Roche Abbey, Yorkshire, 22nd August 2018

25th August 2018
Written by: Rob Slusar

I was out on the road for work again this week, so decided to stop for some English Heritage goodness. Roche Abbey was my choice of destination this time around.

Roche Abbey

Hidden in the valleys of rural Yorkshire, Roche Abbey was founded in 1147 as a Cistercian monastery. This location was chosen due to it being surrounded by limestone outcrops, therefore bringing great isolation for the monks. The founding party came from another abbey in Northumberland and was made of 12 monks and an abbot supported by around 20 lay brothers.

At its peak, the abbey sustained around 50 monks, and around 100 lay brothers or servants. However, on the orders of Henry VIII, in 1538 the abbey was dismantled and was left to go to ruin.

The history of the Abbey didn’t end there. In the 18th century, Lancelot “Capability” Brown was commissioned to use the ruins as a centrepiece of a grand landscaping scheme for the nearby Sandbeck Park estate. Some of the features of this landscaping can still be seen today.

The layout is typical of a monastery of its type. Some remaining parts of the church structure being some of the earliest examples of Gothic architecture in England. It bears some similarity with other Cistercian monasteries in the area, such as Rievaulx, for example.

The Pictures

Roche Abbey was less “complete” than some of the other churches/abbeys I have been to. Despite its beauty, I had a real off day with the camera, my mind wasn’t in it, and I had no mojo.

I can put it down to the fact that I haven’t had much practice of late, and realistically I was rushing because I had an appointment that evening. The weather was also dark, muggy and the skies were overcast and generally just bland, so they are not my favourite pictures ever.

That said, even if they are not award-wining, I was able to save enough to make it worthy of a blog report at least. I decided rather than try and show them verbatim, I would make use of the skies to show off the desolate and ruinous vibe of the place.

So here they are, I hope you enjoy them.

A lot of the abbey is now in ruin, with only foundations and low walls really visible. The best-preserved parts of it are the remains of the 3 storey transepts of the church.

Looking through the entrance of the church. The transepts in the background give you an idea of the scale of this church. It certainly was not a modest building in its day.

What’s left of the columns in the nave would have held the substantial roof structure of the church. Looking up would have made worshippers really feel they were looking up to heaven.

Looking at the transept from within the nave footprint.

Whilst a lot of it is now gone, some small part of the internal ceiling arches can still be seen.

Even though I work in architecture, it’s hard to imagine the craftsmanship and effort that was used to get these structures built without any modern technology or machinery.

Not many windows remain intact, but this is perhaps one of the best examples on site. This is a typical example of a medieval Jesse window. Originally it’s transoms would have been built to resemble a Jesse Tree, which is a symbolic representation of the ancestry of Christ. Starting at the bottom with Jesse, the father of King David, it shows Old Testament figures and culminates in Christ.

Even tho it has been ruinous for some 500 years, although heavily weathered, some of the original details remain in situ.

Next to the church was the chapter house. This is where monks would meet after morning mass to hear readings from “The Rule of St Benedict”.

Maltby Dike runs through the middle of the abbey grounds, and would have provided water for drinking, washing, to power the mill, and at the end of the run, to the left of this picture, water for the latrines.

Some of the remains of the kitchen block where the food for the monks was prepared.

I decided to try some long exposure photography whilst I was there. here is a 2 second shot of the dyke adjacent to the refectory, the main dining area for the lay brothers.

Final Thoughts

Well, I hope I have kept you entertained. I tried to make the most of these images, and let’s be honest everyone has an off day so I am glad I got something out of this trip at least.

One thing that always strikes me about these places is the scale. It makes you realise how big a part of life religion was many years ago. It makes you wonder what England would be like if Henry VII hadn’t dissolved the monasteries.

I will be heading out on holiday to Turkey and then Germany next week. After that, another big air show at Duxford. A lot to look forward to. Keep an eye on my Instagram @rs7photography to follow my adventures.

Thanks for looking.