Reliving Medieval History At Mount Grace Priory, Yorkshire

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At first sight, Mount Grace Priory looks more like a Jacobean house than a medieval monastery. You approach a grand façade with a formal stepped garden complete with pond and sculpted bushes. But walk through the house and you will find the best preserved Carthusian priory in England. A ruined church, a grassy cloister and the remains of twenty four monastic cells, all with a spectacular backdrop of hills.

A Carthusian Monastery

Mount Grace Priory was built in 1398. It was a wealthy foundation with a church, cloisters and 25 monastic cells, set at the foot of the Cleveland Hills in the North York Moors. But it fell into ruins following Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.

Ruins of a church surrounded by trees and grass.
The ruins of the Priory Church

In fact, my first impression of Mount Grace was not entirely wrong. The Priory had a separate house for visitors and after the dissolution a manor house was built around the remains of the guest house. In the early 20th century it was converted into an Arts and Crafts country house, and today it is a visitor centre with exhibits showcasing the Arts and Crafts Movement and the earlier monastic life.

But for many modern visitors it is the perfect place for a day out in the countryside. In the summer people sunbathe on the grass and families picnic in the grounds. And children love to run around the Great Cloister and the ruins of the monastery.

Outside of a manor house with formal terraced gardens.
The manor house and Arts and Crafts garden of Mount Grace Priory

The Monastic Life At Mount Grace

For me the most interesting thing was the individual cells, where the monks once lived in solitary confinement, only coming together for religious services. They gave a fascinating insight into the lives of the monks. Each cell was in effect a small private monastery, with living room, bedroom (with chapel) and workroom, walled garden and a small cloister for meditation. Monks tended to come from wealthy families, or to have benefactors, and you can see the remains of heraldic shields above many of the doors.

Looking beyond an open wooden door into a monastic cell.
A reconstructed monk’s cell at Mount Grace

One of the cells has been reconstructed so that you can see how the monks would have lived. This was a silent order and their time would have been divided between prayer and meditation, work (most monks had a trade, perhaps weaving or writing manuscripts) and labouring in the garden (manual work purified the soul). Each cell had a small hatch by the door for meals to be passed to them at regular intervals.

It was considered a privation to be a monk, a way of preparing oneself for the next life. But by the standards of the Middle Ages the monks were well off, with regular meals and a safe place to live. Mount Grace even had an advanced level of plumbing, providing drinking water and water to flush the latrines, a luxury that would have been unknown to most of their contemporaries. As I wandered around the cells, read about their daily routine, and looked up at the surrounding hills, I reflected that, rather than being deprived, the monks of Mount Grace must have had a rather enviable life.

Spinning wheel on a table in front of a white brick wall.
The workroom in a monastic cell

Visiting Mount Grace Priory: Some Practicalities

  • Mount Grace Priory is in the North York Moors national park, six miles from Northallerton in North Yorkshire. The easiest way to visit is by car.
  • Entrance is free to English Heritage and National Trust members. Overseas visitors can buy an English Heritage Visitor Pass allowing access to a selection of EH properties for a limited period.
  • The Priory has a shop and a picnic area. There are several pubs nearby where you can buy a meal.
  • There is a wide variety of overnight accommodation available in the surrounding area – have a look at the recommendations on
  • Mount Grace is one of many ruined abbeys in Yorkshire. Have a look at some of the others – 7 Great Abbeys In Yorkshire.


8 thoughts on “Reliving Medieval History At Mount Grace Priory, Yorkshire”

  1. The ruins of Priory Church are beautiful. I’ve visited a couple of monastery ruins in England (not this one though). It makes me wonder what these places might be like today if Henry VIII hadn’t dissolved them. With the reconstructed cell, it sounds like Grace Priory gives a good picture of what life was like for the monks.

    1. Hi Agness, a day would easily be enough to explore Mount Grace – an ideal expedition by car if you’re staying in York. But there’s loads more to see and do in the North York Moors so I’d recommend staying for longer.

  2. That first picture you posted above looks like something straight out of a Jane Austen novel! I never would have guessed it was home to a medieval priory! The monastic life you describe doesn’t strike me as too bad. It would suit people with a certain kind of personality: introverts who find social life stressful and prefer to be alone.

  3. I’m not the sort of person to pay repeatedlly for access to historic sites in this area, there are enough free places around, but Mount Grace is one I’ve found myself returning too every summer when I get to visit home from abroad. On top of the ruins being very evocative, there is also a lovely spring at the back of the place from which we always take a nice cool drink.
    Late summer also find the place covered with froglets, all moving from one place to another and quite a sight when you catch them on a busy day, they can even be found throughout the house. Great place. I have often wondered if this place has anything to do with the huge rebellion ‘The Pilgrimage of Grace’ during Henry VIII’s time.

    1. Hi John, thanks for your comment. According to the English Heritage website, the monks of Mount Grace refused to take part in the Pilgrimage of Grace and were pensioned off when the priory was dissolved a few years later…

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