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One of Britain's best preserved abbeys, Kirkstall Abbey was founded in 1152 by a party of Cistercian monks from Fountains Abbey and was closed down in November 1539 in the Dissolution of religious houses ordered by Henry VIII. The monks were pensioned-off, the roofs stripped of lead and some buildings converted for agricultural use. Many famous artists such as JMW Turner, Thomas Girtin and Moses Griffith came to paint Kirkstall Abbey's picturesque ruins. Today large parts of the Abbey can still be seen and explored free of charge.
Kirkstall Abbey is one of the most important buildings historically in Leeds. After its dissolution in 1539 the abbey’s windows, roofs and much of the stonework were steadily removed for use in local building projects and this helps explain its current partially-ruined appearance. Nevertheless, Kirkstall is still preferred by many historians to other Cistercian abbeys such as those found at Fountains and Rievaulx. Kirkstall Abbey's most impressive features include;
Beginning at the west end, the view along the church's entire 200 foot length is unbroken, with 8 huge columned arches. At services, there was a strict order from back to front. Closest to the west door is the Nave, where lay brothers and lay visitors sat. Closer to the front were aged and infirm monks, then monks and novices in the choir.
Not the original 12th Century structure, which only attained the same height as the church roof in keeping with the ideals of austerity and simplicity promoted by the founding fathers of the Cisterian monastic order. In 1509- 27 a new tower was built. The north-west side collapsed in 1779.
On either side of the tower providing the important crucifix shape to the church. The North Transept doorway gave access to the cemetery after funeral services. A fascinating feature of the South Transept is the 'night stairs' used by monks to reach the choir from their dormitory for night vigils.
The Cloisters and Chapter House:
The Cloisters form one of the most tranquil corners of Leeds, a square with covered walkways where monks would sit reading and writing. The Chapter House has many carved arches and pillars and some old stone coffins.
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