Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mount Grace Priory

We took a Saturday morning to visit Mount Grace Priory, the remains of the youngest Carthusian monastery in England (founded in 1398). It wasn't a very far drive from our home. We did stop off in Thirsk to slake our thirst. The town square was bustling with activity. Market day held no sway over us as we headed to the White Rose Books and Coffee Bar for a snack. Jacob was totally amazed that it was a book store AND a restaurant all in the same building. He did check out the potty which was upstairs. He called down to us from the upper level balcony. Lucy and I waved back. We had a nice cup of tea and scones and soon were back on our way to the priory.

The priory is of interest for many reasons. First, it is the most accessible and best preserved of the Carthusian priories in England. Second, since it was built so late, they had a rather sophisticated plumbing system providing fresh drinking water as well as sanitation and latrine service. Third, they've reconstructed Cell 8 so that visitors may see the standard living quarters for the monks from the 16th century.

The first thing we saw on arriving was a field of snowdrops blooming in late February. This flower is quite common and is a happy herald of the coming Spring. Jacob also discovered part of the water works--a small channel of water running down from the priory. Water was definitely his favorite part of the priory.

Field of Hibernation Dreams

Snowdrops close up

Yay for running water!

From there, we could see the manor house, which originally was the guest house of the priory. After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530s, the guest house was converted to a manor house by the seventeenth century owner. The house was expanded again in 1900-1901. It now has several late 19th/early 20th century rooms and some exhibits on the history of the priory, as well as the ticket office and shop.

The guest house/manor house

Interior fireplace

Jacob has a future as a flue inspector!

Long time resident of the house

The upstairs exhibit explained the history of the priory, the life of the monks, the water system, and other interesting bits. The most interesting thing to the children was their ability to go through the exhibit and walk down the hall to the exhibit's entrance, making a nice loop. At one point, Jacob wanted to show me something and we made a full circuit as I tried to catch up to him (or maybe he was trying to catch up to me). Here are the highlights:

Artifacts and manuscripts from the priory

The cycle of prayer at the priory

Model of the Monk's Cell

Interior of Monk's Cell

The cycle of water at the priory

The priory in its glory

After exploring upstairs we were ready to explore the priory grounds.

The church on the grounds is rather small (and in ruins). The Carthusians said most of their prayers individually in their cells, only coming together for Matins (morning prayer), Mass, and Vespers (evening prayer). The church holds the central spot on the priory grounds and divides the monks' cloister in the eastern part of the priory from the lay brothers, who served the monks in various capacities and lived in the western part. The ruins were fun to explore and Jacob found more running water.

Jacob and Lucy near the church

View from the western wall entrance

Family in church!

View up the tower--alas, no spiral staircase!

Jacob finds another waterway!

From there, we crossed the cloister and explored the restored Cell 8 to see what life was like for the monks 500 years ago. Each cell had a door and a small access window or hatch where food could be dropped off without disturbing the monks.

Typical cell entrance with hatch on the right

Jacob and Lucy went in first

Jacob in the hatch

Inside we found a living room with two smaller rooms to the side. One was the bedroom. The other was a study.

Living room

Bed room


Studying in the living room

Lucy in the bed room--guests were not allowed!

Up a staircase was the workroom where the monk would practice a trade. This monk made cloth.

Going up!

Spinning wheel and loom

Hard at work or hardly working

Out back of the cell is the enclosed garden and a covered passage which leads to the latrine that had water running underneath back in the day.

Cell garden

They collected rainwater too!

Jacob did not ask to use this potty, lucky for us!

The cell was not far from the church though it looks far in the view from the front door.

View from the cell

Us outside the cell

From here we went back past the church to the Lesser Cloister where the lay brothers lived and the Inner Court, where the stables and kiln for the priory were located.

Dividing line between Lesser Cloister and Inner Court

Gatehouse that was the main entrance back in the day

With that, our visit was done. We returned to the shop to look for some gifts. The shop lady said we could sample the Chartreuse, which is a liqueur made by Carthusian monks in France since 1605. It is green in color (chartreuse the color gets its name from the liqueur) and is made from over 130 herbs and flowers. I will write another blog post about this since we bought a bottle and I have begun experimenting with it. It is quite potent (55% alcohol or 110 proof) and strikingly flavorful.

After our purchases we headed back home. Driving out of the parking lot, we saw some geese by the driveway that were noisy and unafraid of cars.

"Come back," they seemed to say, or maybe "Feed us!"

We had a wonderful time at Mount Grace Priory and definitely recommend it to others for an interesting visit.

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