Arts / Entertainment

Cistercians return to the ruins of an abbey destroyed by Henry VIII

The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, once one of the mightiest centers of spiritual influence in Britain, are nowadays a museum

THIRSK, ENGLAND - MAY 26:    Cistercian Monks, Father Joseph and Brother Bernard John (R) read from a 500-year-old prayer book as they visit the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire on May 26, 2016 in Thirsk, England. The monks were visiting the Abbey to view the new exhibition centre and museum at the English Heritage site, which tells the story of Rievaulx from its foundation in 1132 to its suppression by Henry VIII. Rievaulx Abbey was the first monastery of the reforming Cistercian order in the North of England.  At its peak in the 1160's it was home to a community of over 600 men, who passed their lives in an ordered daily sequence of religious services, reading and manual work.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

It was Thomas Cromwell, through two parliamentary resolutions, who transferred the ownership of abbeys, churches, monasteries and other possessions of the Catholic Church in England to the hands of the English crown. Among these, countless manuscripts, libraries and works of art, but especially farms and other productive buildings were taken over by the government. In particular, of course, monasteries and abbeys. Those that were not destroyed, expropriated or simply shut down were handed over to the political allies of Henry VIII.

But why was Henry VIII so eager to get his hands on northern English monasteries? According to historian Stephanie Mann, basically for two classic, too well known simple reasons: money and power.
But why was Henry VIII so eager to get his hands on northern English Monasteries? According to historian Stephanie Mann, basically for two classic, too well known simple reasons: money and power.

But why was Henry VIII so eager to get his hands on northern English monasteries? According to historian Stephanie Mann, in an interview with the website ChurchMilitant, basically for two classic, too-well-known simple reasons: money and power. These expropriations would provide Henry VIII with an extraordinary, unexpected income without resorting to deeply unpopular measures (such as higher taxes), while also eliminating the influence of the Roman papacy over the English crown.

Now, about 500 years later, we can see Cistercian monks, Father Joseph and Brother Bernard, visiting the ruins of one of these great abbeys: the Abbey of Rievaulx.
Now, about 500 years later, we can see Cistercian monks, Father Joseph and Brother Bernard, visiting the ruins of one of these great abbeys: the Abbey of Rievaulx.

Now, about 500 years later, in a series of photographs published in the Daily Mail, we can see Cistercian monks, Father Joseph and Brother Bernard, visiting the ruins of one of these great abbeys: the Abbey of Rievaulx.

Rievaulx had been founded in 1132 by twelve monks from Clairvaux Abbey in France (the foundation of Saint Bernard), and soon was considered one of the greatest British abbeys. At its peak, 650 people actively lived and worked at Rievaulx, including monks, direct and indirect employees and other officials associated with the maintenance of monastic activities. On December 3, 1538, Henry VIII ordered them all to leave the building, expropriating every valuable object in it (particularly the lead used in stained glasses).

Today, a museum is housed in the abbey, led by English Heritage, a company/charity that is responsible for the preservation of more than 400 historic sites across England
Today, a museum is housed in the abbey, led by English Heritage, a company/charity that is responsible for the preservation of more than 400 historic sites across England

Today, a museum is housed in the abbey, led by English Heritage, a company/charity that is responsible for the preservation of more than 400 historic sites across England. The museum exhibits some of the artifacts monks once used at the abbey, and chronicles of the history of the Cistercian Order in England.