The Order of the Cistercian Monks who founded Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds, was started in 1098 by Abbot Robert of the abbey of Molesme in France, following disagreements with the Benedictine Order, of which he was a member, over lack of austerity in their lifestyle. Robert left Molesme with twenty fellow monks to found a new abbey at Citeaux, before he was ordered by the Pope to return.
By 1128, when the Cistercians, known as the White Monks, landed in Britain, the strict Order has already established twenty five abbeys since the mother abbey at Citeaux. The first abbey to be founded in England was at Waverly. The Cistercian order spread throughout England, Wales and into Scotland, their three major abbeys being Waverly, Rievaulx and Fountains.
The monks had to move from their abbey at Bernolfwic (Barnoldswick) due to hostile locals, when they pulled down the village church and moved all the villagers from their homes to take over the land. Fortunately Abbot Alexander, in 1152, was able to found a new abbey on land donated by Henry de Lacy on the banks of the River Aire at Kirkstall, which became the fifth daughter abbey of Fountains.
For over four hundred years the monks, who were skilled craftsmen and farmers, run many industries from the abbey, the major ones being the exportation of wool to Europe, and the foundation of Kirkstall Forge, which has only recently closed.
During the dissolution, Kirkstall was surrendered to one of Henry VIII's commissioners in 1539, when its roof, windows and fittings were removed to prevent the monks from returning, however the buildings themselves were not demolished.
Subsequent damage has been caused by deterioration and pillaging of stones, and major damage was caused in 1779 when the tower on the Basilica partially collapsed in a storm, and again in 1825, when snow caused the lay brothers dormitory to partially collapse.
The abbey was to pass through the ownerships of Archbishop Thomas Cramner, Sir Robert Savile, and the Earl of Cardigan, before being purchased by Colonel John North who donated it to the City of Leeds.
In 1895 the abbey was opened to the public, and it remains today the most complete example of Cistercian design and building in the the country. It has recently had a major refurbishment making the Abbey and Gatehouse Museum a major tourist destination.
The Basilica Tower
The Kitchen and Lay Brothers Alley
The Gatehouse Museum
Kirkstall Abbey is a venue
for the annual performances of the