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 and people

  • What Became of the Monks and Nuns at the Dissolution?

    Discover what happened to the many thousands of monks and nuns whose lives were changed forever when, on the orders of Henry VIII, every abbey and priory in England was closed.

  • How Silent Were Medieval Monasteries?

    To many of us, a visiting the ruin of a monastery or abbey is a peaceful, contemplative experience. But are we right to associate monastic sites with the absence of noise?


    From visiting taverns to singing at the wrong pitch, the monks of Hailes Abbey couldn’t always meet the high standards expected of them.

  • 'Be mery all': The Battle Abbey Carol

    A chance discovery of a medieval carol has shed light on the lives of monks at Battle Abbey. Find out more and hear an extract of the piece.

  • Who was St Augustine?

    Discover how a monk from Rome became the first Archbishop of Canterbury and kick-started the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.

  • Easter: A Moveable Feast

    A decision made at Whitby Abbey in AD 664 was a landmark in the history of Christianity in England. Find out more.

  • St Hild of Whitby

    As abbess of Whitby – a monastery for both men and women – Hild led one of the most important religious centres in the Anglo-Saxon world. Discover more.

  • The Suppression of Roche Abbey

    Discover how an eyewitness account reveals the speed and scale of the destruction of Roche Abbey during Henry VIII’s Suppression of the Monasteries.

  • Atoning for the bloodshed: The foundation of Battle Abbey

    Battle Abbey was born out of William the Conqueror’s defeat of the last Anglo-Saxon king, Harold. Discover more about its foundation on the site of the Battle of Hastings.

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

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. 

Discover England's Monastic History

  • Mount grace priory

    Set amid woodland in North Yorkshire, this unusual monastery is the best preserved Carthusian priory in Britain. Mount Grace Priory is the perfect tourist attraction for a relaxing and peaceful day out. Discover how the monks lived 600 years in the reconstructed monk’s cell and herb plot.

  • Castle acre priory

    This important Norfolk visitor attraction is one of the largest and best preserved monastic sites in England dating back to 1090.

  • Battle Abbey

    For a memorable family day out in Sussex visit Battle Abbey, the site of the 1066 Battle of Hastings. An enjoyable way to discover more about the most famous date in English history.

  • Rievalux Abbey

    Rievaulx Abbey is the perfect choice for a peaceful day out, with its extensive ruins and fascinating museum in a secluded North York Moors valley.

  • White ladies priory

    Probably founded in the late 12th century as a nunnery, White Ladies enjoyed a moment of high drama in 1651 when it briefly became the hiding place of Charles II.

  • Easby Abbey

    In a beautiful setting by the River Swale, Easby can be reached via a pleasant walk from Richmond Castle.

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