English Churches - Ruined Abbeys

St Mary's Abbey, York


Once one of the wealthiest and most powerful abbeys in England


The ruins of the once great St Mary’s Abbey are in the Museum Gardens in York. This was one of the wealthiest and most powerful abbeys in Medieval England and the abbey estate, surrounded by a stone wall, occupied all of the present Museum Gardens. The abbot ranked equal with the Archbishop of York. 

A Benedictine monastery was founded here in 1088. The original abbey church was St Olave’s, which pre-dated the Norman conquest.

St Mary's Abbey

It is adjacent to the abbey wall by the main entrance  of the abbey on Marygate. On the opposite side to St Olave’s is the large square stone St Mary’s Lodge, which was the abbey guest house. Poor people could claim alms and food here.


St Mary's Abbey

Through the archway is arcading.

St Mary's Abbey

As the abbey grew in importance, St Olave’s Church was replaced in the C13th by a larger and more splendid building in Decorated Gothic style. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, much of the church buildings were destroyed.

All that remains of the C13th abbey church is part of the north and west wall of the nave. 

St Mary's Abbey

St Mary's Abbey

The Yorkshire Museum was built over the chapter House of St Mary’s Abbey. The vestibule and the main entrance to the chapter House have been reconstructed  in the museum where they once stood.

The Hospitum, taking its name from hospitality rather than hospital, is thought to have been the guest house for lower rank visitors to the abbey. It was originally part of a group of buildings that included a brew-house and stables. The stone built ground floor dates from around 1300 and would have been the refectory and storage areas. Stone would better resist regular flooding by the river. The timber frame upper floor is later and would have offered dormitory accommodation.

St Mary's Abbey

The ruined gateway at the side is C15th, and was probably the entrance to a passage that ran towards the water-gate by the river.

St Mary's Abbey

The Museum Gardens are open daily and there is free entry. The ruins of St Mary’s Abbey are a focal point of the gardens and are most attractive surrounded by grass, mature trees and flower beds. The post code is YO1 7FR and the grid reference is SE 599521.

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