The first Cistercian settlement in the North of England, Rievaulx was spawned directly from the Order’s base at Clairvaux in France in 1132. The sight of the White Monks en route through York was said to have spurred dissatisfied Benedictine monks from St Mary’s monastry to found Fountains Abbey.
Named after the river Rye beside which it was situated, Rievaulx was created by powerful and wealthy people and this promising start was capitalised upon by the industrious attitude of the Cistercian order, led at Rievaulx by some dynamic abbotts. It developed enormous interests in wool, leather production and even produced iron from a blast furnace at nearby Laskill, the earliest know in Britain. Indeed it has been claimed that if the monastic system had been allowed to continue the industrial revolution could have come two centuries earlier.
The abbey was able to continually keep the design of the church up to date, rebuilding a number of times, so although the site is older thatn Fountains Abbey the architecture is of a later style. Built from good quality Wethercote sandstone, the buildings have survived the elements reasonabley well, but the quality of masonary could never match the beauty of a magnesium limestone abbey such as Roche.