Report on 2015 Activities

One of the highlights of the varied programme of activities undertaken by Helmsley Archaeological and Historical Society during the summer of 2015 was a Guided Tour of Rievaulx Abbey by Jan Cooper, 16th May 2015

Fifteen Members attended a first-rate guided tour of Rievaulx Abbey by Jan Cooper. She gave a short talk about various building phases from first timber buildings in 1132, to the first stone church (Abbot William) by 1134, to second larger stone church and early stone cloister buildings by 1140, through to Abbot Aelred's much larger church, cloister and associated buildings from 1150 onwards

Entering nave of Aelred's Church by west door.
Architecturally very plain and austere as befitted the early Cistercian way of life

Jan then outlined Aelred's life and his significance to Rievaulx and the Cistercian Order

Nave aisles partially blocked in late 14thC to provide additional chapels
- original stone altars and piscina drains are still visible in some

Part of South Transept and 14thC piscina beside steps down into cloister alley

Gothic Choir showing three sets of windows

East end of church completely rebuilt around 1230 - 3 storey elevation from transepts eastwards
Fine example of early English Gothic architecture - beautifully carved and decorated, flooded with light and topped by a high stone vaulted roof - a complete contrast to the early simplistic Cistercian style

Medieval altar just reconstructed - awaiting placement of original stone altar top and reconsecration

North ambulatory - remains of flying buttresses needed to support the heavy stone vault

Jan also outlined St. Aelred's gold and silver shrine which stood behind the high altar and which attracted many pilgrims

Lay Brothers' West Cloister Range

Although remodelled several times, this still contains significant remains of Abbot Williams 1140 buildings - the earliest remains of Cistercian Lay Brothers' buildings in Europe - so is very important

Vousoir stones, part of early archway - most of which is beneath the level of Abbot Aelred's cloister

Jan talking about Lay Brothers' range and its later alterations and uses

Site of early Lay Brothers' Refectory - and top of drainage channel now beneath cloister level

Kitchen in south cloister range showing position of fire place and, on east side (adjoining
Monks' Refectory), section of curved wall within serving hatch indicating position of turntable

Pink paint still surviving on decorated part of Lavatorium outside Monks' Refectory

Warming House - Monks' laundry sink

Hole on front where lead water pipe attached, with plug hole to let water out and overflow cut out at rear (this is the only one known which is still in situ)

Same, showing stone flagged floor with raised edge to catch spills

View from Warming House passageway

Aelred's Chapter House (the second most important building in Monastery)

This is a unique design - apsidal east end with aisle all the way around to accommodate Lay Brothers - separated from Choir Monks who sat on stone seats in main body of building. Aisles blocked when no longer needed. Two skeletons found propped up against aisle wall during 1920s excavation - probably taken from desecrated Abbots' graves in Chapter House floor

Abbot William's shrine placed in window embrasure beside central Chapter House door

The group also visited the Monks' Day Room/site of Dormitory, Infirmary and - later - very palatial Abbot's House

Tanning Vats in reused undercroft originally beneath now-demolished
Day Room and Dormitory extensions

Tanning Vats - made from reused roof tiles

Heavily buttressed wall - due to subsidence problems

The Society is most grateful to Jan for her excellent and informative presentation and tour. Thanks also to Ken Shutt for the photographs.

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