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Introduction to the Paradoxplace Cistercian History and Photo Pages

Link to the early years of the Cistercian Order

Link to Saint Bernard and the Cistercians' Big Leap Forward













Books on Cistercian Abbeys

Chronology Entry

Link to all Abbey and Cathedral Pages in Paradoxplace




On this page are links to:


Melrose (Scotland) **

Rievaulx **

Fountains *


Buildwas *

Valle Crucis (N Wales)

Tintern (Wales) **





** must visits

* recommended



Photographed but not yet loaded



Cleeve (Somerset)


Hailes (with yokel painted chapel at the gate) * (Gloucestershire)


Dore (Herefordshire)



The abbeys of Cleeve and Hailes were bankrolled by King John's son Richard, Earl of Cornwall (1209 - 1272 (63)), who was inter alia

the only Englishman to make it to the double eagle position of King of the Romans.  He was buried in Hailes.


At Cleeve Abbey (N Somerset) a medieval floor tile image of Saladin (c1137 - 1193 (56)) charging at full tilt.

The recipient of the charge - the awful King Richard - would have been shown in a facing tile.


Floor tiles from Hailes Abbey Museum (Gloucestershire)



Dragons and a wise Owl in the chapel of ease at the entrance to Hailes Abbey








If it's Cistercian Abbey photos you want, this is THE coffee table book

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 Buy from Amazon USA

Buy from Amazon UK


Books about Cathedrals, Abbeys, Priories and Churches in the UK




Links to other books on the Cistercians


The first Cistercian presence in England was established in 1118 at Waverley on the River Wey in West Surrey.  Within 30 years it had been joined by another 49 Cistercian abbeys in Britain, including the great Yorkshire abbeys of Rievaulx (1131) and Fountains (1132) and Tintern Abbey (1131) in Wales.






Melrose Abbey,  Scotland  (dedicated 1146)




Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire (1131)



One branch of the Paradox Dynasty lived in the Hebden Bridge area of the Calder Valley of South West Yorkshire during the Industrial Revolution which engulfed the wool and cotton industries.   We came across this interesting website which not only threw light on their early 1800s lives at the Midgehole Mill, but began with a section about the Cistercians in Yorkshire.


"The First Industrial Revolution - the Cistercians in Yorkshire"




Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire (1132)








Timeline showing opening dates of British and key European Abbeys



The first Cistercian presence in England was established in 1118 at Waverley on the River Wey in West Surrey (bottom of page).  Within 30 years it had been joined by another 49 Cistercian abbeys in Britain, including the great Yorkshire abbeys of Rievaulx (1131) and Fountains (1132) (above). 


Fast growth often breeds undesirable side effects, and the Cistercians were no exception.  An English Justice said that he always exempted Cistercians from his oath to do justice to all men since, he said, 'it was absurd to do justice to those who are just to none'.  He was referring to the Cistercians' unprincipled and aggressive behaviour in expanding their land holdings and throwing out previous occupants, destroying villages and churches and 'dooming people to a lasting exile' - which behaviour ensured that the Cistercians were indeed living 'far from the concourse of man'.


The Cistercians could fund fast growth in part because they were making a lot of money in England from being the biggest wool producer in the land.  When the English royal treasury had to find 150,000 marks to get back Richard I from the dungeons of Emperor Henry VI (Hohenstaufen) in 1193 after the Third Crusade, one measure taken was to expropriate a year's supply of wool (in effect a year's income) from every Cistercian Abbey in the country.  It was as a result of this that several bigger abbeys made friends with bankers and were lent money against future wool production, a practice that was to prove disastrous for many of them in later years when projected production levels failed to materialize - not the last time that bankers have proved part of the problem rather than the solution.


Things got even worse when Richard's brother King John (1167-1199-1216 (49)) refused to accept Pope Innocent III's appointee Stephen Langton (1250 - 1228 (78)) as Archbishop of Canterbury and maneuvered to appoint the Bishop of Norwich, John de Gray, instead.  Innocent (1161 - 1198 - 1216 (55)), probably the most powerful Pope ever, was not used to being mucked around by fringe monarchs or indeed anyone else.  Langton twiddled his thumbs (or more likely got on with his real love -  sorting the bible out) in the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy whilst John seized all the possessions of the archbishoprics of Canterbury and York.  In March 1208 Innocent retaliated by imposing an interdict.  This meant that the priests of England were ordered to go on strike - they were not allowed to conduct any church services, hear confessions or administer sacraments (including the Last Rites).  In reality the power of "religious superstition" probably meant that a strong sacramental black market developed.


In November 1209 Innocent stepped up the pressure further and excommunicated John, one of whose responses was to turn on the Cistercians with a vengeance and impose crippling levies (no doubt paid through new banking instruments).  It took four years to resolve the standoff when John backed down under threat of a French invasion.  Then the priests went back to work officially, Langton was allowed in to England, John de Gray went to Rome to say sorry and he and Innocent decided they quite liked each other,  and several Cistercian Abbeys were financially crippled. 


Archbishop Langton subsequently gave secret encouragement to the leaders of the baronial group which forced the King to sign Magna Carta in 1215 -  King John must have known he had been right in the first place!   Then Langton got suspended by the Pope for not imposing a punishment on the barons who had dared to question the divine authority of the king (and by implication the Pope) ... complicated times them middle ages, and the price of mistakes could be very high!


The Black Death, which first swept up Europe in 1348, wiped out over half its population.  Hitherto plentiful labour became scarce, and Cistercian lay brothers became a thing of the past.  This development and others made the economics of monasteries much more difficult, a situation made worse by the fact that they were slipping out of fashion.  


Eventually of course, the surviving Cistercian Abbeys, by then with very depleted monk numbers, met their end 200 years later when good old Henry VIII dissolved them all in the late 1530s and seized all their possessions.





Byland Abbey,  Yorkshire - Originally Savigniac (1177)



Valle Crucis Abbey in North Wales was not one of your great architectural Cistercian Abbeys when it was alive, and has not evolved into a particularly interesting ruin!   Even the setting, which should be very beautiful, has been badly compromised by a large adjacent caravan park.  Our view was also impacted by a pretty grizzly day! 


Go here to see a lot of photos taken in sunlight! 



Buildwas Abbey,  Shropshire - originally Savigniac (1135) - these structures belong to the original (Romanesque) abbey whereas most abbey ruins (such as Tintern below) belong to second generation (Gothic) rebuilds.




Tintern Abbey,  Wales (1131)


Tintern Abbey is in the lower Wye Valley in Wales.  It was founded in 1131 as the first Cistercian Abbey in Wales (and the second of what were to become 86 abbeys in Britain), on land originally owned by Henry I - the fourth son of William the Conqueror.  The ruins there now come from a gothic rebuild in the late 1200s - nothing remains of the original abbey.


Postcard Image


Postcard Image



Waverley Abbey, Surrey - First Cistercian Abbey in Britain (1118)



Beaulieu Abbey, Hampshire (1204)


Over 40 photo pages of Cistercian Abbeys in:  SPAIN & PORTUGAL  ITALY  FRANCE  BRITAIN (this page)





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