St Mary's Abbey, York
Ruins of St Mary's Abbey Church
|Dedicated to||St. Mary|
|Founder(s)||Stephen of Whitby, Alan, duke of Brittany|
|Location||York, Yorkshire, England|
|Visible remains||Hospitium, precinct walls, gatehouse, abbey church (ruins with part of the nave and crossing still standing), abbot's house (substantially altered); statues and other remains in the Yorkshire Museum.|
|Public access||yes (Museum Gardens)|
The original church on the site was founded in 1055 and dedicated to Saint Olaf II of Norway. The abbey church was founded in 1088 for Abbot Stephen and a group of monks from Whitby by the Anglo-Breton magnate Alan Rufus, who laid the foundation stone of the Norman church that year. The foundation ceremony was attended by bishop Odo of Bayeux and Archbishop Thomas of Bayeux. The monks moved to York from a site at Lastingham in Ryedale in the 1080s and are recorded there in Domesday. Following a dispute and riot in 1132, a party of reform-minded monks left to establish the Cistercian monastery of Fountains Abbey. The surviving ruins date from a rebuilding programme begun in 1271 and finished by 1294.
The abbey occupied an extensive, precint site immediately outside the city walls, between Bootham and the River Ouse. The original boundary included a ditch and a narrow strip of ground, but the walled circuit was constructed above this in the 1260s in the Abbacy of Simon de Warwick; the walls were nearly three-quarters of a mile long. In 1318 the abbot received royal permission to raise the height of the wall and crenelate it; a stretch of this wall still runs along Bootham and Marygate to the River Ouse.
The gatehouse in Marygate and its lodge formed part of a range of buildings that linked to the older church of St Olave by a chapel dedicated to Mary. Though work on the chapel and gatehouse was under way 1314 and completed in 1320, the surviving structures are mostly of fifteenth-century origin.
The abbey church is aligned northeast-southwest, due to restrictions of the site. The original Norman church had an apsidal liturgical east end, and its side aisles ended in apses, though they were square on the exterior. Rebuilding began in 1270, under the direction of Abbot Simon de Warwick, and was swiftly completed during a single twenty-four year building campaign, such was the financial strength of the abbey. The completed abbey church was 350 ft in length, consisted of a nave with aisles, north and south trancepts with chapels in an eastern aisle, and a presbytery with aisles. To the esat of the cloister and on the line of the transepts were a vestibule leading to the chapter house, the scriptorium and library. Beyond the church lay the kitchen, novices' building and infirmary. The Abbey chronicle (which has not been fully translated from Latin) names the project officers as Simon de Warwick, a monk administrator and the master stonemason Master Simon, all of whom were still alive upon the completion of the project in 1294.
The Abbots House
The abbot's house, built of brick in 1483, survived as the "King's Manor" because it became the seat of the Council of the North in 1539; the abbots of St Mary's and the abbey featured in the medieval and early modern ballads of Robin Hood, with the abbot usually as Robin Hood's nemesis).
St Mary's, the largest and richest Benedictine establishment in the north of England and one of the largest landholders in Yorkshire, was worth over £2000 a year, when it was valued in 1539, during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII; it was closed and subsequently substantially destroyed. On 26 November 1539 the Abbey surrendered £2085 and 50 monks to the crown.
