It was suggested to me that I might write another post on medieval tiles, since I have so many photographs of them, so here it is. I’ve limited myself to tiles from Byland and Rievaulx Abbeys in Yorkshire, which I visited in April.
When I visited the abbeys, I expected that any tiles I saw would be behind glass, as these are, but that’s not the case. Fortunately, there are still tiles where they were originally laid in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Some of them are in the forms of mosaics, as you can see below, but there are also a few, very damaged, inlaid tiles.
The tiles above, under glass, are inlaid. They become very fragile when their glaze wears off, which is why there aren’t many of them in what is now the open air.
These tiles look rather good for having been exposed to the elements for several hundred years. They’re in the monks’ day room at Rievaulx. It had two fireplaces and the monks worked there during the winter rather than in the cloisters, which would have offered little protection against wind, rain and snow.
The colours have faded, but they still give a good idea of what the floor would have looked like when the monks were sitting in the room copying books.
The remaining tiles are in the nave of the abbey church. They’re relatively sheltered by bits of walls and pillars.
It’s a wonder to me that so many tiles have survived, but Rievaulx has almost nothing compared to Byland Abbey, which is about 15 minutes away by car.
Byland’s tiles are also mostly used to form mosaics.
These tiles on the risers of these steps are still colourful, since no one has trodden on them. Their designs are much clearer than those on surfaces that have been walked on for hundreds of years.
This pretty pattern of interlocking circles must have been very colourful when it was first laid.
As you can see, the tiles are exposed both to the elements and to the feet of visitors. Sadly, many of the tiles have suffered as a result.
These tiles have almost completely lost their patterns and the tiles themselves are disintegrating. It’s a shame, because the patterns were obviously fairly complex.
Rievaulx Abbey by Peter Fergusson, Glyn Coppack, Stuart Harrison and Michael Carter
Medieval Tiles by Hans Van Lemmen
April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.