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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

The rise


View of the twelfth-century abbey church
<click to enlarge>
View of the twelfth-century abbey church <click to enlarge>

Roche was a moderately-sized house. It never had extensive holdings and did not found any daughter-houses; yet the abbey engaged in local and national affairs, and played an active role in the Order. The general fortunes of Roche mirror those of other houses: a time of growth and prosperity in the twelfth and first half of the thirteenth century was followed by a period of gradual decline until the Surrender of the abbey in 1538; this broad framework was punctured by highs and lows.

In Denis’ abbacy (c. 1159-71) Roche embarked upon a programme of expansion, to accumulate lands and possessions that would support a self-sufficient community. The abbey thrived throughout the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, save for a brief spell during Hugh of Wadworth’s abbacy (c.1179-84), when Roche suffered serious financial problems. Hugh’s ambition to expand the abbey’s holdings at Roxby landed the abbey in considerable debt, for he borrowed extensively from the Jews of York. Roche’s financial problems were soon solved by Hugh’s successor, Osmund (c. 1184-1213), one of the ablest and longest-serving abbots of Roche. Osmund significantly strengthened the community, bringing much of the building-work to completion, and securing papal and royal confirmation of the abbey’s possessions. Whilst Roche attracted gifts from outsiders it also drew local men as recruits. Abbots, Roger of Tickhill (c.1171-9) and Hugh de Wadworth (c.1179-84), as their names suggest, came from the neighbourhood. It is likely that a number of the choir monks were also from the locality, but with no record of their names, we can only speculate.

The watercourse at Roche
©Ray Thompson
<click to enlarge>
The watercourse at Roche

Roche was, clearly, held in high regard by its neighbours, who wanted to be involved with the community as benefactors or recruits. Several of Roche’s abbots were also esteemed, notably, Osmund, who was made proctor of Cardinal Stephen’s rents in England. This brought considerable financial benefit to the abbey, and drew in the significant sum of 400m pa. The monks of Roche were enriched to such an extent that contemporaries considered them wise men, lacking no temporal goods. (1)

Monks of Roche were also influential in the context of the Order, and several were promoted to positions of authority in other Cistercian houses. Helias, ‘a man full of energy, fully practiced in dealing with outside affairs’ (2), became abbot of Kirkstall in 1209; Henry, who was prior of Roche, was elected abbot of Newminster, Northumberland, in 1216. It is not a coincidence that Roche, Newminster and Kirkstall were all affiliated to Fountains, for movement amongst houses was generally kept within the family line.

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