Yorkshire Feature

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Visiting Yorkshire's Monastic Past

Today the ruined abbeys at Fountains, Rievaulx, and Whitby are top attractions where you can learn about the religious life and business activities of Yorkshire’s great monasteries, and the political machinations that destroyed them. They vividly evoke daily life during the Middle Ages.

The Fall of the Monasteries

The sheer number of what were once richly decorated monastic buildings is a testament to the power of the Catholic monks of medieval Yorkshire. They became some of the richest in Europe by virtue of the international wool trade that they conducted from these vast estates with the help of lay workers. The buildings are now mostly romantic ruins, a result of the dissolution of the monasteries during the 16th century following Henry VIII's establishment of the Church of England (with himself as its head) in 1534. This was both retaliation against the Catholic Church for denying him a divorce (and thus, in his view, a male heir) and a way of appropriating the monasteries’ wealth. By 1540 no monasteries remained in England; the king confiscated all their property, redistributed their land, and destroyed or gave away many buildings.

Updated: 10-2013

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