Mount Grace Priory was one of nine Carthusian priories founded in England during the Middle Ages, and survived from its foundation in 1398 until 1539. It now has the best surviving ruins of any of the nine, including one reconstructed cell that gives an idea of the original scale of the priory.
The Carthusian Order was founded in 1048 by St. Bruno of Reims. He was inspired by Christ's sojourn in the desert, and created an order of virtual hermits. Carthusian monks and nuns spent most of their time in their individual cells, working, praying or meditating, and the rest of their time taking part in communal services. This emphasis on the individual cell explains why the monastic church at Mount Grace is on such a small scale compared to the massive churches to be found at Yorkshire's great Cistercian establishments.
Mount Grace Priory was founded in 1398 by Thomas de Holland, with the agreement of Richard II. The Carthusian lifestyle remained appealing throughout the Priory' existence, and there was still a waiting list to apply as late as 1530! Part of this can be put down to the small number of monks at the priory, which only room for the Prior and twenty three other monks.
Mount Grace Priory was arranged around two cloisters with the church between them. The northern cloister had sixteen cells on three sides, which the southern cloister had the Chapter House, Frater and Prior's house along with five more cells. To the west were the guest house and the quarters for the lay brothers who did much of the work around the priory.
One cell was restored at the start of the twentieth century, and demonstrates that although the monks may have lived in solitude, they also lived in some comfort. Each two-storey cell had a bedroom and study on the ground floor, a workshop on the top floor and was surrounded by a small garden. Each cell was provided with fresh water and an outside toilet with running water, linked to the main building by a covered walkway. The sense of isolation was maintained with a very high wall which surrounded the cell making it impossible to see the outside world. At the entrance to the cell was a food serving hatch that allowed meals to be sent in anonymously!
In 1539 the last prior, John Wilson, handed the keys over the Henry VIII's representatives. The site passed into private ownership, and the current manor house was built in 1653-4 by Thomas Lascelles, on the site of the former Monastic gatehouse and a 14th century guest house.
Mount Grace is now owned by the National Trust but run and maintained by English Heritage, with free entry for members of either organisation. The Priory can only be reached by car from the A 19 duel carriageway, using a small side-turn just to the south of the junction with the A 172 and to the north of the junction for Osmotherley.
The Priory is also visited on our walk from Osmotherley to Mount Grace Priory
Grid Reference: SE 448 984