Kirkstall Abbey: Ruined & Beautiful

Kirkstall Abbey is a rather splendid old ruin in the environs of Leeds. Once it was a tranquil, rural outpost; now a busy district of a hectic city. Yet still the old abbey sits serene by the Aire. The monks had come here from Barnoldswick, and I regret the loss of having so fine a structure on my own doorstep. As one wanders about it, one sees the nave, the cloister, the chapter house, the dormitories. I first came here as a student and enjoyed the happy memories when I revisited last month.

These ruins are rather romantic, yet ruins they are. Kirkstall Abbey is a wreck, a sham, a shadow of its former self. Now I’m a fierce protestant and do not bemoan the loss of the old popish priests and monks. Yet their fine buildings I admire, and their destruction I lament. If they look so fine now, despite their decay and roofless spaces, how good did they look when they were maintained and inhabited?

This world in which we live in scarred by sin and uglified by the Fall. Yet how gorgeous it is! Mountains and valleys, landscapes and rivers- there is beauty even amidst the decay. We Christians have not yet attained the final perfected state which the scriptures promise. We are incomplete, unfinished, mere hints of our future, resurrected selves. Yet even now, is there not a beauty about us? When we bless each other, perform acts of kindness, love those who do not love us back- we are like a beautiful building site straddling a chaotic urban road network.