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Fountains Abbey offers enchanting country vistas

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 20th, 2011
Catholic Online (

Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, is a holy site in a beautiful natural setting. The abbey can make for a very pleasant few hours of wandering. Founded by Cistercian monks in 1132, it is the largest monastic ruin in Britain. In 1987, it was awarded World Heritage status.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A group of 13 reform-minded monks were exiled in 1132 and taken into the protection of Thurstan, Archbishop of York. The archbishop provided the pesky monks with a site in the valley of the little River Skell in North Yorkshire, which has been described as "more fit for wild beasts than men to inhabit."

The exiled monks joined the Cistercian order, which perfectly suited their desire for austerity and self-denial. One of the more important developments at Fountains Abbey was the introduction of the Cistercian system of lay brothers, who served as masons, tanners, shoemakers and smiths.

The work and encouragement of the lay brothers led to the great wealth and economic importance of Fountains Abbey. By the middle of the 13th century the abbey was one of England's richest religious houses. However, the 14th century saw economic collapse due to the combined effects of bad harvests, Scots raids, the Black Death and financial mismanagement.

Fountains Abbey remained of considerable importance in the Cistercian Order. Fountains once again flourished, but its life was brought to an abrupt end in 1539 by Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries.

After changing hands numerous times, in 1767 the abbey was sold for 18,000 to William Aislabie, who landscaped the ruins to make a picturesque view from the Water Garden.

Visitors usually approach Fountains Abbey from the west, which provides a fine vista across the Abbey Green to the abbey church and west range. The small River Skell runs picturesquely along the right side of the site.

Carpeted with grass and open to the sky, this ruined medieval church is among the most atmospheric sights in England. The oldest part is everything west of the transept, including the long nave with large cylindrical pillars and round Romanesque arches.

The large tower attached to the north transept dates from the abbacy of Marmaduke Huby (1494-1526). It has four stories and rises 50 meters high. It is an incongruous addition to the abbey, as original Cistercian principles forbade such ostentatious towers.

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