St Mary's Abbey, York

View on map  

Find a trail - visit the official visitor site for Yorkshire

Opening Times:

Gardens open daily from 7.30am except for 25 December

From late October until late March, the gardens close at 6pm, and during the summer months, they open later into the evening.

The Gardens are closed on the morning of 14 November 2011, for Royal Salute ceremonies.


Entry to the gardens is free

Venue contact details:

T: 01904 687687

St Mary's Abbey, York

Turner visited York several times, with major sketching visits in 1797 during his first tour of Yorkshire and in 1816 during his tour when making illustrations for Whitaker, as well as other trips to the city. Although he made only one finished watercolour, he made numerous highly detailed pencil sketches, many of great significance, including the important historic site of St Mary's Abbey.

St Mary's Abbey was founded by the Normans. William the Conqueror himself gave permission for the monk Stephen to create a new monastery here before 1086.  With the support of the nobility, St Mary's soon grew to fill this large site at the edge of the city. It was essentially independent of the city, with its own defensive walls, its own sources of income and even its own courts.

By the thirteenth century, the Abbey was wealthy enough to plan and build an elaborate new church which was completed in 1294. The church was built in a similar style to York Minster with sweeping arches and large stained glass windows. At around 120m long, it stood as an architectural rival to the Minster for more than two centuries.

St Mary's fell victim to Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in 1539.  Its riches were confiscated and the building taken apart, then left to collapse. The ruins of the church today still give a sense of its scale and grandeur.

Gift shopPicnic sitePublic toiletsWheelchair accessDogs accepted

Turner's Viewpoint

In 1797, Turner spent a few days in York, probably late August, whilst waiting on a summons to stay with the Earl of Harewood at Harewood House. He used his time to make a major study of the city, taking views of St Mary's Abbey, the river and Ouse Bridge, the city walls and gates and the Minster.  At St Mary's, he took the time to draw the detailed view of the doorway to the Abbey church capturing it with great accuracy and detail (York: St Mary's Abbey, West Portal, 'Tweed and Lakes' sketchbook, Tate Gallery, Finberg number: XXXV 71)

On Turner's second major trip in 1816, he was seeking more distant views of the city but he revisited St Mary's Abbey and made a further sketch of the ruins (St Mary's Abbey, 'Yorkshire 1' sketchbook, Tate Gallery, Finberg number: CXLIV 28 a).

From within the Museum Gardens, visitors can still see the remains of the walls of the nave and crossing of the abbey church, where the monks prayed and sang, and the cloister as well as the West Portal of St Mary's Abbey sketched by Turner.

Discover The Landscape

The Turner Trails panel can be found in the Museum Gardens outside the ruins of St Mary's Abbey at the exact spot that Turner stood and sketched back in 1797.

York podstroll

Take a Turner Tour around York, including a visit to St Mary's Abbey, with your iPod, the 21st century version of a sketchbook/guide.

The Turner Trails podstroll will work with any colour-screen iPod. Each podstroll comprises a sequence of images, specifically created for the iPod screen and arranged into a folder that can be easily added to your iPod.

The Venue


Yorkshire Museum, Museum Gardens, York, YO1 7FR

Map reference: SE599521

View on map
Directions to St Mary's Abbey, York:

Located in the heart of York within the medieval city walls