7 Great Abbeys In Yorkshire

Whitby Abbey Yorkshire
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At one time there were around seventy abbeys and other monastic foundations in Yorkshire, reflecting the great wealth of the county. Almost all of them were destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, leaving the romantic ruins that visitors enjoy today. Here are just a few of the great abbeys in Yorkshire.

1. Fountains Abbey

Close to the city of Ripon, Fountains Abbey is perhaps the best known of Yorkshire’s historic abbeys. It is steeped in history, to the extent that it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once the wealthiest monastic foundation in Europe, it later became a grand estate with landscaped gardens. Now it is a popular spot for days out: exploring the ruins, walking through the grounds, and picnicking.

People on the grass in front of a ruined abbey with a backdrop of hills and trees
The ruins of Fountains Abbey

Read more: Walking into the Past at Fountains Abbey.

2. Whitby Abbey

Another very famous site is the romantic Whitby Abbey. Most visitors to Whitby will at some point climb the 199 steps to this Gothic ruin on a hill overlooking the town.

The abbey is full of history and legends, starting with the 7th century St Hilda. Not only did she host the important Synod of Whitby in 664, but she is also reputed to have turned snakes into stone, so creating the ammonite fossils for which the area is renowned.

Whitby Abbey sits on a hill above the town (Image by CraigDutton from Pixabay)

More recently, the abbey inspired Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, part of which was set here. You may spot tourists hunting for Dracula’s grave in the churchyard although – unsurprisingly – it is nowhere to be found!

3. Mount Grace Priory

Mount Grace Priory is one of my favourites. Behind a Jacobean Manor House (itself worth visiting for its Arts and Crafts furnishings) you will find the most extensive remains of a Carthusian foundation in England. As you walk around this fascinating site, with its spectacular setting among the hills, you get a real sense of monastic life in the Middle Ages.

Ruins of a monastery with trees behind
Remains of monks’ cells at Mount Grace Priory

Read more about Mount Grace Priory.

4. Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey is close to Helmsley, on the edge of the North York Moors. Founded in 1130, it was one of the first Cistercian abbeys in England. The buildings are remarkably complete, allowing you to walk in the footsteps of the medieval inhabitants.

A terraced walk overlooking the abbey was built in the 18th century. The terrace also features two Grecian-style temples.

5. Bolton Priory

Bolton Priory has a particularly atmospheric location, set beside a river in the Yorkshire Dales. An Augustinian foundation, it was established in 1155, and its activities included sheep farming and lead mining. Today’s visitors can enjoy the ruins and walks around the nearby woodland. They can also visit the priory church, which is still in use.

Read more: Enjoying The Ruins Of Bolton Priory.

6. Byland Abbey

Byland Abbey is in the beautiful Howardian Hills, just south of the North York Moors National Park. Apart from its setting, Byland is remarkable for its architecture, which influenced the design of later monasteries across England. Look out, too, for the intricate tiled floors.

Steps with intricate tiled patterns
Tiled flooring at Byland Abbey (Image by mattbuck via Wikimedia Commons)

7. Jervaulx Abbey

Jervaulx Abbey, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, is unusual in that it is privately owned. However, visitors are encouraged, and can enjoy the peaceful grounds and surroundings. There is also a tearoom, and a camp and caravan site.

Read more about Visiting Jervaulx Abbey.

Yorkshire Abbeys And English Heritage

Several of the abbeys in Yorkshire are managed by English Heritage, and entrance is free to English Heritage members. Fountains Abbey is under the care of the National Trust, but English Heritage members can visit free of charge.

Other Abbeys In Yorkshire

Elsewhere in Yorkshire you will find the tranquil riverside Kirkham Priory, and St Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens in York. And there are many other ruined abbeys and monasteries for you to discover.

Ruined abbey and trees with bare branches
St Mary’s Abbey in York

Then there are the ones that are still in use. Visitors are welcome at Ampleforth Abbey (not far from Rievaulx), which was founded in 1802 and is still a working monastery. And the minsters of Beverley and Howden, once medieval monastic foundations, are now thriving parish churches.

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Karen Warren

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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