Abbeys and Priories
Whitby Abbey

Abbeys and Priories

The power and influence of the Catholic church reached its zenith in England in the Middle Ages. In the 14th century about one in 15 of all Englishmen were churchmen of some kind.

The built remains of this Christian past can be explored up and down the country – from 6th-century St Augustine’s, England’s first Benedictine monastery, to 14th-century Mount Grace, Britain’s best preserved Carthusian priory.

Find out more about England’s monastic buildings and uncover the stories of those who lived and prayed in them.

A mini guide to medieval monks

There were many different communities or ‘orders’ of monks and nuns in medieval Britain. Many of these orders followed the Rule of St Benedict, which was first adopted in England in the 7th century.

Many of the monastic sites in our care were once home to Benedictine, Cluniac, Cistercian and Carthusian monks. Watch this animation to find out more about the development of these four major orders and how their beliefs shaped their religious buildings.

Stories of monastic life

Women and monasticism

  • Nuns in medieval England

    Four of the monastic sites English Heritage cares for were once home to nuns. Their histories illuminate the important role of nuns and nunneries in medieval English monasticism.

  • Women in male monasteries: an illicit presence?

    Strict rules were in place to ensure that monks had minimal contact with women in medieval monasteries. But could they even have functioned without women?

  • Women at Haughmond Abbey

    Haughmond Abbey in Shropshire provides strong evidence of how much women were accepted and valued for their role in Christian belief and practice, even in a male monastery.

  • St Hild

    As abbess of Whitby in the 7th century – a ‘double monastery’ for both nuns and monks – Hild led one of the most important religious centres in the Anglo-Saxon world.

  • St Milburga

    Find out what we know about St Milburga, Anglo-Saxon princess, abbess and miracle worker, who ruled over a community of both monks and nuns at Wenlock in Shropshire. 

  • History of White Ladies Priory

    Discover the history of this 12th-century convent for Augustinian nuns, which later achieved fame when Charles II took refuge there in 1651 after the Battle of Worcester.

Explore our collections

Many of the properties in English Heritage’s care house collections of international significance. Explore some of the unique survivals excavated at our monastic sites, and learn more about the history of English monasticism. 

Find a monastic site to visit

Search our properties and plan your visit to one of the many monastic buildings in English Heritage’s care.

Search monastic sites

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