Amid all the bad news that besets us I was heartened by a small item on the BBC's North West news, which covers Lancashire, Cumbria and Cheshire. As one who celebrates England's Catholic traditions and mourns the destruction wrought by the tyrannical Henry the Eighth, I was filled with joy. Four hundred and eighty four years after the murderous expulsion, monks will be back at Whalley in central Lancashire. True, it will not be the order of monks who were expelled, and they will be Church of England rather than Roman Catholic, but what does that matter? A wrong is in the process of being righted, that is what matters.
Whalley was home to Cistercians, silent penitential monks who sought lonely places in wildernesses if possible where they could pray and keep sheep. An offshoot of the Benedictines they first came to England in the late twelfth century. Shortly after the arrival of the first Cistercians a group of them were invited by the Earl of Chester to establish a monastery at Stanlow [meaning small stony hill] near the mouth of the river Mersey. For some years the site thrived, but geography was against it. First there was a flood, not surprising considering that it was on a flood plain. Next the church tower collapsed in a gale. Finally not long afterwards there was a fire. A new site was needed. Progress was slow, but a site was found near Clitheroe by the banks of the small river Calder. The monastery was slowly and steadily rebuilt, and the development continued up to the time of the last abbot, Adam Pawley, who rebuilt the abbot's quarters and added a lady chapel, dedicated to Our Lady. During this brief period of three hundred years the abbey thrived and became one of England's great abbeys. Then in 1537 the king's commissioners arrived to loot the place. The abbey's lands were confiscated. When Catholic Northern England arose in protest at the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 the rebellion was crushed with maximum force and savage reprisals, and Adam Pawley went to the scaffold to be hung, drawn and quartered for his pains.
In 1553 the house and lands were sold to a pair of businessmen/landowners, one of whom took the monastic buildings as his share. While much of the site remained intact he tore down the abbot's quarters and the infirmary to make room for a house, which you see in the picture below. The house almost certainly contained stones taken from the abbey and included a small section of the abbey buildings. In the next century the abbey church was torn down. Some buildings, including the gatehouse, now roofless, survived.