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Yorkshire is a wide, open county, so vast that it covers most of the North of England. Though its southern regions are now heavily urbanized, the north retains the raw rural landscapes that once made monks swam here like bees to the honey-pot. There is something magnetic about the high moors and sweeping dales which draws one close to mother nature and, for a monk no doubt, to his God.
Monastic institutions first established themselves in the county, way back in the days of Saxon Northumbria. The area was famous for its holy men and women and the monasteries that gathered around them: St. Hilda in Whitby, St. Wilfred in Ripon, St. Chad in Lastingham. However, Viking devastation quickly brought the Golden Age of Northumbrian Christianity to an end and the ancient abbey churches lay in ruins for several centuries. Following the Norman Conquest (1066), however, a new breed of monks began to arrive in the North. A multitude of continental monastic orders moved in, all with different ideas about how to best serve God. The Northern Mission got off to a late start, so the widespread Benedictine monks were never a great force in Yorkshire. However, there was plenty of available land and generous lords eager to show their piety by donating it to a monastic foundation. The Augustinian 'black' canons were influential, but it was the strict Cistercians who really came into their own in the county, making Rievaulx the centre of their order in England. For almost 470 years, the monasteries dominated Yorkshire life. The monks were neighbours to everyone. Yet, suddenly, they were gone: swept away by the greed of 'Bluff King Hal' in the 1530s. The Dissolution of the Monasteries reduced most of the great Yorkshire Abbeys and Priories to mere stone quarries for the local population. Yet, still, the ruins over half of the eighty-three monastic houses in the county remain. Some of the best are in the Dales and the Moors. They stand proud and majestic in their dramatic locations. Let Britannia introduce you.
Apparently pronounced Jarvis. There is something of a magical quality to these largely untouched ruins in the Ure Valley. It is a particularly lovely place to spend a Summer's evening. You can admire its picturesque setting amongst the grazing sheep and the grasses and flowers which still grow high up on the walls. This must be the last of the artists' view of a romantic English ruin. Privately owned, but always open to the public, there is an 'honesty box' in which to pay for entry. For the more historical investigator, the remains are not without interest. The church has almost completely disappeared, but there are some interesting monuments including the weathered effigy of the abbey's great benefactor, Hugh FitzHugh (1307). The associated buildings stand to a much greater height. The Chapter House is nicely preserved, still with the columns which once held up the vaulting and their are good fireplaces in the Meat Kitchen.
Sitting at the end of the main street of the little market town of Bedale, is St. Gregory's Church. Now mostly a 13th & 14th century building, it incorporates tiny remnants of a 9th century Saxon church which survived William the Conqueror's harrying of the North. The early 14th century tower is probably the best example of a fortified church tower in the country. It was built to withstand Scottish raiding parties and you can still see the slot for the portcullis. There is a fireplace and guardrobe (toilet) in the room above.
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