Ancient herb garden revived at 14th Century priory

Ancient Herb Garden Revived at Mount Grace Priory

Mount Grace Priory in North Yorkshire was built in the 14th Century for Carthusian monks

English Heritage has delved into medieval herb-lore to breath new life into a monk’s garden at Mount Grace Priory, near Osmotherley, North Yorkshire.

The fragrant plot, within the walls of a 600 year-old monk’s cell, was recreated 11 years ago after laying fallow for centuries. Once it would have provided its Carthusian monk with everything from a cure for flatulence to foliage for masking unpleasant smells.

Now scores of new varieties have been planted in a major revamp, re-creating the atmosphere and pungent scents of those far off days. The project has been undertaken by past and present staff members.

Head custodian Becki Wright said:

“Herbs were incredibly important in medieval times and we know that many Carthusian monks were keen gardeners. While we can’t be sure exactly what was cultivated at Mount Grace, we do have a fair idea and some of the varieties we have planted would certainly have been here.”

Hundreds of plants have been laid out according to their uses in religious rites, medicines, cooking, aromatic and strewing. Becki adds:

“Carthusians were compelled to do manual labour and many choose to cultivate their gardens. Some preferred to plant flowers or vegetables, rather than herbs. It was a way of getting closer to nature and a distraction from their painful solitude. We want to create a garden that stimulates the senses as much as it did for the monks.”

Mount Grace Priory has fifteen monastic cells, one of which has been restored and is open to the public. Monks maintained strict discipline, rarely speaking and coming together only for church services. Their zealous faith, linking privation with piety, attracted wealthy benefactors. Amongst the herbs replanted are:

Fennel - used to suppress hunger and eaten during the Lent fast;
Rue - sprinkled on holy water during Mass and thought to protect from the plague;
Hyssop - thought to drive away evil and used in Chartreuse liqueur – originally produced by Carthusians; and
Sweet Woodruff and Marjoram - used to mask unpleasant smells in the church.
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Mount Grace Priory is the best preserved and most accessible of the ten Carthusian (external - login to view) charterhouses (external - login to view) in England (external - login to view). Founded in 1398 (external - login to view), it was the last monastery established in Yorkshire (external - login to view) before the Reformation (external - login to view), and an expression of the fashion for piety and strict living of the time. Unlike other monks (external - login to view), who lived in common, the Carthusians lived as hermits, each occupying his own cell (more like a small house), and coming together rarely in the chapel (external - login to view) for certain prayers.

The priory was closed in 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries (by Henry VIII (external - login to view) of England). The ruins of its guest-house were incorporated into two later houses: a seventeenth-century manor - a rare building of the Commonwealth (Cromwellian) period - and the larger house of the 1900-01, and important example of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Visitors today can see the layout of the whole monastery (external - login to view) (albeit slightly worn), including one reconstructed monk's cell, together with the typically small Carthusian chapel and the later house. The gift shop located next to the entrance of the abbey contains many must-have memorabilia and souvenirs. Upstairs from the gift shop there is a museum dedicated to the priory, which gives masses of exceedingly well-written information about the priory (all you need to know about it in fact).

However, even though it is now a tourist attraction, amidst the beautiful woodland, the priory is as tranquil today as it must have been 600 years ago.
The Project Man
I must say you have some of the most interesting post. If they are not careful they may find the cure for cancer, monks were no dumbies.

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