Previously unseen artefacts have gone on display at Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire. A new museum and exhibition at the site form part of a £1.6 million investment into telling the story of the abbey from its foundation in 1132 to its suppression in 1538.
Dr Michael Carter, Senior Properties Historian for English Heritage, said:
“Rievaulx Abbey is one of the most important abbeys in England – and it’s setting one of the most beautiful. It was a place of huge spiritual significance for the country – and one utterly transformed by dramatic upheaval under Henry VIII. Our new museum now does justice to the abbey’s whole story, showcasing its most important artefacts, many of which have never been seen before.”
Elaborate medieval stone carvings, book bindings and gold coins tell the story of the rise of the first Cistercian abbey in the North of England. One of the richest and most important monasteries in England, Rievaulx was home to over 600 men in its heyday, and the craftsmanship of the monks is evident. Meanwhile, daily objects like chess pieces and pottery give us a glimpse of the lives of the monks who worked, prayed and studied at Rievaulx.
Rievaulx fell into decline, and the number of monks fell to around 20 before it was ransacked in 1538 as a part of Henry VIII’s Suppression of the Monasteries. The monks were cast out and most of the abbey’s assets were seized.
A lead bar (known as a ‘fother’) which is now on display in the museum gives us a glimpse into how much was taken from Rievaulx. Weighing over half a tonne, the bar is made from the melted down lead from the abbeys roof and windows. Stamped with the King’s seal, it was meant to be taken away to Henry’s Treasury, and was only left at Rievaulx when part of the building collapsed during the Suppression, burying it under the rubble.