Home of Medieval Cistercian Monks
Kirkstall Abbey near Leeds in West Yorkshire was home to medieval Cistercian monks and is one of the best preserved Cistercian abbeys in Britain. You’ll find an informative and enjoyable visitor centre and you could combine your visit with an exploration of the Abbey House Museum located alongside.
A walk through the park that surrounds Kirkstall Abbey somehow leaves you with an inner calm, as your mind and body absorb the tranquil peace. The abbey dominates the skyline as it must have done down the centuries. The many fine, mature trees frame lovely views of its massive bulk. Lots of visitors enjoy picnics on the banks of the River Aire where it flows past the abbey ruins.
What to do first?
- Stroll around the park first?
- Pay a visit to the Visitor Centre?
- Wander the ruins?
– the choice is yours to make.
In the Visitor Centre you’ll discover the answers to many questions – such as what would life have been like if you’d been a monk in the twelfth century? Where would you have cooked? What kind of work would you have done? Why did the main road to Leeds go straight through the church?
Who were the Cistercians?
The Cistercians were a very successful religious order. From the late eleventh, through the twelfth centuries they spread from Burgundy throughout France, Ireland and Britain. Yorkshire became the centre of monastic life in Britain. Cistercian monasteries were built well away from other habitations because the way of life was based on simplicity and isolation. The monks – known as the white monks – wanted to be self sufficient in all things. But they found they were unable to tend to all the day to day building, growing, cooking and land management as well as their monastic duties of prayer and learning. So they developed another community, living alongside and complimenting their existence.
The members of this parallel community were called lay-brothers and although they followed the rules of the Cistercian Order, vowing obedience to the abbot, they could not read or write. They were there to look after the land and animals. You’ll learn a lot about the monks and the lay-brothers in the Visitor Centre.
Abbey House Museum
When you’ve had your fill of the abbey and grounds why not visit the Abbey House Museum – just across the road? Here you stroll back in time – into streets of yesteryear – becoming part of the Victorian scene. Peer through dimly lit shop windows and lean against the bar in the pub. There are lots of tiny snippets of information to read about everyday life in the days – and nights – of nineteenth century Leeds. The walkthrough display upstairs will give you a very different insight into Victorian life. Learn here about the dirtier, grimier, unhealthier side of life in the nineteenth century – ugh!
Kirkstall Abbey is two and a half miles west of Leeds city centre on the A65 road.
Oh – and by the way – the main road was diverted through the Nave of the abbey’s church following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 to stop the monks from returning.