I selected Mount Grace Priory in North Yorkshire England as the place to guide a tour. It is said to be the best preserved and most accessible of the ten medieval Carthusian charter houses in England. Carthusian monasteries account for only a small proportion of English religious houses, a little over 1%. Mount Grace Priory was founded in 1398 by Thomas Holland, 1st Duke of Surrey. It was the last monastery established in Yorkshire before the reformation. ‘It was a fairly small establishment, with space for a prior and twenty-three monks. The Priory consisted of a church and two cloisters. It was dedicated as House of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and of St Nicholas. Mount Grace was refunded and enlarged by Thomas Beaufort in 1415, including a new tower that is still intact today.
The Carthusian Order, also called the Order of Saint Bruno, is a Catholic religious order. The order was founded by Saint Bruno of Cologne in 1084 and includes both monks and nuns. Unlike monks of other orders, who live in common, the Carthusians even to this day live as hermits, each occupying his own cell, only living in communities for protection and to share a sound economy. They came together only for the nocturnal liturgical hours, and on Sundays and feast-days, in the chapel. The purpose of Carthusian life is total withdrawn from the world to serve God by personal devotion and privation. They set themselves apart in that they discourage lay visitors to their monasteries and while they distribute alms they do not do much to help those poorer than themselves.
The priory was closed in 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII. Some of the monks had (in 1534) attempted to avoid taking the oath of supremacy but, after they were imprisoned, the last prior, John Wilson, handed the keys over to Henry VIII’s representatives.
The site then passed into private ownership, at the time Mount Grace was valued at £382 5s. The property is now owned by the National Trust but under the care of English Heritage. Visitors today can see the layout of the whole monastery, including one reconstructed monk’s cell, together with the typically small Carthusian chapel and the later house.
Mount Grace has been studied by modern archaeologist on large scale, rare of a house of any religious order. Around 35% of the central buildings and all serving fabric has been analyzed. Mount Grace has produced the largest sample of food waste from 15th-century England from stratified deposits in the monks’ kitchen, providing exceptional evidence for the monastic diet and its development.