An abbey is a monastic or conventual establishment governed by an abbot or an abbess. Abbeys were among the oldest of Christian institutions. Monasticism owes its extension in the west to the Benedictines – they founded many abbeys in the sixth and seventh centuries and by 1415 no fewer than 15,070 had been established by this order alone. The buildings of a Benedictine abbey (and later of the Cistercian abbeys) were usually built according to one plan.


Remains of Benedictine abbeys may still be seen at York and Westminster. Fountains Abbey is the largest and best preserved Cistercian house in England. From the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, monasticism practically ceased in England.