You may have seen pictures of Rievaulx Abbey but as you wend your way down the wooded lane, that leads to the village, nothing can really prepare you for your first glimpse of the elegance and majesty of the lofty remains, still standing after 800 years in this secluded, peaceful valley.
It is not hard to understand why St. Bernard of Clairvaulx, finding so deserted a place early in the 12th century, chose it as the site for the first Cistercian monastery in Northern England. From here, relying on the riches of the land, the forests and the river, the Cistercians planned to settle, to establish monastic life - and to convert the English and the Scottish. Their ultimate aim was to establish a newtwork of monasteries throughout the two countries.. An aim they went along way to achieve - I discovered a list of 135 in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland .
As you leave the Exhibition Hall you will see the first of many information points that will direct you to the starting point for the audio tour.
This will provide you with much historical information and insights into the pattern of life at Rievaulx, starting with those first few monks sent from the parent House in Burgundy, the lay brethren who joined them and subsequent recruits.
I felt some of the presentaion was over romaticised and failed to describe fully the rise and fall of Rievaulx. Further reading suggests that the original values of poverty, piety, prayer, commitment, industrious living and charity were subsumed to the development of power and wealth. This has to be set within the perspective of religious schism, international strife and warfare, plague and a downturn in economic fortunes.
But it is possible to wander among these splendid ruins and recall
This Rievaulx was the first offshoot of the Cistercian Order
in the territory of York. Those who had been sent were holy
and religious men, glorying in poverty and keeping peace with
all men, For they bore the stamp of discipline of their Clairvaux, whence they had come, and were redolent in their deeds of piety.
Monks in need of mercy and compassion flocked to Rievaulx
from foreign peoples and from the far ends of the earth,
that there in very truth they might find peace and the holiness
without no man shall see God.
Walter Daniel, Life of Aelred -3rd Abbott of Rievaulx
Open all Year except 25th & 26th. Dec. and Jan.1st.
Concession Children and Seniors.
Free to Members of English Heritage and CADW.
Shop and Cafe.
The walkway along a grassy terrace created by the Duncombe family in the 18th Century, with spendid views and gardens were completed by replicas of Temples, as seen by the nouveau riche Duncombe family, on their travels in Italy and Greece.
Their ancestor, a former Lord Mayor of London, started life as an apprentice to a Goldsmith but made his fortune in Banking. Shades of Dick Whittington!
He had no direct descendant so his property passed to his nephew - who changed his name to Duncombe and at once set himself up to rival his neighbours the Howards of Castle Howard. Then and now one of the grandest of houses in England.
At one end of the walk the Ionic Temple - at the other the Tuscan Temple.
Guests would usually arrive by carriage , entering through the large gates mid-way between the two temples and from there commence the walk, either through the woodland path or on the grassy terrace, to the The Tuscan Temple - little more than an ornate, expensive Folly.
From there they would proceed the half mile walk to the Ionic Temple, taking in the views of the Abbey on the way.
The main room in the Temple is the classical miniature banqueting room with its frescoed ceiling by Giuseppi Mattia Borgnis ( 1701 - 61) where guests were entertained, dined and wined.
The food served was brought from the semi basement groundfloor kitchen.
I asked the guide if there were any other rooms or sanitary arrangements for visitors . She took me to a window and pointed out the site of an old privy down the path at the back.
The Tuscan Temple is not open to visitors but it is possible to view the interior through the windows and by carefully positioned mirrors inside.
The Ionic Temple is open periodically during the day. Staff in the Visitor centre will provide times. We were fortunate to have a brilliant young guide, a recent MA in Medieval and 17th/18th History, in her first post and whose enthusiasm and love of her subject was an inspiration.
All details regarding admission as for Rievaulx Terrace
I would recommend visiting the Terrace before the Abbey because of the views that you have as you take the walk along the terrace looking down on the Abbey . This helps to provide a clearer perspective of the Abbey's size and its location in the Valley below.
Thomas Duncombe ll created the Rievaulx Terraces, woodlands and gardens between 1749 and 1757. This was the age when rich men and their families first began to travel abroad.
Why send postcards home when on your return you could build and replicate scenes from your travels to show off to your friends and neighbours?
You could then invite them all to admire them and be entertained.
So much the better if your lands overlooked the romantic ruins of an ancient Abbey. From which it must be said, it had been the custom for the ruination to be increased by the removal of precious stone and artefacts for the building of new Mansions in which to display new wealth and power.
Open 28 Feb - 1 Nov 11am -5pmAdmission Free to NT members
Adults £5 Children under 17 £2.75