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Jervaulx Abbey

Middleham, Yorkshire

Featured Location Guide

Jervaulx Abbey, was the original home of Wensleydale cheese. Today we see a ruin of a Cistercian monastery, in a  natural setting.  It is known amongst other things for having over 180 species of wild flowers among its walls, and more like the abbeys and ruins people used to visit prior to neat presentation, labelling of parts and the like. 

On our visit we also managed to photograph a number of different types of butterflies,  plants and sculptured seats.



Click on any image to see  a larger version See Larger Image


Jervaulx Abbey was once a Cistercian monastery that was founded in 1156, the daughter house of the abbey at Byland.

Jervaulx was not the first monastic house in the Vale of Ure, an earlier monastery was established at nearby Fors but the land there was poor and so it was moved to its present site. At the height of its prosperity the abbey owned half of the valley and was renowned for breeding horses, a tradition that remains in the area to the present day.

Early 12th-century manuscripts describe John de Kinstan and a company of twelve monks getting lost on their way through thick woods as they travelled from Byland Abbey in Ryedale, Yorkshire to another abbey at Fors. They were guided to safety by a vision of the Virgin Mary and Child, who said "Ye are late of Byland but now of Yorevale". This they took as a good omen and when they returned from Fors this site was chosen to establish their abbey on. The name derives from the nearby river Ure or Yore 'Yore vale' altered to, in later times more fashionable French spelling 'Jervaulx' by a former Marchioness of Ailesbury.

Viking settlement during the Anglo-Saxon period had led to the destruction of many of the older monasteries in the the north of England and the Cistercians filled this spiritual vacuum with monastic houses like those at Rievaulx, Fountains, Byland and Jervaulx. The Cistercian Order was based on the austerity taught by St Benedict and, under the leadership of Bernard of Clairvaux, Cistercian monks set out to establish themselves in wild and inhospitable areas where they could dedicate their lives to prayer, study, meditation and manual labour. 

During the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, Jervaulx Abbey was closed, its property sold and its wealth redistributed. Fortunately, some of its fixtures, fittings and furnishings were salvaged and some of these have found their way into local parish churches. As a result, it is not uncommon to find relatively modest churches containing  remnants from the Abbey. On their website they show a map with links to local churches in the area that contain artefacts saved from the Abbey.

The Bells of the Abbot of Jervaulx

Jervaulx Abbey at one time had five bells, one of which was presented by the Abbey of Byland. The monks used to cast the bells themselves, regular foundries were started in the 14th century. These bells were for different uses. The pitch of each bell is unknown.  Cistercians are known to have used sound for meditational and medical purposes.

 Joop Visser to begin and write Music for five Bells after staying at 'The Old Hall', Jervaulx, and according to the first printed prayer book this was his inspiration,  Jervaulx Abbey having at the time five bells. The exercise has now developed into the idea that the player, the campanologist or 'Beiaardier' as the Dutch say, chooses any smaller group of tunes and (as the prayer book ordered the Abbot to): "being at home and not being reasonably hindered shall cause the bell to be tolled".  The 'tolling' being different from the way a carillon is played needs an editioned: "as in meditation rather than in a performance." The pieces are somewhat neutral in expression. So the player being himself and wanting to be responding to an audience, all related to her/his skills and moods (merry, sad, angry, exhilarated, or what have you) makes the merit during the meditation.

One bell thought to be from the abbey is now in St Gregory's Church in Bedale, the 8th bell, it was founded by Johannes de Staford in c.1350.

The building layout

The Abbey was built according to the same plan as most, with a large church, facing east which was completed in the thirteenth century and had forty supporting buttresses. A square cloister to the south and the Chapter House, where the business was done after readings of the Chapters, and the Parlour, where the monks were allowed limited conversation, leading off from the Cloisters to the east. There were many other buildings, where the monks slept and ate, the kitchens, the abbots somewhat grander accommodation and the lay brothers buildings.

What exists now

Jervaulx, has a rather different atmosphere to most other abbeys and priories, which many like. Without signs and has low walls consisting of piles of carved stonework from the abbey ruins.  As you wander round, the sheer size of the site reveals what a once thriving community there was here. The site is perhaps more natural, allowing more wild plants to strive, but you may need a good idea of the layout of abbeys generally or to get a guide book (available), if you want to understand what you are looking at. For the photographer or artist this site has many possibilities, not so much for architectural as romanticised or spiritual images.

Little now remains but the ground plan of the church. There is a fine round-headed doorway on the south-west however, which has Norman dog-tooth decoration. Some floor tomb stones survive, together with a much weathered stone effigy of a knight in armour, made in Durham. The figure is that of Henry Fitzhugh who died in 1307 and was one of the abbey's benefactors. The wooden rood screen which once separated the choir monks from the lay brothers was removed and is now in Aysgarth church to the west of Jervaulx.

The Chapter House is reached by descending from the cloisters and five of the original six columns supporting the vaulted roof remain to their full height. This is perhaps unusual and helps to provide and idea of the proportions and appearance of this once important building within the abbey.

What was once the Gatehouse of the Abbey can be seen on the right-hand side of the entrance, now a private house and much altered, but its stonework betrays its origins.

Further information Grid



Jervaulx Abbey, Middleham, Yorkshire

Ceremonial County: Yorkshire

Grid Reference:


Map Link:


Aerial photo: Google Aerial 



Best Times to Visit:






Other useful websites:


Nearby Locations:  
Other Relevant pages: Abbey Section, including all major Christian buildings, regions orders, normal layouts and history.


Planning Grid


Jervaulx Abbey, Middleham, Yorkshire

Grid Reference:


Getting there:

Jervaulx Abbey are situated halfway between Masham and Leyburn on the A6108.


Open all year via gate from road


Outside property - Free


None although there is a privately run tea rooms opposite.

Things To Do, See and Photograph:

Buildings, architecture, views.

What to take:

Tripod, level, wide angle lens.

Nature highlights:

Butterflies, birds, plants


Park House


nr Ripon





Jervaulx Abbey Tea Rooms - 01677 460391
Park House B&B - 01677 460184
Caravan Park - 01677 460226 (evenings only)

Opening times:

All Year Dawn to Dusk


An honesty box system of entry helps to conserve the site for future generations.

Photo Restrictions:


Other Restrictions: None
Special Needs Access:  
Special Needs Facilities:  
Children Facilities:  
Dogs Allowed:  

Please let us know any other information that we can add to the Further information and Planning Grids or page and any errors that you discover. Before making a long trip to any location it is always wise to double check the current information, websites like magazines may be correct at the time the information is written, but things change and it is of course impossible to double check all entries on a regular basis. If you have any good photographs that you feel would improve the illustration of this page then please let us have copies. In referring to this page it is helpful if you quote both the Page Ref and Topic or Section references from the Grid below. To print the planning grid select it then right click and print the selected area.

Please submit information on locations you discover so that this system continues to grow.


By: Keith Park Section: Abbey and Religious Buildings Key:
Page Ref: Jervaulx_Abbey Topic: Abbeys Last Updated: 02/2011

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