Rievaulx abbey

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Rievaulx abbey (Yorks.) was founded in 1131 in the Rie valley by Walter Espec, lord of nearby Helmsley, in consultation with St Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux, and Archbishop Thurstan of York. It was the second Cistercian abbey to be established in England. Under the abbacy of St Ailred, who had joined the abbey as a monk soon after its foundation, it flourished, becoming the largest Cistercian community in England. At Ailred's death (1166) it was said to contain 140 monks. Its lands were concentrated in north Yorkshire and the basis of its economy was pastoral farming, particularly wool production. It attained its greatest prosperity in the first half of the 13th cent. and though it had declined somewhat by the end of the century, it still possessed some 12,000 sheep. However, it was never one of the wealthiest Cistercian abbeys: in 1322 it was sacked by the Scots, a disaster from which it never fully recovered. At the dissolution Rievaulx had a net income of c. £278. The extensive ruins of the abbey constitute perhaps the finest surviving buildings of any English Cistercian house, and the east end of the abbey church, rebuilt c.1225, is a masterpiece of English Gothic architecture.

Brian Golding

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