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Jervaulx Abbey
East Witton, England

[Thursday - 10/27/94] The crumbling walls of this ancient Cistercian monastery, heavily clad in their diverse vegetation, present one of the most romantic images of a former splendour and seclusion enjoyed by the white monks. Set humbly against a backdrop of parkland, this privately-owned ruin is an enchanting and enlightening reminder of the simplicity of life, the spiritual devotion, and the harsh conditions endured by the strict order of Cistercians.

Building on this site began in 1141 and much of what remains today has miraculously survived from this period. Jervaulx suffered more heavily than other Yorkshire abbeys at the Dissolution because the last abbot was involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace. After a campaign of savage and thorough destruction in 1537, completely obliterating the abbey church. It was incredible to see such substantial sections of the monks' dorter and the infirmary still standing.

Although the ground plan of the church can be identified, there are only fragments of the original walls visible along the entire 270 ft, and a few column bases springing up from the undergrowth.

From the cloister, a few steps lead into the Chapter House where some remaining central columns indicate that this was once a very fine, vaulted room. There are some lovely examples of the decorative corbels against the surviving walls.

Probably the most recognised feature of Jervaulx, for it's prominence on the horizon, is the wall supporting the remaining nine lancet windows which formed part of the monks' dormitory.

A further point of interest, just inside the gate, is a rare example of a monks embalming slab. This large piece of stone was used to lay out the abbots and wash them before burial, and was originally found in the infirmary.

These wonderfully wild and atmospheric abbey ruins provide a real sense of enthusiasm and energy, dramatically contrasting with the sheer peace and tranquillity of the location. Seeing these monastic remains added still another dimension to our medieval adventure and overall sense of history.

Apart from Jervaulx's obvious charm, there was something very appealing, and appropriate, about the trusting attitude of the owners who have provided a 'conscience box' at the entrance gate. It seemed very fitting to make a voluntary donation towards the maintenance of such an amazing monument - almost like participating in the collection at any church service.

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