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The perfect marriage of architecture and countryside, Rievaulx (pronounced ree-voh) Abbey has a dramatic setting 2 miles northwest of Helmsley, its soaring arches built to precisely frame a forested hillside rushing down to the River Rye. A French Cistercian sect founded this abbey in 1132, and the monks' life of isolation didn't prevent them from being active in the wool trade. By the end of the 13th century the abbey was massively wealthy and the evocative ruins give a good indication of how vast it once was. Medieval mosaic tiling can still be seen here and there, and large parts of the symmetrical cloisters remain. At the entrance to the Chapter House is the original shrine of the first abbot, William. By the time of Henry VIII, the abbey had shrunk dramatically; only 20 or so monks lived here when the king's soldiers arrived to destroy the building in 1538. After that, the earl of Rutland owned Rievaulx, and he did his best to demolish what was left, with villagers carting away stones from the abbey to build their houses. What remains is a beautiful ghost of the magnificent building that once stood here. If you're up for exercise, the abbey is a 1½-hour walk from Helmsley.
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