Situated on the banks of the River Ribble, this ruinous Cistercian Abbey is almost overshadowed by the backdrop of dramatic hills and Lancashire's industrial buildings. Founded in 1147, Sawley Abbey - or Salley, as it was known in the Middle Ages - was neither large nor wealthy, but several of the monks serving there were very distinguished scholars.
Sadly, much of the remains today are little more than foundations, with only some of the abbey church walls standing to any height above ground. From excavations, however, it has been possible to determine the original plan of Sawley Abbey, albeit with some anomalies. The abbey church, for instance, appears very short and aisleless but, on further investigation, it would seem that this was as a result of some remodelling towards the end of its monastic life. Originally the west range would have served as the lay brothers' quarters but, again, at some point this was altered to provide a new abbots' lodging. There is a curious, squarish building at one end of this range which was probably built after the Dissolution.
Despite the lack of substantial buildings at Sawley Abbey, there were a few 'unexpected' areas of interest upon closer inspection of the site. In a corner of the south transept of the church, part of the monk's night stairs to their dormitory have survived. Several patches of medieval mosaic tiling still exist throughout the church, and many of the carved corbels and other decorative stonework have been rescued from excavations and put on view.
Sawley Abbey was suppressed in 1536, but the final days of monasticism here were as harshly dealt with as the buildings themselves. Following the Dissolution, monks returned to Sawley Abbey under a new abbot. However, when Henry VIII heard of this, he immediately ordered the monks to be executed for treason, as was common practice during the Pilgrimage of Grace. Therefore, in March 1537 the abbey was again dissolved, and its later history remains uncertain.
Even though by no stretch of the imagination can Sawley Abbey be classified as one of the 'great abbey sites', it is worthy of a visit simply to appreciate the rural surroundings where it lies, almost forgotten, in a picturesque village - forever a poignant reminder of the wrath of King Henry VIII.