The Path Less Traveled. Official Post #2

Hello blog readers!

This blog will explain to you our class adventures in the bustling town of Helmsley, England. While in Helmsley our class visited two different sites. The first was the Helmsley Castle and the second was Rievaulx Abbey. Helmsley Castle was a short walk from our hostel and was positioned in the middle of town and on top of a bailey. The original castle was built in wood by Sir Walther Espec. When Sir Espec died the castle was passed on to his sister because he did not have any heirs. The sister and her descendants upgraded the castle from wood to stone and added drawbridges and gates to the already existing moat and earthen walls for added protection. The castle remained a prominent piece in the town of Helmsley until the Civil War when the castle was sieged. The siege lasted for three months and ended with the castle being slighted and rendered indefensible, leading to the ruins we explored.

Compared to the short walk that it took to get the Helmsley Castle, Rievaulx Abbey was a four mile hike away from town. During our hike the class got to see views of gorgeous British countryside and some sheep were added as a bonus. The reason for such a long hike is because the abbey was under Cistercian rule and wanted to be away from the ‘temptations’ of society. While the abbey was founded in 1132, the monastery reached its peak under their third abbot, Aelred, who ruled from 1147 to 1167. During this time most of the buildings were designed and built and the abbey became quite wealthy from raising sheep and ironworks. After Abbot Aelred died the abbey went into a slow decline, which can be shown by the following numbers. At its peak Rievaulx Abbey had 140 monks and 500 lay brothers. Before being dissolved the abbey only had three monks and no lay brothers. The dissolution of the abbey came around in 1536 due to monastic internal issues and the Protestant Reformation that was spreading across Britain. Today the abbey is in ruins, though some of the original architecture can still be seen. The chapter house foundations show that the chapter house was built in a unique u-shape and records show that the chapter house was designed by Aelred. The Gothic style that the abbey was built in was also apparent, especially in the church were a clear story and triforium could be seen.

At the end of the day half our class hiked back to Helmsley while the other half (arguably the smarter half) took cabs back to Helmsley. (Hence the name of my title. I was in the walking group and took the ‘path less traveled’ back to town.) Overall it was a great day of history, viewing the English countryside, and enjoying the shenanigans of our group.

Until next time,

Alison

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