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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 and business worlds of the great monasteries of Yorkshire, and the political machinations that destroyed them. They serve as vivid reminders of what life was like in the Middle Ages.
The Fall of the Monasteries
The sheer number of once richly decorated monastic buildings here 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, with the help of lay workers, from their vast religious estates. The buildings lie mostly in romantic ruins, a result of the dissolution of the monasteries during the 16th century, part of Henry VIII's struggle with the Catholic Church over finances and his divorce request (the rejection of which he perceived as a calculated way to deny him a male heir). Henry's break with Rome was made official in 1534 with the Act of Supremacy, which made him head of the Church of England. By 1540 no monasteries or abbeys remained; the king confiscated all their property, distributed the lands, and destroyed or gave away many buildings.
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