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Byland Abbey
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Monastery information
Order Savigniac, Cistercian 1148
Established 1155
Disestablished 1538
Diocese Diocese of York
Important associated figures Abbot Roger, Roger de Mowbray
Location Byland, Coxwold, North Yorkshire, England
Coordinates 54°12′11″N 1°09′33″W / 54.2031°N 1.1592°W / 54.2031; -1.1592
Visible remains substantial
Public access yes

Byland Abbey is a ruined abbey and a small village in the Ryedale district of North Yorkshire, England, in the North York Moors National Park.


It was founded as a Savigniac abbey in January 1135 and was absorbed by the Cistercian order in 1147. It was not an easy start for the community who had had to move five times before settling at New Byland, near Coxwold in 1177.

Its early history was marked by disputes with no fewer than four other religious establishments: (Furness Abbey, Calder Abbey, Rievaulx Abbey and Newburgh Priory). However, once it had overcome this bad start, it was described in the late 14th century as "one of the three shining lights of the north". Its financial success was not as great as that of places like Rievaulx, but it was famed for its sheep rearing and wool exports. Its church was said to be among the finest 12th-century churches in Europe.

In October 1322, King Edward II was at Byland Abbey when the Battle of Old Byland took place. The marauding Scots caught Edward so unaware that he fled to York, leaving many precious items behind.

In the late 12th century the abbey had a complement of 36 monks and 100 lay brothers, but by the time of the dissolution in November 1538, the abbey was host only to 25 monks and an abbot. In 1539, its site was granted to Sir William Pickering.

The site is now maintained by English Heritage and is scheduled as an ancient monument by Historic England with grade I listed status. In October 2017, the west frontage of the church, including the famed Rose Window, underwent extensive conservation work to repair water damage and to repoint the stone walls.


  • Mabel de Clare, d. 1204 (daughter of Roger de Clare, 2nd Earl of Hertford), wife of Nigel de Mowbray
  • Roger de Mowbray (Lord of Montbray) (though some uncertainty about his final resting place)
  • William de Mowbray, 6th Baron of Thirsk, 4th Baron Mowbray
  • Joan of Lancaster, third daughter of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster

Medieval ghost stories

Numerous manuscripts were produced at and owned by Byland Abbey, of which twenty-seven are known to have survived. One of the manuscripts owned by Byland Abbey in the Middle Ages is noted for containing a collection of twelve ghost stories. The manuscript is now London, British Library Royal MS 15 A xx, produced in the twelfth to thirteenth centuries, primarily containing a copy of the Elucidarium and some tracts by Cicero. However, in the early fifteenth century, an anonymous scribe, known in scholarship simply as 'a monk of Byland', added some extra texts, also in Latin, on previously blank pages (folios 140-43, in the body of the manuscript, and folio 163 b at the end). These are a series of twelve ghost stories, mostly set locally, which were presumably intended for inclusion in sermons as exempla and which reflect orally circulating folklore in Yorkshire at the time. While not a major literary production in their own time, these stories have since come to be regarded as important evidence for popular belief regarding ghosts in medieval north-west Europe.

A facsimile of the manuscript is available online, the texts were edited by M. R. James, and they were translated by A. J. Grant (while seven are also paraphrased in English by Andrew Joynes).


Impressive remains can still be seen, in the care of English Heritage, including the lower half of a huge rose window which was the inspiration for the same window at York Minster. An interesting feature is the preservation of some of the brightly coloured medieval floor tiles. An altar table (mensa) was also recovered, although that is now in Ampleforth Abbey, and a stone lectern base from the chapter house is the only example of its kind in Britain.


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