Head up the A6 to the tiny village of Shap and the road signposted for the Abbey of St. Mary. Follow the narrowing lane to the crest of a steep hill that leads down into the isolated valley of the River Lowther. It's an experience not to be missed-the sight of the gaunt ruins of the Abbey tower standing stark against the sky.
Go Back:[Top of Page] [Articles Main Page] [Cumbria Abbeys, Churches, and Cathedrals]
In this remote and isolated countryside, little remains of the 12th century Abbey, once the home of a dozen Premonstratensian monks-their white robes earned them the name "white canons"-who combined a life of prayer and discipline with parish work as priests.
The Abbey of St Mary was originally established near Kendal, by Thomas, son of Gospatric, then moved to the Shap location. The monastery, built in the chaste Gothic style, was dedicated to God and St. Mary Magdalene. It was generously endowed with pastureland and privileges-all the wood the canons wanted and the free grinding of wheat at the mill. Cattle, oxen, and sheep made up part of the prosperous abbey's possessions.
The medieval records of the abbey, founded in 1199, have disappeared. However, it is known that one of the abbots, Robert Redman, became bishop of St Asaph, then Exeter, then Ely. The west tower probably dates from the early 1500's, the rest ranging from the 13th-15th centuries. Like other abbeys, its doors closed when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. The Abbot and Canons received a pension, and the abbey lands were sold. Parts of the building were converted into the farm at the site, and other stone was used to build Shap Market Hall and Lowther Castle.
Shap is located on the A6 9 miles (14km) south of Penrith
on a minor road; follow signs from Shap
Photos: Abbey archway and grounds by Barbara Ballard; abbey ruins by Rose and Trev Clough courtesy Geograph.org.uk