A Road Runs Through It

In the Chapter House of Kirkstall Abbey on the 22nd November 1539, the Abbot, John Ripley, and thirty monks one by one signed their name on the surrender deed which read:

“To all the faithful of Christ to whom this present writing shall come, we, John Ripley, abbot of the monastery of Kirkstall in Yorkshire, and the convent of the same place, everlasting greeting in the Lord. Know that we, the aforesaid abbot and convent, by our unanimous assent and consent, with steady minds, of our certain knowledge and proper motion, and certain just and reasonable causes spiritually moving us, our souls and consciences, have freely and of our own accord given and granted, and by these presents we give and grant, surrender, deliver and confirm to the most illustrious and invincible prince, our Lord Henry VIII, by the Grace of God king of England and France, defender of Faith, lord of Ireland and Supreme Head of the Church of England upon earth, our entire house and monastery…”

The abbot then handed over the keys to his abbey to Henry VIII’s commissioners and retired to live in the gatehouse.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the main road to Leeds ran through the nave of the church. The base of the east window was destroyed and where monks had once sung and prayed and where benefactors were buried, travellers walked past or rode on horseback or rolled by in laden carts. Many scratched their initials into the stone pillars as they passed by.

In 1827 the road was redirected, but today the A65 still runs through the grounds of the abbey and you have to negotiate two pelican crossings to walk from the gatehouse to the church.

The base of east window was rebuilt in Victorian times and now a flagged path runs the length of the church for visitors to walk and for groups of schoolchildren to measure the length of the nave with a click wheel. High above jackdaws squawk and drop their feathers (and worse) but in one of the chapels there are still original tiles and if you close your eyes very tightly you may be able to imagine just how Abbot Ripley and his monks felt as they filed out of their church for the very last time.

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