The Benedictine abbey, the largest in the north, was established in 1086 on land granted by Alan, Earl of Richmond, and the foundation stone was laid in 1088 by William Rufus. The surviving ruins are largely of the rebuilding of 1271, but remains of the Norman abbey have been discovered in excavation. They include the church, which was cruciform with an aisled nave, a central tower and, at the east, seven apses. The lavish entrance of the late 12th century chapter house has been reconstructed in the Yorkshire Museum. A large rounded arch over the doorway was flanked by two pointed arches. A set of beautiful monumental sculptures, dated to c.1190, depicting the apostles and other biblical figures found on the site may have been set in place on the façade.
The late 12th century abbey gatehouse on the north-west side of the precinct has lost its vaulted roof, but the outer entrance arch survives.
Pevsner, D. and Neave, D., 1995. The Buildings of England, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding (London, Penguin), 181-6
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England), 1975. An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York: 4, the North-east (London, HMSO), 3-24
Wilson, C. and Burton, J., 1988. St Mary's Abbey, York (York)