There are many incredible historic abbeys across the globe which can still be visited today. In fact the list of abbeys around the world contains some of the most spectacular historic sites to visit, with many having witnessed momentous moments in history as well as being remarkable historical buildings.
An abbey itself is a monastery or a convent which has grown up with an Abbot or Abbess as the leader of the community. While not all monasteries were abbeys, all abbeys were monasteries or convents. Many abbeys were a vital centre of local scholarship and trade and there are many examples of abbeys which often found themselves at the heart of the local community. In some cases entire towns would grow up around an abbey.
Today, while many abbeys remain as centres of religious life others – for example Westminster Abbey – have seen their function change over the centuries. Often abbeys found themselves at the forefront of religious and political change, with many abbeys being closed or re-dedicated during times of upheaval, particularly in Europe.
For those wishing to explore the list of abbeys around the world, our selection of historic abbeys below can provide a good starting point. Remember, you can always shortlist abbeys of the world as you go and build your own personalised pocket guidebook to take with you on your tour.
The Abbaye aux Hommes is an 11th century Romanesque abbey church in Caen, Normandy, known for being William the Conqueror’s gravesite.
The Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen, also known as the Abbey of Saint-Étienne, is a beautiful 11th century Romanesque abbey church known for being William the Conqueror’s gravesite.
Consecrated in 1077, William built the Abbaye aux Hommes as atonement for his marriage to Matilda of Flanders, which the Pope had condemned due to their family connection. In 1087, upon his death, William was buried in the foundations. However his grave has been disturbed on multiple occasions, including during the Wars of Religion and later the French Revolution when his remains were scattered, resulting in only his thighbone remaining in the marked grave.
Through the centuries, the Abbaye aux Hommes has undergone many architectural renovations. The main abbey is made up of the original Romanesque nave and transept and the 13th century Gothic choir. A ribbed vault was added around 1120, making the abbey a forerunner of the Gothic architectural style, and the nine spires were a 13th century addition. Further additions occurred right up until the late 18th century. However, despite the many changes, much of the original Norman church remains and forms the core of what visitors see today.
The abbey buildings lead off from the south end of the church, including the refectory; they now house the town’s museum and municipal offices. Impressive features of the church and grounds include the grand staircases, designed without cement to seem as if they are floating, the ceremonial ‘Salle des Gardes’ room and the large collection of 17th and 18th century art and furniture gathered in the monastery.
One of the abbey’s most distinctive features is the white Caen stone it is carved from, this same stone was taken to Britain to build the Tower of London, Canterbury Cathedral and the abbeys of Durham, Norwich and Westminster. The abbey itself was used a model for many Norman churches built throughout England, making it a must-see for those interested in both French architecture and Britain’s Norman history.
The church is open to all visitors but taking a guided tour is recommended in order to fully appreciate all of the buildings incorporated into the church. These tours are available in French and English (although English-speaking tours will be filled quickly!) four times a day.
Contributed by Isabelle Moore
An 11th century abbey in Marseille, Abbaye Saint-Victor has a fascinating crypt housing a number of early Christian tombs.
Abbaye Saint-Victor is an eleventh century abbey in Marseille dedicated to the Roman soldier turned Christian martyr, Saint Victor. There were originally two such abbeys in Marseille, built in the mid-fifth century, but both were destroyed by the Saracens in the eighth or ninth century. Two centuries were to pass before just the single abbey was rebuilt.
In the eighteenth century, Abbaye Saint-Victor was used to store straw and as a prison. Many of the riches of Abbaye Saint-Victor were stolen at this time.
One of the most interesting aspects of the fortress-like Abbaye Saint-Victor is its crypt, which houses a series of early Christian tombs and sarcophagi.
Though now a cathedral, the Basilica of St Denis was originally an abbey dedicated to Saint Denis. It is one of many abbeys in the world to have become a place of pilgrimage.
The Basilica of St Denis (Basilique Saint-Denis) in Paris, France is a cathedral basilica named after France’s patron saint. In fact, the place where Basilica of St Denis stands is believed to the site where Saint Denis, also known as Saint Dionysius, was buried after his death in around 275 AD, making the then abbey church a place of pilgrimage.
