Museum of the Moon at Rievaulx Abbey


This one isn’t book related, but it was such a fantastic experience that I just had to share it with you all. Despite the weather, living in the North East of England definitely has its benefits. Being here affords me an endless amount of beautiful scenery, history, and breathtaking architecture and ruins all within a relatively short drive. I’ve been here six years and still haven’t seen everything in the area I’ve wanted to.

A couple weekends ago we decided to head to an abbey I have been wanting to see for quite some time and the day we went was the perfect opportunity for it. Not only were they going to be lighting up the abbey in a beautiful light show that night, but the Museum of the Moon exhibit was going to be there! I have been trying to see that dang moon for months, but I’ve managed to just miss it every time I’ve been near somewhere it was on display.

A Bit of History About the Abbey

Nestled within a valley in the Northern Yorkshire Moors, Rievaulx Abbey was founded in 1132 and was the first Cistercian abbey to be established in the north of England. The Cistercian order began in France in 1098 and was born out of an ecclesiastical reform movement based on desire for monks to live a simpler life. It was centered on living as closely as possible to the rules of monastic life set by St. Benedict in the 6th century.

Rievaulx Abbey soon became one of the most important centres of monasticism in Britain, home to a 650-strong community at its peak in the 1160s. However, like most of the abbeys and monasteries in England, it was shut down in the 1530’s under Henry VIII. The structures were dismantled and taken for scrap, leaving only the barest of ruins behind.

What is left, though, still amazes as it is easy to see how grand and sweeping the compound must have been at its height. It is because of this that the Abbey became popular in the 1700’s as a place of tourism and art, inspiring many artists such as John Wootton.

Rievaulx Abbey painted by John Wootton in the late 1720’s

Yet despite renewed interest in the abbey, by the beginning of the 20th century the ruins were in a state of collapse. After WWI, a major effort was taken out to try to save what remained of the once imposing abbey and its outlying structures. It is because of this that we still have the abbey today, so I’m grateful for the early 20th century foresight into the preservation of historical sites like Rievaulx Abbey.

Rievaulx Abbey by Day

I wasn’t entirely sure how they were going to be displaying the moon and I had images in my head of hideous cranes holding it up above the ruins. Instead, the artist and English Heritage staff completely blew me away. It was hung so organically that it didn’t look out of place at all, it was almost as if the moon was made for the abbey.




Illuminated Abbey

After exploring the abbey during the day, we headed into the nearby picturesque town of Helmsley for dinner. When the sun began to dip below the horizon, we hopped on the shuttle back to the abbey for the main event. Once again, I was blown away.




To say this was a magical and enchanting experience would be a massive understatement. All of the abbey was lit up and there was a string trio serenading us, plus you could roast marshmallows over a roaring firepit. It was one of the best excursions I’ve ever had at an English Heritage site.

For the kids, there was an astronaut there wearing Buzz Aldrin’s suit! Beneath the glow of the beautiful moon, he used young volunteers from the audience to help re-enact the monumental Apollo 11 landing using adorable handheld models.

I asked him afterward if he wanted to yell at the moon with me. He did not.


Have you been here or seen the Museum of the Moon? Let me know in the comments!

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