Fountains Abbey


Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, England (54°6′42″N, 1°34′55″W), is a Cistercian monastery, first founded A.D. 1132. The abbey was in operation until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, ordered by Henry VIII, after which the Abbey buildings and over 500 acres (2 km²) of land were sold, October 1, 1540 by the Crown to Sir Richard Gresham, the London merchant, father of the founder of the Royal Exchange, Sir Thomas Gresham.

Though the buildings are now partly ruined, it is one of the largest and best preserved Cistercian houses in England and, along with the nearby Studley Royal Water Garden, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Grade I listed building. It is now owned by the National Trust.

The earliest buildings received considerable additions and alterations in the later period of the order, causing deviations from the strict Cistercian type. The church stands a short distance to the north of the River Skell, the buildings of the abbey stretching down to and even across the stream. We have the cloister to the south, with the three-aisled chapter-house and calefactory opening from its eastern walk, and the refectory , with the kitchen and buttery attached, at right angles to its southern walk.


Parallel with the western walk is an immense vaulted substructure, incorrectly styled the cloisters, serving as cellars and store-rooms, and supporting the dormitory of the conversi (lay brothers) above. This building extended across the river. At its southwest corner were the necessaries, also built, as usual, above the swiftly flowing stream. The monks' dormitory was in its usual position above the chapter-house, to the south of the transept.

Peculiarities of arrangement include the position of the kitchen, between the refectory and calefactory, and of the infirmary (unless there is some error in its designation) above the river to the west, adjoining the guest-houses. In addition, there is a greatly lengthened choir, commenced by Abbot John of York, 12031211, and carried on by his successor, terminating, like Durham Cathedral, in an eastern transept, the work of Abbot John of Kent, 12201247, and to the tower, added not long before the dissolution by Abbot Huby, 14941526, in a very unusual position at the northern end of the north transept.

The abbot's house, the largest and most remarkable example of this class of buildings in the kingdom, stands south to the east of the church and cloister, from which it is divided by the kitchen court, surrounded by the ordinary domestic offices. A considerable portion of this house was erected on arches over the Skell. The size and character of this house, probably, at the time of its erection, the most spacious house of a subject in the kingdom, not a castle, bespeaks the wide departure of the Cistercian order from the stern simplicity of the original foundation. The hall was one of the most spacious and magnificent apartments in medieval times, measuring 170 ft. by 70 ft. Like the hall in the castle at Winchester, and Westminster Hall, as originally built, it was divided by 18 pillars and arches, with 3 aisles.

Among other apartments, for the designation of which see the ground-plan, was a domestic oratory or chapel, 46 1/2 ft. by 23 ft. and a kitchen, 50 ft. by 38 ft. The whole arrangements and character of the building bespeak the rich and powerful feudal lord, not the humble father of a body of hard-working brethren, bound by vows to a life of poverty and self-denying toil. In the words of Dean Milman, "the superior, once a man bowed to the earth with humility, care-worn, pale, emaciated, with a coarse habit bound with a cord, with naked feet, had become an abbot on his curvetting palfrey, in rich attire, with his silver cross before him, travelling to take his place amid the lordliest of the realm." — (Lat. Christ. vol. iii. p. 330.)

View of Fountains Abbey looking from east to south.
View of Fountains Abbey looking from east to south.

National Trust property

Fountains Abbey is maintained by English Heritage, while being owned by the National Trust. The Abbey is immediately adjacent to another National Trust property, Studley Royal Water Garden, with which it is jointly marketed. The Trust also owns Fountains Hall, to which there is partial public access.


World Heritage Sites in the United Kingdom (list)

England: Avebury · Blenheim Palace · Canterbury Cathedral · Bath · Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape · Derwent Valley Mills · Durham Castle · Durham Cathedral · Hadrian's Wall · Ironbridge Gorge · Jurassic Coast · Kew Gardens · Liverpool · Maritime Greenwich · Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey St. Margaret's · Saltaire · Stonehenge · Studley Royal Park · Tower of London

Scotland: New Lanark · Edinburgh Old TownNew Town · St Kilda · Skara Brae

Wales: Beaumaris Castle · Blaenavon · Caernarfon Castle · Conwy Castle · Harlech Castle

Northern Ireland: Giant's Causeway

Overseas territories: Henderson Island · Gough Island and Inaccessible Island · St. George's

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