Abbeys and monasteries are places of reflection, peace and simplicity; the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life. Many open their doors to day visitors or those who are looking to stay for a while to go on retreat, to take their time to absorb some of the quietude and serenity. You do not have to have to be of a religious mind to appreciate all that these pockets of peace can bring you, and they are the perfect experience for the Slow Traveller.
800 monasteries once dotted the countryside of Britain and played a significant part in the fabric of medieval society. In the 1530s Henry VIII dissolved them – to add to his own coffers, rather than to support the growing Protestant ideology of the time. This action had a dramatic impact, causing the eventual loss of all the religious houses – abbeys, convents, monasteries, priories and friaries – and the wholesale destruction of manuscripts, relics, icons, statues so integral to Catholic faith.
Over the following years most of these sacred buildings were pillaged for their stone or lead, or simply fell victim to erosion and neglect. Some of these ruins – for example Rievaulx and Fountains - are well known for their evocative settings and buildings and regularly attract many visitors.
Less well known are those religious houses that re-established their buildings and their way of life once it was politically acceptable to do so in a more modern, more tolerant British society. These are not the ruins of the past – although many retain aspects of their medieval heritage - but working institutions.
St Benedict, the founder of the majority of these institutions, wrote that “a monastery is never without guests”, and these houses continue the medieval tradition of hospitality. The establishments listed here encourage visi