St Mary's Abbey, York
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Ruins of St Mary's Abbey Church
|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 Abbey of St Mary is a ruined Benedictine abbey in York, England. Once the richest abbey in the north of England, it lies in what are now the Yorkshire Museum Gardens, on a steeply sloping site to the west of York Minster.
The original abbey on the site was founded in 1055 and dedicated to Saint Olaf II of Norway. It was refounded 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's walled precincts were extended in the 12th century, so that by 1266 it was enclosed within a wall 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 abbey church is aligned northeast-southwest, due to restrictions of the site. The Norman church had an apsidal liturgical east end, and its side aisles also 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 campaign, such was the financial strength of the abbey. This completed the abbey church whose ruins are a prominent feature in Museum Gardens. 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. Part of the richly carved chapter house vestibule (c 1298-1307) survives, incorporated into Tempest Anderson Hall lecture theatre (1911–12).
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 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 £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. 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. Excavated finds and architectural features, particularly relating to the warming house and late twelfth-century chapter house, are displayed in the Yorkshire Museum, housed on the grounds.
- 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
- St Mary's, Studley Royal
- Dean, G. 2008. Medieval York. Stroud: History Press. pp:86
- Pevsner, Nikolaus; and Neave, David (1995) . Yorkshire: York and the East Riding (2nd edition ed.). London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-071061-2.
- Evans, Antonia (ed) (2002). The York Book. York: Blue Bridge. ISBN 0-9542749-0-3.
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