Rievaulx Abbey: Abbot William’s Shrine

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Rievaulx Abbey © David Gill

William was the first abbot of Rievaulx (1132-45). The Cistercian abbey was founded in 1132: the first foundation in England was Waverley Abbey in 1128.

William came from Yorkshire and was a member of the monastic community at Clairvaux where he served as secretary to Bernard, its abbot. He was the founding abbot at Rievaulx and was responsible for its early buildings in the west range.

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Rievaulx Abbey © David Gill
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Rievaulx Abbey © David Gill

After his death in 1145, his remains were placed in a shrine at the entrance to the late 12th century chapter house on the south side of the cloister. The shrine itself dates to the mid-13th century. William’s casket would have been placed in the upper part of the shrine, and there was a space below. The grave was marked with two inscriptions, SCS WILLMUS Abbas (‘St William the Abbot’) and Willmus primus Abbas Rievall (‘William first abbot of Rievaulx’).

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Rievaulx Abbey © David Gill

The chapter house became the burial place of subsequent abbots, including William Punchard (d. 1203), Peter (d. c. 1307), and John I (d. c. 1327).

The Abbey at Dundrennan (HES) was founded by Rievaulx in 1142.

Rievaulx is now maintained by English Heritage.

Author: David Gill

David Gill is Honorary Professor in the Centre for Heritage at the University of Kent, and Honorary Research Fellow in the School of History and an Academic Associate in SISJAC at UEA; Professor of Archaeological Heritage.

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