Grid Ref: SE 550 789
Date: 21 July 2013

Byland Abbey lies about ten miles east of Thirsk in North Yorkshire and is in the care of English Heritage. A trip to Byland could be combined with a visit to Helmsley Castle or Rievaulx Abbey shown elsewhere on my site and both only about 4 miles away.

Byland Abbey
Byland Abbey west end with ruined rose window
Byland Abbey
Detail of arches
Byland Abbey
North Wall

abbey   Pavement
Byland Abbey   Tiled Pavement

Byland was started as a Savigniac house by a monks sent from Furness Abbey near Barrow in 1134 under the patronage of Ranulf Meschin. The Savignac order started in the Abbey of Savigny in northern France. Vitalis of Mortain, a cannon from the Collegiate Church of St. Evrouol built a hermitage in the Forest of Savigny and gathered a group of followers. In 1112 they were granted land by Rudolf of Fougeres for the foundation of an abbey. The abbey grew rapidly and in due course had 14 daughter houses in England and Wales. The Savignac order had financial and administrative difficulties and Abbot Serlo had problems in managing the English daughter houses. As a result he affiliated with the Congregation of Cîteaux, and the Order became part of the Cistercians.

The monks from Furness Abbey had initially set out for Calder in Cumberland but in 1137 this site was destroyed by invading Scots. The monks tried to return to Furness but were refused access, possibly because their abbot, Gerold, refused to be subordinate at Furness or possibly because of issues over finance. The Calder party then left Furness to go to York in the hope of recruiting the aid of Archbishop Thurstan who had been a supporter of Fountains Abbey. En route they were provided with shelter by Gundreda d'Aubigny and her son Roger de Mowbray, became the monks' patron and in due course gave them land. The monks moved in all five times before settling at New Byland near Coxwold in 1177. They had been also at Old Byland and then Stocking before reaching their eventual site.

The Abbot Roger, (1142-1196) was initially a sub-cellarer an master of the novices and then abbot for more than fifty years and presided over the change to the Cistercian Order. He started the new monastery at Byland and also constructed new temporary buildings at Stocking where the monks remained for thirty years. The church at Byland is said to be the largest in the country at the time, and the rose window in its western wall was a model for that in York Minster. Byland was typical of Cistercian abbeys in being in a remote location but prospered from wool production. Extensive details of the history of the abbey are given on the site of the Cistercians in Yorkshire Project.

The abbey was dissolved on 30 November 1538 and the following year the land was acquired by Sir William Pickering (1516/17-1575). He was knighted in 1547 and became English ambassador to France from 1551-1553. He was the first son of Sir William Pickering of London, Byland and Oswaldkirk and his wife Eleanor, the daughter of William Fairfax.

Excavation has uncovered some remarkable thirteenth-century floor tiles in the church, some of which are shown in the image above. It has the only stone lecturn base in England. Byland’s altar is now at nearby Ampleforth Abbey.


Cistercians in Yorkshire
Wikipedia article on Byland Abbey

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