One of the things that determined the itinerary of my most recent foray into the past was visiting the great Borders abbeys, or what is left of them. Some of these (Fountians, Rievaulx, Melrose) were Cistercian houses, Jedburgh was Augustinian, The Tironensian Order (Grey Friars) founded Kelso in 1128 (and soon discovered that they lived on the route of invasion between Scotland and England), and Dryburgh was Premonstratensian (White Canons). They all date to the 1100s-1200s, although all had earlier monasteries or churches either close by (Melrose) or probably under (Jedburgh) the new foundations.
Fountains came into being after a “riot” in the Benedictine Monastery of St. Mary’s in York in 1132. 13 monks got kicked out, in part for demanding more austerity (poverty, separation from the world) than the politically powerful Archbishop and Abbot of York wanted to revert to. The malcontents settled at Fountains under the aegis of a different bishop. After a very hard winter, they petitioned to be allowed into the Cistercian Order. This was granted. The abbey did well until the 1300s. The Scots attacked, sheep diseases (and cattle ailments) did in many of the flocks and herds, animals that were mortgaged to wool-dealers on the Continent. Then the Black Death cut the labor supply inside and outside of the abbey. The abbey had partially recovered before Henry VIII took over all the property as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Fountains to day is a busy, popular place to visit, with a country house not far away, and lots of things aimed at kids. The place was full of families when I visited. You can also see the grange. A grange is a farm associated with a monastery or convent that is not on the monastery grounds proper, and that was leased or rented out. Fountains also had lead and iron mines, glass-making facilities, slate quarries, tens of thousands of sheep, farms, grist and lumber mills, timber sales, and a few other sources of income. Collectively, the Cistercians became the single greatest wool exporter in the British Isles by 1300.
Riveaulx is more what you’d think of the Cistercians as doing – way the heck in the middle of nowhere, hard to find, and not overrun with people. It was founded in 1132 and grew from fewer than 20 brothers to 640 plus lay brothers and novices by the 1160s. It to throve, then staggered in the 1300s before starting to recover. With the dissolution of the monasteries, the new owners stripped it of the lead, glass, wood, and pretty much anything that they could cart off. Because it was isolated, more of the walls remained standing at the time, although they were recycled in later years. The museum has one of the lead “boats” made from the roof material. This one somehow didn’t end up being turned in to anything else. It is easily four feet long and two feet thick, pure lead.
The abbeys in Scotland were a bit different, as we will see later . . .