PERHAPS the greatest Christian heritage of the Norman era lies in the Abbeys,
Rievaulx being a major example in Ryedale. Another is Byland near Ampleforth.
The 12th and 13th centuries were a period of great expansion in population
and prosperity. The new monastic movement led the way in developing life
in the remote areas of Ryedale. Spiritual life grew strongly under the
leadership of men such as Aelred of Rievaulx, who has left us a rich heritage
of spiritual writing. Aelred also helped to unite the Saxon and Norman
communities, laying the foundations of later English society
Material life also flourished, with the abbeys developing the mineral and agricultural potential of the region. Many of the local farms were set up at this time on what had been uncultivated land and the monasteries became leading wool producers. The iron deposits in the upper Rye valley were developed by monks, using local woodland to produce charcoal for the furnaces. One of the first blast furnaces in Yorkshire was built on the land to the north side of Rievaulx Abbey. Byland Abbey was built on the watershed between the Rye and the Ouse basins, and the drainage system that the monks developed is still in use.
Page prepared by Ryedale Christian Council Autumn 2000. Updated December 2016
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