St Mary’s Abbey, York

St Mary's copy

We are currently just outside of the Yorkshire Museum in the City of York at the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. Norman was a little saddened to see so little remaining of what was once one of the most powerful and wealthiest Benedictine monasteries in the north of England. The location was originally home to an Anglo-Saxon church, built in 1055 and dedicated to St Olave. The lands were given to Frenchman Alan Rufus during the reign of William I, during a period of mass distribution of English land to French nobles in an effort to maintain Norman control over Anglo-Saxon communities. (Norman would like us to add here that as a lower class foot soldier, he did not receive any gifts of land). In 1088 St Olave’s was given into the hands of a certain Abbot Stephen and rededicated as St Mary’s. At this same time William II (aka William Rufus) gifted the abbey significantly more land, and it was rebuilt to be larger and in Romanesque style, just like the minster. The abbey precinct would have covered the entirety of what is now the York Museum Gardens. In fact some of the abbey walls, built in 1260 (after Norman the Norman’s time) still remain and go as far as the river Ouse.

The Norman abbey house was greatly damaged in a fire in 1137, but it was rebuilt and St Mary’s Abbey grew in size and power throughout the Middle Ages. The remains in front of which Norman stands are from the Gothic-style redevelopments which happened in 1270. Unfortunately the monastery’s power and wealth also made it subject to suspicion and examination regarding appropriate monastic behaviour. On 26 November, 1539, the monastery was dissolved under the orders of Henry VIII. Although there is barely anything left of the Norman monastery he knew, Norman would encourage you to visit the stunning ruins if you have never been: http://www.yorkshiremuseum.org.uk/york-museum-gardens/.

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