Whilst originally founded in the 7th century, the current Basilica of St Denis was built in a gothic style in the 12th century by the Regent of France, Abbot Suger.
From the 7th century onwards, and officially from the 10th century, the Basilica of St Denis acquired a new and important role as the burial place of the kings and queens of France. It retained this role for hundreds of years and all but three of France’s monarchs were buried there. However, during the French Revolution, many of the tombs were opened and the remains removed.
In 1966 the Basilica of St Denis became a cathedral.
Today, the Basilica of St Denis is open to the public, allowing views beyond its stunning façade into its vaulted interior. Inside, visitors can view its incredible necropolis.
Guided tours and audio guides are available in English, French, Spanish and Italian, lasting between an hour and a quarter and an hour and a half.
An abbey with a turbulent history, Bath Abbey went through a number of versions before being destroyed by Henry VIII in the 15th century and restored under Elizabeth I.
Bath Abbey is an imposing medieval church built from 1499 on the site of a once vast but ruined Norman cathedral. In fact, the first church to be built on the site of Bath Abbey was an eighth century Anglo-Saxon church torn down by the Normans after 1066 and replaced by the Norman cathedral in 1090.
When the upkeep of the Norman cathedral became too onerous, it fell into disrepair, finally being replaced by Bath Abbey. However, that was not the end of the story.
In 1539, Bath Abbey was ruined under King Henry VIII during the monarch’s dissolution of the monasteries. Restoration of Bath Abbey took place under Queen Elizabeth I, with further works undertaken in the 1860s.
Today, visitors can climb the 212 steps of Bath Abbey’s tower, stand behind its clock face and enjoy fantastic views of the city. Tours are available, lasting approximately 45-50 minutes.
Location of the famous Battle of Hastings, this beautiful former abbey is now a museum dedicated to exploring the events of that famous day in 1066.
Battle Abbey and Battlefield, also known as 'Hastings Battlefield', was the site of the Battle of Hastings in October 1066.
The Battle of Hasting saw William, Duke of Normandy, become William I, King of England after defeating King Harold II, who was killed in the conflict. William I is also known as William the Conqueror.
Originally built by William the Conqueror to commemorate those who died in battle, today Battle Abbey is a museum which explores this victory and the events which led up to it as well as its aftermath.
The museum uses a combination of multimedia and traditional exhibits to guide the visitor through the Battle of Hastings and audio guides are available to direct visitors through the 100 acre battlefield in English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese.
One of many historic abbeys in England, Bayham Old Abbey was a medieval monastery closed by Henry VIII and now in a state of ruin.
A 13th century monastery of the Catholic Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré, the ruins of Bayham Old Abbey are located on the Kent-Sussex border.
Dissolved in the sixteenth century during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, Bayham Old Abbey’s original structure can still be made out from the partial remains of its impressive stone walls and visitors can also see a fourteenth century gatehouse located on site.
Bayham Old Abbey is now managed by English Heritage and is set amidst landscaped gardens.
Beaulieu Abbey is an early 13th century historic monastic complex, partially destroyed in the reign of Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The site is home to the National Motor Museum.
Nestled in the picturesque New Forest National Park, the ruins of Beaulieu Abbey represent what remains of an early 13th century monastic complex which was partially destroyed in the reign of Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Today, visitors can explore the remains of Beaulieu Abbey along with the medieval Palace House and gardens, which once formed part of the Abbey complex before being bought by Sir Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton and turned into a mansion house. Now home of the Montagu family, who have resided there since 1538, the house features many Victorian additions added during later periods of renovation.
As well as Beaulieu Abbey and Palace House, the site is home to the National Motor Museum which features a range of historic and modern cars and other motoring exhibits.
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Byland Abbey was a prominent twelfth century monastery which now lies as a pretty ruin in Yorkshire.
The ruins of the 12th century Byland Abbey rank among the most picturesque historic sites in England.
As can be expected of an English monastery, Byland Abbey has endured a turbulent history. Book-ended by a difficult beginning and the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII at the end, Byland was nonetheless able to establish itself as a pre-eminent English monastery.
