Byland Abbey - History and Facts | History Hit

Byland Abbey

Ryedale, England, United Kingdom

Byland Abbey was a prominent 12th century monastery which now lies in atmospheric ruins in Yorkshire.

Lily Johnson

26 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Byland Abbey

The ruins of the 12th century Byland Abbey rank among the most picturesque historic sites in Britain, with its turbulent history a fascinating look into medieval England. Though suffering damage in the Scottish Wars of Independence and the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, Byland was once one of northern England’s strongest monastic centres.

Byland Abbey history

Byland Abbey was first established as a monastery of the Savigniac order, eventually becoming part of the better known Cistercian order in the mid-12th century. Having spent considerable time seeking an appropriate location – and often in dispute with other monasteries – the monks of the order settled near Oldstead. This was never meant to be permanent, and instead a long process of construction began at Byland, involving the draining of marshland and construction of a magnificent church, taking over 30 years to complete.

In early medieval times, Byland was particularly well known for its sheep rearing and export of wool, becoming a centre of wealth in the north. In 1322 however, Byland was sacked by Robert the Bruce’s army as the Scots pursued Edward II, after he has lead an unsuccessful invasion of Scotland. The 14th century saw further decline as a result of the Black Death, with the Abbey’s finances dwindling.

Despite periods of prosperity, the story did not improve for the oft-troubled Abbey during the Tudor period, with uprisings such as the Pilgrimage of Grace causing great upheaval in the area. In 1537, the Abbott of Jervaulx (Jervaulx was a ‘daughter’ house to Byland) was executed for treason, and the following year Byland voluntarily surrendered to the Crown, with its monks receiving a pension in exchange. The Abbey was stripped of lead, glass, timber and anything else of value and left a shell.

Byland Abbey Today

Today, Byland Abbey is managed by English Heritage and consists of an atmospheric ruin, which remains a fantastic example of early gothic architecture – in its heyday it inspired the creation of the famous York Minster rose window! In the south transept of the Abbey’s church, much of the 13th century floor tiling survives, while at its west front three tall lancet windows and the base of the once-spectacular rose window may also be viewed.

The accompanying museum affords visitors a fascinating insight into monastic life at the Abbey, with many archaeological finds on display. Highlights include the only known ink stand to have been used in the signing of a deed of surrender during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, as well as a large collection of intricate stonework from the Abbey’s five phases of construction.

Getting to Byland Abbey

Byland Abbey is located in Ryedale in North Yorkshire, 2 miles south of the A170. There is a small car park at the site, with additional parking available in the lay-bys half a mile to the south towards Coxwold, and behind the Abbey Inn. The nearest train station is Thirsk, 10 miles away, while the Stephensons 31 and 31X bus services stop directly outside the site.

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British Church Ruins to Visit

Discover the ruined churches, monasteries, abbeys and cathedrals that were devastated by one of the most turbulent moments in Britain's religious history, the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-1541).