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 The Abbey


Kirkstall Abbey is one of the finest examples of twelfth-century Cistercian architecture in Britain. Archaeologists and architects studied the abbey extensively at the end of the 1800s, and created a beautiful scale groundplan, showing all the buildings, what they were for, and how they were connected, even where they no longer survive.

The Abbey Guesthouse

Providing a welcome to strangers was an important part of life in the abbey. In most abbeys the guesthouse has not survived, but at Kirkstall the ruins of the guesthouse can be seen in the area to the front of the church and the visitors’ centre.

The monks’ devotion to Christian teachings was an important reason for providing hospitality. The passage from the Rule of Benedict, quoted above, means that whenever a person arrives, no matter who they are, rich or poor, the monks must treat them with the respect due to Christ himself. Hospitality was an opportunity to show charity to others, which was an essential part of the monks’ spiritual learning.

Who stayed at Kirkstall Abbey

Many kinds of guests would have stayed in the abbey. Poor guests would normally stay near the gatehouse. The guesthouse was reserved for more important or wealthy guests. It was expected that the monks separate guests according to their position in society. In the Middle Ages the difference between rich and poor was vast and social position strongly influenced how people would be treated, including in monasteries. The monks would sometimes bring the poor into the cloister wash their feet, and give them food in a ritual celebrating the holiness of the poor.

Ground plan of Kirkstall Abbey

Click to expandExcavations on the Kirkstall Abbey guesthouse

The guesthouse was first excavated in the 1890s by William Henry St John Hope. His work uncovered all the rooms in the guesthouse so we can understand how it was used.

Further excavations were carried out in the 1980s, and now Kirkstall guesthouse is the best understood and best excavated in the country. For more information about the buildings, have a look at the Kirkstall Abbey Groundplan.

The excavations uncovered many objects owned and used by medieval guests, such as belt buckles, brooches, decorative studs, and purse fittings. Other items included weights for carrying out business, and equipment for writing.

Click to expandFind out more

For more information about what it was like to visit a Cistercian abbey in the Middle Ages download or view our illustrated online guides:

'Kirkstall Abbey in the Middle Ages' (PDF, 4MB)

'Visiting Kirkstall Abbey Guesthouse' - poster showing the layout of the guesthouse and revealing how visitors would have experienced their stay in abbey  (6MB)