abbey and its surroundings.
Visiting Rievaulx Abbey
Rievaulx Abbey is in the North York Moors National Park, just 5km (3 miles) from Helmsley. It is only accessible by public transport if you’re visiting on a weekend when you can take bus route M4 from Helmsley. It is an easy 10-minute journey but the bus only runs twice a day on Saturdays and Sundays. The infrequent public transport, coupled with ample parking at the site, means that it is best suited if you’re driving.
Visitor facilities include a visitor centre where you can obtain maps, guidebooks, and other resources to enhance your experience. There is also a small café at the site where you can enjoy a cream tea on an outdoor terrace overlooking the ruins.
A free audio tour is available in English, French and German and knowledgeable staff are on hand to answer any questions and provide insight into the abbey’s history.
Allow 1–2 hours to visit the abbey ruins and the adjoining museum.