Overview of European Abbeys

Abbeys are complex buildings that are used by religious orders and are governed by an abbott or abbess. Religious activities are conducted in Abbeys and are often conducted by resident nuns and Christian monks.

Benedictine monasteries began to pop up in Europe in the Middle Ages after the rule of the Roman Empire came to an end. The Abbey of Saint Gall is one of the most famous monasteries that is located in Switzerland.

The Abbey existed since 719 and remained one of the chief abbeys in Europe for centuries. The abbey was in operation from 747 through 1805.

Benedictine abbeys would then begin to flood into England, with many of the existing cathedrals today once being Benedictine monasteries. Shrewsbury Abbey was founded in 1083 by the Normans. The most famous abbeys include:

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey was founded by St. Dunstan in the tenth century and remains as one of the most famous abbeys in the world today. The round arches and supporting columns are the only features that remain from St. Dunstan’s original abbey.

The Gothic abbey was founded in 960, over 1,000 years ago.

Westminster is famous for being the place of burial and coronation for English monarchs.

St. Mary’s Abbey in York

St. Mary’s Abbey was constructed in 1055 by the Order of Saint Benedict. The building, now a Grade I listed building, was one of the richest abbeys in the country. Henry VIII is responsible for the dissolution of the abbey, which, in 1539, had an income of £1.21 million a year in today’s money.

Abbey of Cluny

A French abbey, Cluny was founded in the 10th century by the Duke of Aquitaine. The abbey remained at the seat of the Cluny Order, and it played an integral role in the spread of western monasticism.

Abbeys were erected across Europe during the 10th and 11th century. Germany built the Abbey of Lorsch, which was once a Benedictine Abbey. The site offers a glimpse into the low Middle Ages and has a vast collection in the museum.

Holland’s Abbey of Notre Dame d’Orval was founded in 1132 and still has Trappist monks that remain today.

Austria also has the Abbey of Melk, which is a Benedictine Abbey that was founded in 1089 and played a key role in the spirituality and culture of Austria. The monks in the Abbey of Melk are known for their strong command of human sciences and music.

King Henry VIII would dissolve many monasteries and abbeys in the 1500s, when he denounced the pope due to his refusal to grant a divorce.

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