As well as a highly regarded school, Ampleforth Abbey is a working Monastery set in the North York Moors. It is a delightful setting with lakes, woodlands and trails. Visitors can join the monks at prayer as well as visiting the abbey between services.
The Benedictines were expelled from France in 1792 during the Revolution. Fr Anselm Bolton came to England and became chaplain to Lady Anne Fairfax of Gilling Castle. She built Ampleforth Lodge for him. In 1802, Fr Anselm handed it over to his brethren to be their new monastery and the school was opened in 1803. The monks taught in the school and went on mission to the industrial towns.
The massive Abbey with its massive tower is set at the centre of the complex of school buildings. The prep school is in Gilling Castle. It is a lovely site overlooking the broad valley.
There were plenty of cars parked, but there was no one around. It felt quite eerie inside the building with its long corridor and signs saying ‘Silence’. We followed the signs to the Abbey and opened the door. There is always a sense of excitement when we visit a church as you are neve quite sure what you will find inside. This was a complete surprise, as it is two churches in one with a central altar. The monks sit on one side and the school on the other.
The altar is a massive dark stone structure with a big arch and crucifix hanging from it. There are carved saints, bishops and angels on the sides. Facing the school is the Virgin Mary and St John.
The nave is massive and with plain glass windows and clerestory feels very light. There are simple pillars and pointed arches and the school sits on pale wooden benches. It feels rather austere.
The choir used by the monks is smaller and more intimate. Pillars and arches are a darker stone. Monks have dark carved wood benches. There is wood panelling under the stained glass east window. At the centre is the Abbot’s chair with stalls on either side.
The north chapel off the choir has the most amazing sculptured reredos. In the centre under an elaborately carved canopy is the virgin holding the dead body of Christ with the cross behind. On the left is the baby Jesus being presented at the temple. On the right is Jesus carrying his cross. Below are four carved figures of Roman soldiers. On the back wall is a carved stone niche with Christ crucified on the top. This contains the roll of honour for 1914-18, opened at the right day.
Visitors are welcome to attend services and there are stalls allocated for them in the choir. Guided tours of the Abbey are available every Thursday at 2.15.
The Abbey has a small Visitor Centre with information about the abbey and monastic life. The shop sells books, jewellery, scented candles, cards and scarves as well as Ampleforth beer and ciders. There is also an excellent tea room. Entry to the Abbey is free and visitors are welcome to explore the extensive grounds. They have apple orchards and the apples are used to make cider and liqueurs. In April and May the Abbey runs blossom tours; in June to October, apple tours. It makes an interesting and different afternoon out.
There is disabled parking by the entrance to the Abbey buildings. Corridors are flat and there is disabled access to the shop, Visitor Centre and tea room. There is ramped access to the abbey using the door by the small book case in the corridor. Other doors have flights of stairs. There is a ramp into the choir.
There is access to the grounds either from the car park or down a spiral ramp through the door by the shop. There are wide tarmac paths around the grounds. A leaflet available from the Visitor Centre shows these. There are disabled toilets inside the building and level access to toilets from the outside.
Hearing loops are provided for the hard of hearing – ask at reception. At the moment they do not have large print information or braille.
Assistance dogs are allowed in the buildings. (Other dogs are allowed on a lead in the grounds.)