10 of the Best Medieval Abbeys in Britain
Hauntingly beautiful, the ruined monasteries of England, Scotland, and Wales stand majestically defiant against the elements—a reminder of a medieval past governed by work, study, and prayer.
Here is our list of 10 of the best medieval abbey ruins in Britain.
10. Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh, Scotland
“Rood” being an old word for the cross of Jesus Christ, the name Holyrood means “Holy Cross.”
Established in 1128 at the behest of King David I, Holyrood Abbey was home to the Canons Regular in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Lying adjacent to Holyrood Palace at the eastern end of the Royal Mile, the Abbey lost prominence following the Scottish Reformation and has been ruined since the eighteenth century.
The abbey is protected as a scheduled monument.
9. Melrose Abbey, Roxburghshire, Scotland
In 1921, an amazing discovery was made below the Chapter House of Melrose Abbey.
Held inside a lead container was believed to be the embalmed heart of Robert the Bruce.
Confirmed in records of his death, whatever remains of his body is buried at Dunfermline Abbey.
Alexander II and other Scottish kings and nobles are buried at Melrose.
Maintained by Historic Scotland, the partly demolished monastery is a museum open to the public.
8. Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire, England
Nestled in the rolling landscape of the Yorkshire Dales sits the twelfth -century ruins of an Augustinian monastery.
The Bolton Abbey estate includes many miles of public pathways through beautiful countryside.
The Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway terminates at a nearby town.
7. Byland Abbey, North Yorkshire, England
Described in the late fourteenth century as “one of the three shining lights of the north”, it was not always so for Byland Abbey. Its early life was marked by disputes with other abbeys and the whole abbey community had to move 5 times before settling on Byland.
Presently being taken care of by English Heritage Trust, Byland has some impressive features including the lower half of a huge rose window and a stone lectern which is the only one of its kind in Britain.
6. Buildwas Abbey, Shropshire, England
Established in 1135 by Roger de Clinton, Bishop of Coventry (1129–1148), the Cistercian Buildwas Abbey was originally a Savignac monastery inhabited by a small community of monks from Furness Abbey.
The monastery has a storied history, with intrigue to rival the famous “Name of the Rose”. Frequently Destroyed by Welsh princes who also kidnapped the abbot, there was a case where a priest murdered his abbot and, having evaded arrest, petitioned for reinstatement into the Cistercian order.
5. Kirkstall Abbey, West Yorkshire, England
Established in 1152 and dissolved by Henry VIII, the picturesque ruins have been the subject of works by artists J.M.W. Turner, Thomas Girtin and John Sell Cotman.
4. Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales
Falling into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1548, the monastery has been a favorite haunt of poets and painters from the 18th century onwards.
3. Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire, England
Founded in 1132, the abbey operated for over 400 years, until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.
2. Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire, England
When one of the wealthiest abbeys in England, it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538 and is now owned and maintained by the English Heritage Trust.
1. Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire, England
Overlooking the North Sea on the East Cliff above Whitby in North Yorkshire, England sits the destroyed Whitby Abbey.
Disestablished during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, Whitby Abbey is a Grade I (building of exceptional interest) Benedictine abbey in the care of the English Heritage Trust.