Friday, 15 July 2011

Easter 2011: Mount Grace Priory

(Easter 2011)

With the beautiful sunshine it seemed foolish to be inside on such a nice day and once everyone had let their lunch settle we drove out to Mount Grace Priory, a spectacularly in-tact Carthusian house in North Yorkshire - listening to the Young 'Uns on the way. It's a beautifully kept site, with stately manor gardens, a lot of chickens, the restored 17th century manor house (in the guest hall of the abbey) and the abbey ruins themselves.

The abbey began life as a Carthusian charterhouse in 1398 and is therefore of an unusual design for a monastery. Most monastic orders lived communally, but the Carthusians chose to live in individual cells; really, they were more like hermits who came together only for protection - they tended to keep their worship separate too, only meeting together in the church for matins, mass and vespers. The church, therefore was quite small and plain, reflecting the small amount of time the monks spent in there, while the cells were in fact small houses - actually, not that small. Each monk was entitled to a living / eating area, a small and very well lit scriptorium, a small but cosy bedroom and an upstairs workroom. The cells all had a garden which the monk maintained, along with an enclosed private cloister. During the nineteenth century one of the cells was reconstructed to a very high standard based on available information. It's really cool!

Unusually for the time there was also running water, including an outside lavatory over a channel of running water. Apparently the Carthusians were experts at plumbing, particularly the provision of clean drains and running water, and their Houses have gained something of a name for it. Mount Grace was fed by three wells built on the freshwater springs from the hillside above the Priory. This water would then be collected in and distributed from a water tower at the centre of the Cloister using a system of lead pipes and drainage channels.

The abbey was built, expanded and rebuilt in several stages during its life, leaving a wonderful series of building traces across the site; the chronology built up from archaeological investigations on the site is well worth a look. Some time after the suppression of the house during the reign of the opportunistic Henry VIII the site was taken over by Thomas Lascelles in 1654, and he rebuilt the abbey guest house into a fine example of a seventeenth century Manor house, much of which has now been restored. A fine section of red painted plaster has been identified and left exposed to provide visitors with a glimpse of what at least part of the manor house would have looked like.

We had a great time clambouring about the ruins in the unexpected April sunshine - Mount Grace Priory is well worth the visit. Again, got loads of great pictures (well, I think so anyway), which can be found on my dA profile.

Photographs: the woodland surrounding the priory; the bedroom in the reconstructed monk's cell; one of the wells or spring houses; Peter trying out the facilities; the Usual Suspects.

All facts have been mercilessly stripped from the information boards on site and the far superior guide book written by English Heritage.

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