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Rievaulx Abbey
North Yorkshire, England

[Wednesday - 10/26/94]"Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world." Those words could describe Rievaulx today, for it is one of the most atmospheric of all the ruined abbeys of the North. In fact, they were written over eight centuries ago by St Aelred, the monastery's third abbot. Although much of what was built by the monks is in ruins, most of the spectacular presbytery, the great eastern part of the abbey church, stands virtually to its full height. Built in the 13th century, its soaring beauty conveys the glory and splendour that Rievaulx once possessed.

Rievaulx was founded directly by the holy St. Bernard of Clairvaux, as part of the missionary effort to bring Christianity to western Europe. Twelve Clairvaux monks came to Rievaulx in 1132, and from these modest beginnings sprang one of the wealthiest monasteries of medieval England and the first Cistercian monastery in the North.

In the Middle Ages, wealthy families vied with each other in founding churches. Rievaulx enjoyed the protection and endowment of Walter Espec, who provided much of the abbey's land. The monks of Byland Abbey, over the river, cooperated with the Cistercians in agreeing to divert the course of the River Rye. You can still make out traces of the old river, and the channels dug by the monks.

A steady stream of monks came to Aelred, author and preacher, who was regarded then, and since, as a wise and saintly man. After his death in 1167 the monks sought his canonization and, in the 1220s, rebuilt the east part of their church in a much more elaborate style for his tomb. Rievaulx was still a vibrant community when Henry VIII dissolved it in 1538. Its new owner, Thomas Manners, first Earl of Rutland, swiftly began the systematic destruction of the buildings. What he left was one of the most eloquent of all monastic sites, free 'from the tumult of the world'.

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