Byland was established as a monastery of the Savigniac order, eventually becoming part of the better known Cistercian order in the mid-twelfth century.
Having spent considerable time seeking an appropriate location – and often in dispute with other monasteries – the monks of the order settled near Oldstead. This was never meant to be permanent, and instead a long process of construction began at Byland. The draining of marshland and construction of a magnificent church at Byland took over 30 years to complete.
In early medieval times, Byland was particularly well known for its sheep rearing and export of wool. The Duke of Norfolk praised the hospitality of the monastery around the time of the dissolution, noting that it exercised greater hospitality than most in the region.
In 1322 Byland Abbey was sacked by Robert the Bruce's army, as the Scots pursued Edward II, who had led an unsuccessful invasion of Scotland. The 14th century saw further decline as a result of the Plague, and relative economic decline.
Despite periods of prosperity, the story did not improve for the oft-troubled abbey during the Tudor period. The Pilgrimage of Grace was a large scale uprising in protest at Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries. This led to negotiations with the Crown, but a further uprising led to reprisals. The Abbott of Jervaulx (Jervaulx was a 'daughter' house to Byland) was executed for treason, and in 1538 Byland voluntarily surrendered to the Crown, and the monks received a pension in exchange. The abbey was stripped of lead, glass, timber and anything else of value and left as just a shell.
Today, Byland Abbey is a scenic ruin which remains as a fantastic example of Gothic architecture - in fact it was Byland which inspired the creation of the famous York Minster rose window. There is a nice onsite museum, and visitors can gain a fascinating insight into monastic life at the Abbey by inspecting the many archaeological finds.
Contributed by Chris Reid
Carmo Convent is a ruined medieval convent in Lisbon now used as an museum.
Carmo Convent (Convento do Carmo) is a part-ruined medieval convent in Lisbon now used as an archaeological museum.
Built in 1389, Carmo Convent was the work of Nuno Ãlvares Pereira, an important figure in Portuguese military history - including in the victory at the Battle of Aljubarrota - turned member of the Carmelite Order.
In 1755, Carmo Convent was devastated by an earthquake and its picturesque ruins are now open to the public. The convent is also now home to the Museu Arqueologico do Carmo, with its collection ranging from prehistoric to medieval artefacts.
A good example of abbeys which have been used as a centre for royalty, Dunfermline Abbey and Palace was a royal residence and the burial site of several Scottish monarchs.
Dunfermline Abbey and Palace have a royal connection dating back to the eleventh century, when a priory was established there under Queen Margaret (now known as St Margaret). This was elevated to being an abbey in around 1150 by her son, David I.
The picturesque remains of Dunfermline Abbey - now just its impressive Romanesque nave - can still be seen there today.
Over time, Dunfermline Abbey would host many important events. In particular, the cloister of Dunfermline Abbey would later become a royal palace and the birthplace of King Charles I.
Another fascinating aspect of Dunfermline Abbey is its church, which is the burial site of many famous Scottish monarchs, notably Queen Margaret and David I as well as King Robert Bruce.
An interesting addition to any list of abbeys, Einsiedeln Abbey is a beautiful Benedictine monastery with a history dating to the ninth century AD.
Einsiedeln Abbey (Kloster Einsiedeln) is a picturesque Baroque style Benedictine monastery with an illustrious history dating to the 9th century AD.
Founded in 835AD by a monk called Meinrad - later murdered by robbers - Einsiedeln Abbey flourished into a cultural hub and a great pilgrimage site. Its chapel is even said to have been consecrated by Christ himself in 948AD.
Now home to an important statue known as the Black Madonna as well as a winery and a theological school, Einsiedeln Abbey is a popular tourist and pilgrimage site.
Consecrated as an abbey in 1325AD, Fonte Avellana is a picturesque medieval hermitage in Italy which is still a working monastery.
Fonte Avellana is a medieval hermitage nestled amongst the mountains of Serra Sant'Abbondio in Italy's Le Marche region.
Also known as the Venerable Hermitage of the Holy Cross, Fonte Avellana has a rich history, including being described in Dante's Divine Comedy.
