History of Byland Abbey

In the late 11th and early 12th centuries, several new monastic orders based on the Rule of St Benedict came into being. Most famous is that of the Cistercian order, founded in 1098 at Cîteaux in Burgundy. Much less well known because it merged with the Cistercian order in 1147, is that of Savigny, in Normandy, founded in 1112–15. [1]

The Savigniacs come to England

Like the Cistercians, the Savigniacs sought to return to a stricter interpretation of the Benedictine rule, and they also recruited lay brothers to help work the abbey estates.

The first house of the order in England was founded at Tulketh near Preston in 1124, but soon moved to a more suitable site at Furness in Cumbria in 1128. [2] Their principal patron was Stephen, count of Mortain, who became king of England in 1135.

The Savigniacs at Byland

The Savigniacs arrived at Byland around 1155 and they spent the next 20 years clearing the wild and marshy site, draining the land and prepared a worthy site for the construction of the great abbey.

This was well advanced by the time the historian William of Newburgh, an Augustinian canon at Newburgh Priory, who could see the great Cistercian abbey church at Byland rising on the opposite side of the vale from his own church, described it as one of the shining lights of northern monasticism.

Phased plan of Byland Abbey

A phased plan of Byland Abbey can be downloaded from the right-hand side of this page.


1. 'Origins of the Savigniac Order: Savigny’s Role Within Twelfth-Century Monastic Reform',  M Suydam, Revue Benedictine, 86, 1976, 94–108

2. Stuart Harrison, Jason Wood and Rachel Newman, 'Furness Abbey', London 1998

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