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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic



This [Rievaulx] was the first offshoot of the Cistercian Order
in the territory of York. Those who had been sent were holy
and religious men, glorying in poverty and keeping peace with
all men, save with their own bodies and the ancient foe. For they bore
the stamp of discipline of their Clairvaux, whence they had come, and
were redolent in their deeds of piety of the fragrance of their mother.

['The foundation history of Fountains Abbey'] (1)

Aerial view of Rievaulx
©Dave MacLeod
<click to enlarge>

The foundation of Rievaulx in 1132 was promoted by Bernard of Clairvaux, who wanted to establish a Cistercian outpost in the North of England from whence the Order could penetrate the country. This was a textbook foundation, planned with military precision.

In 1131 Bernard wrote a letter to Henry I, informing the king of his intentions, and then sent several of his monks from Clairvaux to survey the area. Little is now known about the negotiations that took place between Bernard and Rievaulx’s founder, Walter Espec, who was a royal justice, but it is likely that the two men met at court and discussed there the foundation. Walter was an enthusiastic supporter of religious reform and had previously founded an Augustinian priory at Kirkham in 1122.(2) He remained a devoted founder and retired to Rievaulx shortly before his death and burial there c. 1153.

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