Thurston, Archbishop of York, was very anxious to have a monastery of the newly founded and fervent order of Cistercians in his diocese ; and so, at his invitation, St. Bernard of Clairvaux sent a colony of his monks, under the leadership of Abbot William, to make the desired foundation. After some delay Walter Espec became their founder and chief benefactor, presenting them with a suitable estate, situated in a wild and lonely spot, in the valley of the rivulet Rie (from whence the abbey derived its name), and surrounded by precipitous hills, in Blakemore, near Helmesley. The community took possession of the ground in 1131, and began the foundation, the first of their order in Yorkshire. The church and abbey, as is the case with all monasteries of the order, were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. At first their land being crude and uncultivated, they suffered much until, after a number of years, their first benefactor again came to their assistance and, later on, joined their community. Their land, also, through their incessant labours, eventually became productive, so that, with more adequate means of subsistence, they were able to devote their energies to the completion of church and monastic buildings, though these were finished only after a great lapse of time, on account of their isolation and the fact that the monastery was never wealthy. The constructions were carried on section by section, permanent edifices succeeding those that were temporary after long intervals. The final buildings, however, as attested by the magnificent, though melancholy, ruins yet remaining, were completed on a grand scale.
Within a very few years after its foundation the community numbered three hundred members, and was by far the most celebrated monastery in England ; many others sprang from it, the most important of them being Melrose, the first Cistecian monastery built in Scotland. Rievaulx early became a billiant centre of learning and holiness ; chief amongst its lights shone St. Ælred, its third abbot (1147-67), who from his sweetness of character and depth of learning was called Bernardo prope par . He had been, before his entrance into the cloister, a most dear friend and companion of St. David, King of Scotland. History gives us but scant details of the later life at Rievaulx. At the time of its suppression and confiscation by Henry VIII the abbot, Rowland Blyton, with twenty-three religious composed its community. The estates of this ancient abbey are now in the possession of the Duncombe family.
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