Jervaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire

The crumbling walls of this ancient Cistercian monastery, heavily clad in their diverse vegetation, present one of the most romantic images of a former splendour and seclusion enjoyed by the white monks. Set humbly against a backdrop of parkland, this privately-owned ruin is an enchanting and enlightening reminder of the simplicity of life, the spiritual devotion, and the harsh conditions endured by the strict order of Cistercians.

Building on this site began in the mid-12th century and much of what remains today has miraculously survived from this period. Jervaulx Abbey suffered more heavily than other Yorkshire abbeys at the Dissolution because the last abbot was involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace. After a campaign of savage and thorough destruction, completely obliterating the abbey church, it is incredible to see such substantial sections of the monks' dorter and the infirmary still standing.

Although the ground plan of the church can be identified, there are only fragments of the original walls visible along the entire 270ft (82m), and a few column bases springing up from the undergrowth. However, the real beauty of the abbey church now takes the form of a profusion of wild flowers decorating the ancient stones, and providing a colourful carpet across the nave. In total, there are believed to be some 200 different species growing amongst the ruins.

From the cloister, a few steps lead into the Chapter House where some remaining central columns indicate that this was once a very fine, vaulted room. There are some lovely examples of the decorative corbels against the surviving walls and, here again, a few of these are charmingly enhanced with the vibrant colours of delicate, creeping flowers. Probably the most recognised feature of Jervaulx Abbey, for it's prominence on the horizon, is the wall supporting the remaining nine lancet windows which formed part of the monks' dormitory.

These wonderfully wild and atmospheric abbey ruins provide a real sense of enthusiasm and energy, dramatically contrasting with the sheer peace and tranquillity of the location. We have to admit that seeing these monastic remains revitalised with nature's ever-changing seasonal growth adds an entirely new dimension to medieval architecture and history.

Apart from Jervaulx Abbeys obvious charm, there was something very appealing, and appropriate, about the trusting attitude of the owners who have provided a 'conscience box' at the entrance gate. It seemed very fitting to make a voluntary donation towards the maintenance of such an amazing monument - almost like participating in the collection at any church service. A further point of interest, just inside the gate, is a rare example of a monks embalming slab. This large piece of stone was used to lay out the abbots and wash them before burial, and was originally found in the infirmary.

Across the road from Jervaulx Abbey is a large car park, a cafeteria selling home-made cakes and pastries, and a small gift shop. The entire complex has been well thought out by the owners, and gives visitors the opportunity to relax and spend a few hours at this wonderful spot in the valley of the Ure.


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