Founded in around 1000AD, Fonte Avellana was originally home to an order of monks by the same name as well as to Saint Peter Damianus, who is said to have greatly contributed to its growth. One other figure who had a significant influence on the practices Fonte Avellana was St. Romuald, the founder of the Camaldolese Monks of the Order of Saint Benedict. Eventually, Fonte Avellana even became part of this congregation.
In 1325, Fonte Avellana was consecrated as an abbey, a unique honour for a Camaldolese house and one which allowed it to thrive. Soon after it was also provided with grants in commendam, a practice whereby the monks would host outsiders. It is said that this had a great role in the decline of the Fonte Avellana community, which was finalised in 1810 by Napoleonic forces who dissolved it.
Today, Fonte Avellana is once again a working monastery and its beautifully austere structure has been fully restored. Amongst the most notable aspects of the site are its crypt, its church, it library and also the old pharmacy, which still prepares traditional cures.
One of the most famous abbeys of the world, Fountains Abbey was a thriving monastery until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries left it in ruins.
Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, UK, was founded in 1132 after thirteen monks were exiled from St. Mary’s Abbey.
The archbishop of York, Thurstan, gave these monks new land on which to found their own monastery and, despite the rough nature of the site, their newly built monastery was admitted to the French Cistercian Order within three years.
Fountains Abbey played an important part in the development of the area, offering jobs to the locals and assisting in raising its status. In fact, both Fountains Abbey and the surrounding area thrived as a result and the abbey grew to become an important centre of religion.
Like the rest of the country, Fountains Abbey suffered as a result of economic hardship and the Black Death in the fourteenth century. However, the monks managed to overcome these difficulties and the abbey once again flourishing in the fifteenth century.
It was royal intervention that finally ended the life of Fountains Abbey as, in 1539, it was closed under the orders of King Henry VIII in what became known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Today, Fountains Abbey is the largest set of monastic ruins in England and has attained UNESCO World Heritage status.
Visitors can explore these extremely well-preserved remains, including the cloisters and the cellarium. Interestingly, the cellarium of Fountains Abbey is home to several species of bats, but these only come out after dusk.
Fountains Abbey is a National Trust property.
Renowned for its stained glass windows, Fraumunster is a medieval church and former convent which is one of the most famous sites in Zurich.
Fraumunster (Church of Our Lady) is one of the most famous churches in Zurich. First built by King Louis the German in 853AD, most of the current site dates from the mid-13th century, when the Abbess Judenta Hagenbuch undertook renovations of Fraumunster.
Fraumunster is now famous for several aspects, both historical and architectural. Firstly, its convent had the right to mint coins until sometime in the 13th century.
Visitors who attend Fraumunster today go to see its Romanesque features such as its choir, its organ, which is the largest in the canton of Zurich, its frescos and, of course, its stained glass windows, many by Chagall.
Furness Abbey is a partially ruined 12th century monastery which now operates as a tourist attraction and museum.
The imposing remains of the twelfth century Furness Abbey today stand as a testament to the sheer scale of these early medieval English monasteries.
Founded in 1124 by the future King Stephen, the construction of Furness Abbey began three years later and was expanded over the next hundred years. During this period Furness grew to become one of the most important and richest abbeys in the country – indeed it created a number of off-shoot or ‘daughter’ abbeys in the region, including Calder, Byland and Swineshead abbeys.
This period of English history was often turbulent and Furness Abbey’s location near the Scottish border often left it vulnerable to attack. In one such raid in 1322 Robert Bruce entered Furness and plundered and burnt much of the area.
However, as with many monasteries of the time, it was during the reign of Henry VIII that Furness Abbey was to suffer. Henry’s Dissolution of the Monasteries saw Furness closed as a monastery and the monks were forced to leave. Over the next 300 years the abbey passed between the ownership of several different local nobles, but it was largely ignored and abandoned. The lead roof was sold and much of the masonry was plundered, leaving Furness Abbey in a ruinous state.
Today the pretty remains of the abbey are a popular tourist attraction. The ruins include much of the ornately decorated chapter house, the east end and west tower of the church, elements of the infirmary and kitchen and the cloister buildings.
There is also an interesting museum on site which tells the history of the abbey and monks who lived there as well as showcasing many artefacts found at the site.
