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Cistercian Abbeys: SWINESHEAD

Name: SWINESHEAD Location: Swineshead County: Lincolnshire
Foundation: 1135 Mother house: Furness
Relocation: None Founder: Robert de Gresley
Dissolution: 1536 Prominent members:
Access: Private property – no public access

Swineshead was founded by Robert de Gresley in 1135, with a colony arriving from the Savigniac house of Furness. Swineshead was absorbed into the Cistercian Order, along with all the other Savigniac houses, in 1147. In 1170 the General Chapter of the Cistercian Order reprimanded the abbot of Swineshead for owning villages, serfs and churches, which suggests that in its early days the abbey commanded some wealth and influence. After the Orders of Savigny and Citeaux were merged Gilbert of Hoyland (d. 1172) was appointed abbot of Swineshead. He was previously a monk at Clairvaux and had been an intimate friend of St. Bernard; it seems likely that he had been moved to Swineshead to ensure that the community followed Cistercian orthodoxy. Gilbert of Hoyland was to attain some literary fame during his life at Swineshead and continued St. Bernard’s commentary on the ‘Song of Songs’ until his death in 1172. King John is known to have spent a short time at the abbey just before his death in 1216. In fact, it was rumoured that monks of the abbey had poisoned his drink.
In 1535 the net annual income of the house was valued at £167. Although the house did not have much of an income at this time, the value of the bells and lead alone, which totalled approximately £274, suggests that Swineshead may have been a fairly large abbey in its early days. The abbey was suppressed with the smaller monasteries in 1536. In 1607 a private house was built on the site which incorporated some stone from the monastic buildings. The site is still occupied by the seventeenth-century house which is situated within a landscaped park. There are no remains of the abbey above gound and the site cannot be accessed by the public.