Dore Abbey: a Cistercian monastery


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016433

Date first listed: 17-Aug-1976

Date of most recent amendment: 14-Mar-2000


Ordnance survey map of Dore Abbey: a Cistercian monastery
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: County of Herefordshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Abbey Dore

National Grid Reference: SO 38765 30350


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England. These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout, although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship, learning and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 75 of these religious houses belonged to the Cistercian order founded by St Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. The Cistercians - or "white monks", on account of their undyed habits - led a harsher life than earlier monastic orders, believing in the virtue of a life of austerity, prayer and manual labour. Seeking seclusion, they founded their houses in wild and remote areas where they undertook major land improvement projects. Their communities were often very large and included many lay brethren who acted as ploughmen, dairymen, shepherds, carpenters and masons. The Cistercians' skills as farmers eventually made the order one of the richest and most influential. They were especially successful in the rural north of England where they concentrated on sheep farming. The Cistercians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

Dore's position on a marginal site in the Welsh marches reflects the ideology and aspirations recorded in statutes and histories of the mid-12th century Cistercian order. Comparison between the written record and the physical remains will contribute to a wider understanding of an order at its zenith. Although Cistercian monasteries conformed in general to a standard architectural plan and the monks lived by a strict code of statutes governing many aspects of their lives, the architecture of individual houses developed over the centuries of their occupation. The part excavations of Roland Paul have confirmed that whilst Dore conformed to the general Cistercian plan, it also retained its own individual elements of style and design. The octagonal chapter house and other architectural details suggest an influence from the West Country school of builders, those involved in the construction of the great religious buildings such as Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury Abbey. Dore Abbey is the only Cistercian house in England founded directly from the great Cistercian House of Morimond, the fifth senior house of the order, whose daughter houses lay largely in central and eastern Europe. The buildings at Dore will provide insight into both the influence of local non-Cistercian trends in architecture and of the great European monasteries within the traditions of English Cistercian building and decoration. The remarkable survival of the east end of the monastic church, now the parish church, is the only occurrence of a Cistercian church still in ecclesiastical use in England. The work of the 19th century restorers is remarkably well understood, and the records of Roland Paul provide an opportunity to study the development of a monastic building over 900 years. Traces of painted plaster work discovered within the church have already provided one of the more detailed insights into the decorative schemes within a Cistercian church, similar survivals upon buried architectural fragments would further enhance our knowledge. The survival of the monastic cemetery will be expected to provide a rare opportunity to examine the skeletal remains of a discrete medieval community providing insight into living conditions, diet, health and funerary practices. The low lying, damp position of the mill, leats and fishponds would suggest a good level of survival of organic remains within the monastic precinct. This environmental evidence will provide information about the natural and climatic environment and also the economic development of the house.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the earthwork and buried remains of the claustral buildings and parts of the outer court and wider precinct of the Cistercian abbey at Dore, as well as the standing remains of the nave of the abbey church and the chapter house. The abbey is located in the steep sided valley, just above the flood plain of the River Dore, and is sited close to the Roman road which ran from Abbergavenny to Kenchester. Dore Abbey was founded by Robert Fitz Harold of Ewyas about 1147. The main complex of conventual buildings was erected between the mid-12th century and 1210 with the church aligned south east to north west and the cloister sited to the north of the church rather than on the more usual southern side. This was most probably due to the geographic restrictions of the site in a steep sided valley which prevented the construction of the cloisters to the south. The abbey was suppressed in 1536 and the buildings rapidly fell into ruins. The church was restored in 1633 for John Viscount Scudemore. Between 1895- 1904, as part of further restorations, Roland Paul excavated and made measured drawings of the remains of the monastic site. The excavations in the body of the nave and in parts of the claustral range and the precinct clarified the layout of the monastery and confirmed its overall compliance with the standard Cistercian plan found in monasteries of the order throughout Europe. The chancel of the monastic church forms the extant parish church of the village of Abbey Dore. The church, which is a Grade I Listed Building and which remains in use, is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath it is included. Approximately 17 chest tombs, which are Listed Grade II and located within the churchyard, are also excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included. The whole of the churchyard is included in the scheduling except for an area to the north west where more recent burials occur. The nave of the monastic church was largely demolished above ground level, and the area is now occupied by the graveyard of the present parish church. Two pillars of the nave immediately north west of the crossing, the arch of the first bay of the southern arcade of the nave, now standing in the modern graveyard, and the north wall, including the lay brothers day entrance into the nave of the monastic church survive. The full extent of the nave and the position of the Galilee porch are clearly evident as low earthwork banks and platforms. There is a fall in ground level of 1m to 2m between the current graveyard in the area of the monastic nave and the farm yard and buildings to the north west of the church in the area of the conventual west range. In addition, an area to the south east of the church which is thought to overlie the site of the monastic cemetery is included in the scheduling. Further traces of the conventual buildings survive as low earthwork banks and platforms of the `frater range'(the range of buildings which contained the warming rooms, dining rooms and kitchens and which was traditionally located opposite to and running parallel with the church). The east range of the cloister is indicated by extant remains of the sacristy and walling and a springer for vaulting of the octagonal chapter house, whilst the scar of the roof of the monastic dormitory and night stairs entrance survive in the present north eastern gable of the north transept of the church. There is another earthwork platform to the north east of the east end of the church which is the traditional site of the monastic infirmary cloister. Although the plan of this building has not been recorded in enough detail to determine its use, it is certainly one of the major conventual buildings beyond the claustral range. In addition, there are traces of a boundary which takes the the form of a substantial earthern bank to the east of the east end of the church where it defined the inner court of the monastery. Other fragments of bank, to the east and south of the church, indicate the course of the wider precinct boundary incorporated in places among extant field boundaries. Earthwork remains of the water management system of the monastery survive as a ditch which follows the course of the main drain of the monastery. This entered the inner court from the north west and flowed beneath the buildings of the reredorter (lavatory), kitchens and infirmary and continued to the north east acting as a leat for industrial purposes. Immediately to the east of the inner court are the earthwork remains of a building, thought to be a mill, which lie on the route of the leat. In the pasture to the south of the leat are the shallow remains of at least three sub-rectangular ponds linked to each other by channels and also linked to the main leat. These ponds are thought to be the remains of monastic fish stews used for production of fish for immediate domestic consumption. Both the mill building and the fishponds lie within the area of the wider precinct which is defined by the survival of a boundary bank to the south east along the present field boundary. The precinct was defined along its southern edge by the boundary bank which survives in places along the edge of the modern road. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are the chancel of the monastic church which forms the parish church, the modern churchyard wall acting as the boundary to the churchyard, all chest tombs, the timber porch, modern paths, fences and gates and the modern barns in the south eastern part of the Tan House farmyard; the ground beneath all these features is, however, included. An area in the south eastern part of the monument is totally excluded from the scheduling. This area includes the house, cottages, outbuildings and immediate gardens of the Old Rectory. The house and cottages were built in the 19th century and ground levels were reduced beyond the level where any archaeological features are expected to survive. However, at the western and southern extremities of the monument, surviving sections of the precinct boundary wall lie within the gardens of Old Rectory house and cottages. These remains are included in the scheduling.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 30011

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Shoesmith, R, Richardson, R. et al, A Definitive History of Dore Abbey, (1997)
Paul, R, 'Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucester Archeaological Soc.' in Dore Abbey; The Church And Monastery, , Vol. XXVII, (1904), 117
Result of collapsed sacristy, Liegh, J,., Feild Monument Warden Long Internal Report, (1997)
Series 007 March 1997, Stone, R, Abbey Dore Chapter House: A Report on Stone Recording, (1997)

End of official listing