Ranking among the most important historic abbeys in Britain, Glastonbury Abbey is the legendary burial place of King Arthur.
Glastonbury Abbey is one of the most important historic abbeys in Britain and the focal point of myth, legend and important historical events.
Although the original stone church of Glastonbury Abbey was constructed by Saxon King Ine of Wessex in around 712AD, the site has a history said to trace back to the 1st century. It is believed that the traditional building of the old church took place in 63AD and that Jesus was brought here by his great uncle, Joseph of Arimathea.
The 8th century stone church underwent significant enlargement in the 10th century under the remit of the Abbot of Glastonbury and future Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Dunstan. It was added to further under the Normans. So much so in fact that the 1086 Doomsday Book listed Glastonbury Abbey as the nation’s wealthiest monastery.
Sadly, much of Glastonbury Abbey was destroyed in a great fire in 1184, eventually being restored and its Great Church being consecrated in 1213. Glastonbury Abbey would continue to thrive for a few more centuries, only to finally be dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1539.
Today, the picturesque ruins of Glastonbury Abbey are a popular tourist site. Many people come to see it for its stunning ruins, others to see the place where legend has it that King Arthur and Guinevere were once buried.
An impressive abbey in the UK, Inchcolm Abbey is a 12th century monastery turned abbey located in an important defensive position.
Inchcolm Abbey was established as an Augustinian monastery in the twelfth century by David I, becoming an abbey in 1235. During the wars between England and Scotland, the location of Inchcolm Abbey meant that it was constantly under attack.
The island of Inchcolm Abbey continued to play a defensive role in the Napoleonic Wars and up to the Second World War. Despite its turbulent history, Inchcolm Abbey remains remarkably intact. Its thirteenth century cloisters are celebrated as some of the most well-preserved of their kind and visitors can even see a rare funereal fresco from the same period.
The ruins of the 12th Century Cistercian monastery of Jervaulx Abbey, situated in the picturesque Yorkshire Dales.
A beautiful spot to explore, the ruins of the 12th century monastery of Jervaulx Abbey are situated in the picturesque Yorkshire Dales.
Founded in 1156, Jervaulx was a Cistercian abbey, spawned from the abbey at Byland, which is situated not far from Jervaulx and would make for an excellent same-day visit. The Cistercian Order of the early 12th century, that built the abbey, was based on the austerity taught by St Benedict and Cisterian monks established monasteries in far-flung areas, where they could dedicate their lives to prayer and meditation.
The Jervaulx site is made up of the remains of the nave, transepts and choir as well as a cloister, kitchen and chapter house. All built in the traditional Cistercian style of smooth pale stone and traditionally simpler design with an emphasis on arches. Originally established at the nearby town of Fors, the monastery was relocated to its current position due to the higher quality of land there and remained there until it was plundered during Henry VIII dissolution of the monasteries.
The last Abbott Jervaulx, Adam Sedbar, made the ill-fated decision to join the Pilgrimage of Grace, a large scale uprising in protest at Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries. The failure of this enterprise not only led to widespread closure of the monasteries, but also saw Abbott Sedbar executed for treason. It is still possible to see the spot in the Tower of London where he carved his name in his cell wall.
There is no formal charge for visiting the Jervaulx Abbey, but there is a suggested donation of £3 for an adult. The whole site is outside with very little shelter, but would make for an excellent spring or summer visit. With upwards of 50 parking spaces and wheelchair access to the main church, infirmary and cloisters, the site is well equipped for all visitors. There is also a delightful set of tea rooms and very popular Bed & Breakfast in situ as well.
Contributed by Isabelle Moore
Best known for its stunning Romanesque Benedictine Abbey, Mont Saint-Michel is an imposing rocky outcrop in Normandy which contains a number of interesting historic sites.
Mont Saint-Michel is an imposing historic village in Normandy, France which dominates the skyline from its position atop a small rocky island. Joined to the coast via a causeway, Mont Saint-Michel is best known for its Benedictine Abbey and Parish Church.
