Kirkstall Abbey





Kirkstall Abbey
On the banks of the River Aire, I was shown one of Britain's best preserved abbeys - Kirkstall Abbey.   It's located two and a half miles from Leeds City Center.

It was the end of a beautiful warm sunny day in Yorkshire and the shadows cast the Abbey in a wonderful light.   I was delighted to be amidst such history.   Very few people were on the Abbey grounds which allowed me to take the pictures you will see on this page.

I was told that Kirkstall is a little gem, often overlooked by the locals as it is simply 'there' - beside a busy road and not one of the first places that comes to mind to show visitors.



Kirkstall Abbey was founded in 1152 by Cistercian monks from Fountains Abbey located near Ripon.   The monasteries of the Cistercian order had undergone a significant expansion, having grown from 12 in 1120 to 330 by 1152, requiring the expansion to the Airedale region where the living climate was hospitable.

Built between 1152 and 1182 on the northern bank of the River Aire, the abbey was initially built from wood, but these structures were quickly replaced by massive local Bramley Fall gritstone, forming the church, cloister and surrounding buildings.

The Cloister originally had a stone walkway.   The North walk (right side of picture) held the scriptorium where the monks wrote and studied.   The left side of the picture shows the exterior of the Nave.   The upper lantern tower was added in the 16th century but a storm in 1779 caused the Tower to collapse.

The Nave, Tower and Cloister


The Chapter House
This is an entry to the Chapter House.   Everyday, the monks met here to discuss business and to read a chapter from the "Rules of St Benedict".   Monks who had sinned were also punished here.   In here we also found some of the Monk's coffins which had been placed there during the Victorian restoration.

Henry VIII's separation from Rome had devasting consequences on the many houses of worship and ultimately on the entire realm, its people, the monarchy and politics.   On November 22, 1539, life at Kirkstall Abbey came to an abrupt end.   Henry VIII ordered all religious houses to be closed down.   As a result of the dissolution of the monasteries, the monks living there were granted immediate pensions, and its abbot, John Ripley, lived in retirement at the Abbey Gatehouse.



For the next four centuries, ownership of the Abbey passed through the hands of numerous individuals.   In 1542, the abbey and its surrounding land was granted to Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, but reverted back to the Crown some 14 years later when Cranmer was burned to death for his religious beliefs.  (It's always a hindrance to progress when people are persecuted for their point of view.)   It was later purchased in 1583 by Sir Robert Savile, passing through marriage to the Earls of Cardigan.   By 1889, Colonel John North purchased the abbey from the Countess of Cardigan.   He promptly presented the abbey to the City of Leeds whereby plans for its restoration were undertaken.

On September 14, 1895, the preservation work was completed, and Kirkstall Abbey was formally opened to the public.   Restorative work was initiated by Leeds City Council in 1980, a programme that remains in place to this day.

After a well deserved rest, we visited the Yorkshire Dales.

Kirkstall Abbey



Exploring London

Onward to the Dales

Exploring Yorkshire

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