St Oswald’s Church in Ravenstonedale is a gem in a beautiful setting. The Georgian church seems hardly changed since the eighteenth century. The Georgian three-decker pulpit is certainly eye catching but there has been worship on this site since Saxon times and it was once home to the Gilbertines.
The Gilbertines, founded in 1131, are the only English order. Their rule is based on the Cistercians with their life of poverty and work. What makes them even more unusual is the fact that the Gilbertines were a mixed order. One of their prime rules was the line from the Lord’s Prayer – ‘Lead us not into temptation’. Monks and nuns lived side by side in a mixed community. The order originated in Sempringham in Lincolnshire under the strict rule of Gilbert. Although the order was mixed, the nuns and monks were rigidly segregated.
By the time of the Reformation there were twenty-five Gilbertine houses in England – including one at Malton and Watton in Yorkshire as well as Ravenstonedale. Interestingly a lower age limit was set before men and women could take full orders. Lay brothers professed at twenty-four while lay sisters were allowed to take orders when they reached twenty. Of course, as with every religious order there is scandal – take the story of the pregnant nun of Watton for instance. More of that in another post. Incidentally, the Gilbertines of Ravenstondale had their roots in Watton. The manor of Ravenstonedale was granted to them in about 1200.
Ravenstonedale was never independent of Watton but the canons would have had a fish pond and possibly some rabbit warrens for self-sufficiency.
On a tranquil summer’s evening in June these days, it’s possible to surprise the rabbits scampering about the Gilbertine ruins which were excavated in 1929.