A settlement in Roman times, Mont Saint-Michel was later a stronghold of the Romano-Bretons until it was destroyed by the invading Franks. The area was to see a revival in the early eighth century when a church was built on the site. Legend has it that the church was built after the Archangel Michael appeared to Aubert, the Bishop of Avranches, instructing him to build the house of worship there.
However, Mont Saint-Michel rose to real prominence with the coming of the Normans when William I, Duke of Normandy, conquered the area and settled a community of Benedictine monks on the site. From the 11th to the 16th century the Romanesque Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel was constructed and expanded time and again, forming the imposing structure that is seen today. It was a prominent site for Pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages. During this time a village grew up around the Abbey with a maze of streets and buildings that can still be walked today.
Mont Saint-Michel was attacked by the English during the Hundred Years' War, but never captured, and the site was used as a prison during the French Revolution. In 1979 Mont Saint-Michel was declared a UNESCO world heritage historic site.
Today visitors flock to Mont Saint-Michel to view the remarkable Abbey and Church and to stroll through the ancient streets. Be warned however that the climb to Abbey is demanding. Many other sites remain including the medieval ramparts, the Mont Saint-Michel Museum of History, a Maritime Museum and the 14th century Tiphaine's house.
There is a tourist office next to the site entrance. Guided tours to Mont Saint-Michel are available as are audio guides for an additional cost.
A fifteenth century nunnery of the order of St. Bridget, Pirita Convent now stands as a picturesque ruin and is an interesting example of ruined abbeys around the world.
Pirita Convent (Pirita klooster) was an important 15th century nunnery of the order of St. Bridget and now stands as a picturesque ruin in modern-day Estonia. At the time it was constructed, the city of Tallinn - where it was based - was already a trading hub and the idea to build Pirita Convent was first mooted by some of its merchants. Yet, it would take several years to begin building the convent.
In 1407, the people of Tallinn received advice from two monks visiting from Vadstena Abbey in Sweden. It would take another decade to get the required permits to begin construction, which began in 1417. The church of Pirita Convent was finally consecrated on 15 August 1436 and had 13 altars, each dedicated to an apostle.
Pirita Convent would continue orperating for some 150 years, eventually suffering destruction at the hands of Russian forces in 1575.
Built in the 11th century, Saint-Remi Abbey houses the tomb of Saint Remi and is one of many abbeys around the world to be UNESCO listed.
Saint-Remi Abbey is a UNESCO listed historic Benedictine abbey in Reims which was built in the eleventh century and renovated in the twelfth century.
Upon its construction, Saint-Remi Abbey replaced the former St Christopher’s Chapel in housing the relics of Saint Remi (440-533 AD), an archbishop of Gaul who famously baptised the Frankish king, Clovis I and was canonized after his death.
An important stop on any list of abbeys, Sainte-Foy Abbey in Conques was one of the places along the historic pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.
Sainte-Foy Abbey, also known as Conques Abbey and Abbey de Sainte Foy, was one of the churches along the medieval pilgrimage route to the Spanish cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The main reason for this was that Sainte-Foy Abbey has held the relics of its namesake, Sainte Foye, since the ninth century.
Sainte Foye, translated as “Saint Faith” was a young girl said to have been martyred during the persecution of the Christians under the Roman Empire. Her relics were held at a monastery in Agen before being stolen by a monk and brought to Sainte-Foy Abbey, where they have been ever since. They are inside a golden statue of the saint.
Sainte-Foy Abbey is a Romanesque-style church with ornate carvings and picturesque towers. Its beautiful twelfth century tympanum is a depiction of the Last Judgement. Its treasury is brimming with a collection of works by goldsmiths from as early as the ninth century, which managed to survive the French Revolution by being hidden away.
Since 1998, Sainte-Foy Abbey has been a UNESCO World Heritage site, listed as one of the historic churches on the “Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France”.
The Temple of Saint Augustin is a 16th-century abbey in Acolman in Mexico.
The Temple of Saint Augustin, known as Templo y Ex-Convento de San Agustin, is a sixteenth century historic church in the village of Acolman in Mexico.
Constructed by Augustinian friars between 1539 and 1560, San Agustin is a great example of sixteenth century architecture, particularly its façade, which exhibits a plateresque-style and its beautiful atrium.
