Visiting Yorkshire's Monastic Past

The ruined abbeys of Fountains, Rievaulx, and Whitby, which vividly evoke the daily life of monks during the Middle Ages, are ideal for learning about the religious life and commercial activities of Yorkshire’s great monasteries and the political machinations that destroyed them.

The sheer number of what were once richly decorated monastic buildings is a testament to the power of medieval Yorkshire's Catholic monastic orders. They became some of the richest in Europe by virtue of the international wool trade conducted from their 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 1536. This was both a 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.

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