Abbots of St. Mary's
The abbots of St. Mary's were similar in prestige to the Archibishop of York, being entitled to wear a mitre and having a seat in Parliament (allowing them the title 'My Lord Abbot'). In total there were 30 Abbots, including:
|Abbot||Dates of Abbacy||Notes|
|Stephen of Whitby||1088 - 1112|
|Richard||1112 - 1131|
|Gaufried||1131 - 1133||Seceeded|
|Severinus (or Savaricus)|
|Clement||1161 - 1184|
|Robert de Harpham||1184 - 1189|
|Robery de Longo Campo||1189 - 1194||Deposed|
|William de Roundel||? - 1239|
|Thomas de Warthill|
|Simon de Warwick||1258 - 1296||Major rebuilding programme|
|Benedict de Malton||1296 - 1303|
|John de Gilling||1303 - 1313|
|Alan de Wasse||1313 - 1331|
|Thomas de Malton||1131 - 1359|
|William de Mary's||1359 - 1382|
|William de Bradford||1382 - 1389|
|Thomas de Staynesgrave||1389 - 1398|
|Thomas de Pygott||1398 - 1405|
|Thomas de Spoffoth|
|William Dalton||? - 1423|
|Willaim Welly (or Wells)||? - 1436||Resigned|
|Roger Kyrkby (or Kiby)|
|Thomas Bothe||? - 1485|
|William Sevyr||Later Bishop of Durham 1502-1505|
|Robert Warhop||? - 1507|
|William Thornton||c.1530 - 1540||Abbot during the Dissolution of the Monasteries|
All that remains today are the north and west walls, plus a few other remnants: the half-timbered Pilgrims' Hospitium, the West Gate and the 14th-century timber-framed Abbot's House (now called the King's Manor). The walls include interval towers along the north and west stretches, St Mary's Tower at the northwest corner and a polygonal water tower by the river. Much stone was removed from the site in the 18th century, in 1705 for St. Olave's Church, between 1717-1720 for Beverley Minster, and in 1736 for the landing stage of Lendal Ferry.
The Yorkshire Museum, built for the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, stands in part of the abbey cloister; parts of the east, south and west cloister walls were temporarily excavated in 1827–29 preparatory to digging the museum's foundations. The relationship between the Museum and abbey is historically quite intimate as part of the richly carved chapter house vestibule (c. 1298–1307) survives incorporated into Tempest Anderson Hall lecture theatre (1911–12). Additionally, excavations of the chapter house were undertaken in 1912 by the honorary curator of Medieval archaeology, Walter Harvey-Brook  who, along with Edwin Ridsdale Tate designed and developed the Museum of Medieval Architecture on the site  and retained aspects of the warming house and late twelfth-century chapter house for display. Further excavations in the abbey were undertaken in 1952-56 by the then Keeper of the Yorkshire Museum, George Willmot  who encountered the pre-Norman and Roman layers beneath the west wing of the nave.
The remains of the Abbey were described by Edwin Ridsdale Tate in a 1929 publication in which he asserted that: "Nowhere in England is there another spot so full of charm as York and where in York is there a more charming spot than the Gardens of the Philosophical Society, in which stand the beautiful fragments of that once powerful and noble monastery of St. Mary's. Here we must leave the venerable pile in the evening of its glory."
- History of York
- Grade I listed churches in the East Riding of Yorkshire and the City of York
- List of monasteries dissolved by Henry VIII of England
- York City Walls
- York Museum Gardens
- St. Mary's Abbey, York (56602). PastScape. English Heritage. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
- Dean, G. 2008. Medieval York. Stroud: History Press. pp: 86
- Norton, C. "The St Mary’s Abbey Precincts". University of York, Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
- Tillott, P.M. (Ed.). 1961. A History of Yorkshire: The City of York (The Victoria History of the Counties of England) (The Institute of Historical Research). London: Oxford University Press, pp357-360
- Coppack, G. 1993. Fountains Abbey. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd / English Heritage. pp17
- Ridsdale Tate, E. 1929. The Charm of St. Mary's Abbey and the Architectural Museum, York. York: Yorkshire Philosphical Society. pp. 6–12
- 1913. Annual Report of the Council of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society for 1912. York: Yorkshire Philosophical Society
- Brook, W. H. 1921.‘Catalogue of the Museum of Medieval Architecture’, Vol. 1. preface [Unpublished catalogue held in the Yorkshire Museum]
- Willmot, G. F. 1953. "Interim Report on the 1952 Excavation in St. Mary's Abbey"Yorkshire Philosophical Society, Annual Report for the year 1952". York: YPS. pp22-3
- Ridsdale Tate, E. 1929. The Charm of St. Mary's Abbey and the Architectural Museum, York. York: Yorkshire Philosphical Society, pp. 16
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