Now a museum featuring paintings and artifacts, this is a good excursion if you’re visiting the nearby site of Teotihuacan.
In existence since 1069, Selby Abbey has been used for worship for over 900 years. Not especially well known despite being its beauty and archaic stance, Selby is nevertheless among the most impressive medieval abbeys today.
Selby Abbey is a beautiful Norman church in the heart of Yorkshire, England, with a history dating back to 1069AD.
The original Selby Abbey was constructed towards the end of the 11th century after a monk, known as Benedict of Auxerre, had a vision whereupon he was called by St. Germain to build a new monastery at ‘Selebiae’.
Over the next 500 years approximately 35 abbots led Selby Abbey, with constant additions being added to the structure. Over time, the abbey became one of the most renowned churches in England, with regular visits from kings and nobility, who often bestowed ornate gifts upon it.
Unfortunately, as with so many other abbeys, following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries Selby Abbey found itself on the wrong side of history. Though the church building itself survived, Selby became a shadow of its former self and was left to slowly decay – with large parts of the structure, including the central tower, falling to ruin.
However, the history and legacy of this great building led many to campaign for its restoration, and in the middle of the 19th century the church was repaired and reconstructed. Despite further fire damage in 1906, Selby Abbey was once again sympathetically restored leaving the building we now know, which still clings to its historic Norman roots.
Today, visitors can tour Selby Abbey when it is not in use for services and can explore the rich narrative of this historic church. In addition, the abbey is often used to host concerts and other performances from a host of renowned acts.
It is worth noting that Selby Abbey is stillI an active place of worship and often has weddings and christenings taking place there. Currently a restoration programme is also underway.
Contributed by Victoria Haughton
Consecrated in 1148, St Matthias Abbey houses the grave of its namesake, the apostle, St Mathias.
St Matthias Abbey (Benediktiner abtei St. Matthias) is a twelfth century church and the site of the tomb of the apostle St Matthias, who succeeded Judas.
Also located at St Matthias Abbey, which was consecrated in 1148, is a Roman cemetery housing the final resting places of the first bishops of Trier, probably dating back to the third century.
Much of the building of St Matthias Abbey was reconstructed in the nineteenth century, having been subject to several invasions and occupation as a private home.
St. Anna’s Church of Kokar is a pretty stone church in Aland and renowned for its fourteenth century Franciscan convent.
St. Anna’s Church of Kokar is a pretty, whitewashed stone church in Aland built in 1784 and renowned for its 14th century Finnish Franciscan convent.
The ruins of the convent are still visible today and visitors can see where the monks who lived there once worked. St. Anna’s Church of Kokar is also home to a baptismal font designed to a 13th century style.
This site also features as one of our Top 10 Finish Visitor Attractions.
Also known as Vezelay Abbey, Vezelay Basilica is a 12th century Romanesque church once said to have housed Mary Magdalene’s relics.
Vezelay Basilica, also known as Vezelay Abbey or Basilique Ste-Madeleine, has been a place of pilgrimage since it was claimed that the relics of Mary Magdalene had been brought there, sometime before the twelfth century. Whilst it is unlikely that this was really the case, Vezelay Basilica has remained an important site for Christians.
In medieval times, Vezelay Basilica was a key stop for pilgrims making their way to the Spanish church of Santiago de Compostela. This fame was further enhanced by the important events that have taken place at the church, including a meeting between Richard the Lionheart and Philip Augustus in July 1190, just before they embarked on the Third Crusade.
Vezelay Basilica itself was founded as a Benedictine abbey in the ninth century, although the current structure was built later and completed in around the twelfth century. A vast Romanesque structure resplendent with detailed carvings, such as its twelfth century tympanum – a depiction of Christ on His throne surrounded by the apostles - Vezelay Basilica has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. Much of it was restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the nineteenth century.
One of the most famous abbeys in the world, and probably the most famous of all abbeys in Britain, Westminster Abbey is an iconic medieval structure and site of many historic royal events.
Westminster Abbey is an iconic medieval structure and the site of many historic royal and national events, from coronations and weddings to burials and even deaths. Centrally located in London, Westminster Abbey was first constructed in the eleventh century by King Edward the Confessor, a Saxon king who dedicated this new church to St Peter.
