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Hello and welcome to Kirkstall Abbey, one of the best preserved Cistercian abbeys in the UK. During this tour we will help you to explore the abbey by telling you a bit about its history and how it is used today. You are standing now in what used to be a reredorter or toilet. The reredorter has recently been developed into a visitor centre. Let’s start walking! While we are heading towards the cloister, let us tell you a bit about the history of the abbey on the way. Leave the visitor centre and follow the path around to the left until you reach an open gate on your right hand side.Kirkstall Abbey was founded over 800 years ago by a group of Cistercian monks from Fountains Abbey, making Kirkstall a daughter house of Fountains. These monks originally settled in Barnoldswick near Skipton but moved to Kirkstall less than 5 years later after a series of problems with the land and the locals! The secluded location of Kirkstall was perfect for them, there were no houses, or villages nearby ideal for a Cistercian community who wanted to be free from distractions of men – and women! The area looked very different then than it does today; instead of the busy road imagine lots of trees, open fields with plentiful supplies of wood, stone and water needed to build a monastery. Cistercians were founded as a strict order by a group of monks in France in the twelfth century in response to what they saw as falling standards in other religious communities. As Cistercian abbeys were built away from people they needed to be self sufficient and to help them do this monks were split into 2 groups; Choir Monks and Lay brothers. They both took the same vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the abbot but they had very different roles in the monastery and although they lived in the same Abbey, they rarely saw each other. They wore different coloured monastic robes called habits, they ate separately, slept separately and even worshipped separately only coming together for important meetings, ceremonies and rituals. Lay brothers did most of the hard manual work in the abbey, including looking after any animals and harvesting crops, they had very different lives to the Choir Monks – who spent most of their day in worship, private prayer and religious reading. A Lay Brother could never become a Monk, if they were caught trying to teach themselves to read and write they were punished for the sin of envy, their job was important as it freed the choir monks for prayer and kept the abbey running efficiently. Ironically this efficient system made the abbeys very wealthy which was against their original principals.
over 2 years ago