Kirkstall Abbey

Lord of the manor of Pontefract, Henry de Lacy promised to dedicate an abbey to the Virgin Mary should he recover from a major illness. As it turned out the Lord made a good recovery and as thanks, gave the Abbot of Fountains Abbey, land at Barnoldswick in Lancashire for a daughter abbey. In response Abbot Alexander and 12 Cistercian monks went from Fountains Abbey to the site.

From demolishing an existing church on the site their endeavours to establish an abbey over the next six years proved fruitless. In frustration Abbot Alexander decided to explore other potential sites and came across the heavily wooded Aire valley occupied by hermits. Successful entreaties to de Lacy ensured the Lord acquired the land from William de Poitou so the Cistercian monks could move in. It was noted that the hermits either joined the Cistercian order or were paid off.

From arrival in 1152 to the death of Abbot Alexander in 1182 most of the abbey buildings were erected and that included the Abbey. The latter aspect is unusual as the abbey is the one structure that takes time to build simply due to the cost of materials and labour involved.

Kirkstall Abbey functioned as a monastery until 1539, when it was surrendered to Henry VIII's commissioners in the Disillusionment of the monasteries. Thereafter the buildings were used for other functions, fell into disrepair or the stone was re-used in other buildings. It was not until 1889 that the abbey was sold to Colonel John North, who presented it to Leeds City Council. Following major restorative works, the abbey was opened to the public in 1895. Further extensive restorations have been done since with the biggest in 2005-6 utilising a £5.5 million Lottery Heritage grant. Part of this latest restoration included the sympathetic conversion of the Reredorter to a museum/visitor centre.

Kirkstall Abbey as viewed from south side by the river Aire 

View along the length of the Nave within the church

Restored Reredorter utilised as a museum and visitor centre

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