Before the Abbey
In fact, the site on which Westminster Abbey was built was already of religious importance prior to its construction. The earliest record of the site of Westminster Abbey being used for religious purposes dates to the mid 10th century, when St Dunstan arrived at what was then known as Thorny Island to establish a religious house for the Benedictine order. The king built his church near to the existing monastic buildings.
The First Burial, the First Coronation
Westminster Abbey was consecrated in December 1065, a few days before Edward died. Fittingly, the king was the first of a long line of monarchs to be buried there. In 1066, William the Conqueror added to the growing prestige of Westminster Abbey by choosing to be crowned there, becoming King William I on 25th December 1066. From that point onwards, Westminster Abbey would be the site of almost every royal coronation.
By the middle of the 12th century, Edward the Confessor had been canonised and his remains were moved to a magnificent shrine within the Abbey’s sanctuary, where pilgrims would flock to ask for his intercession. They also gave donations to the shrine, making Westminster Abbey rather wealthy. In the 13th century, King Henry III resolved to rebuild Westminster Abbey to make it rival the French Gothic cathedrals of the era. This construction project would eventually form the current incarnation of the Abbey. He also moved the remains of St Edward to an even more magnificent shrine, where he still remains.
Death of Henry IV
One of the most famous events recorded to have taken place in the Abbey was the death of Henry IV in the Jerusalem Chapel in 1413. It had been predicted that he would die in Jerusalem, so, when he collapsed in the Abbey, he knew he was dying when he was taken to the Jerusalem chamber. Shakespeare immortalised the scene with Henry V trying the crown on while his father lay dying.
The 16th century finds the Tudor monarchs influencing the history of the Abbey: Henry VII started to build the Lady Chapel, Henry VIII dissolved the monastery (but spared the Abbey) and Elizabeth I established the Abbey as the foremost cathedral in England (a position it only held briefly).
Over 3,000 people are buried at Westminster Abbey. There are 600 tombs and monuments to see, many of them Royal and open to visitors. Some of the most famous royals buried there are Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I and Henry III. The tomb of the Unknown Soldier is in the Abbey and there is a service each Remembrance Sunday. Funeral services for important figures and royalty are also held in the Abbey and over time prominent funerals at the Abbey have included those of Winston Churchill, George VI, Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth I.
Poets’ corner is one of the main attractions at the Abbey, it being the burial site of many prominent non-royal figures. The first poet to be buried here was Geoffrey Chaucer, and many others have joined him in the succeeding centuries.
The Coronation Chair
In addition to the numerous burial sites and architectural features, one of the most impressive sites at Westminster Abbey is the Coronation Chair, produced in 1300-1301 under the orders of King Edward I (Longshanks). Its purpose was to accommodate the Stone of Scone, which the king had brought from Scotland.
To have an informed visit and to see the most interesting parts of Westminster Abbey, take a tour, as just wandering around can be overwhelming.
Along with Westminster Palace and Saint Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Among several ruined abbeys in the UK, Whitby Abbey is a picturesque cliff-top ruin of a thirteenth century Benedictine abbey in Yorkshire.
Whitby Abbey is a picturesque cliff-top ruin of the 13th century church of a Benedictine abbey in Yorkshire.
An Anglo-Saxon monastery was actually first founded here by Northumbria’s King Oswy in 657AD, but nothing remains of this now. Instead, the jagged walls and arches that stand here are what are left of a later gothic church, part of an abbey begun in 1220 by the Normans.
Whitby Abbey has several claims to fame, although mostly from its first incarnation. The site has been the residence of Caedmon the cowherd as well as a royal final resting place. What’s more, Dracula author Bram Stoker used the site as inspiration for his dark novel.
Over time, Whitby Abbey has suffered from a series of destructive elements, having been ravaged by invaders, dissolved by Henry VIII and pummelled by wartime bombs.
Today, Whitby Abbey is open to the public under the remit of English Heritage. There is also a modern visitor centre which tells the story of Whitby Abbey as well as having exhibitions of finds from the site, including from the 7th century abbey.