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Fountains Abbey

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A monastery of the Cistercian Order situated on the banks of the Skell about two and a half miles from Ripon in Yorkshire, was established by thirteen Benedictine monks of St. Mary's Abbey, York. Wishing to observe a more strict discipline, they obtained in 1132 from Thurston, Archbishop of York, a grant of land near Ripon. Richard, the prior of St. Mary's, was the leader of the party. Leaving St. Mary's on 9 October, they reached Fountains on 26 December, 1132, and immediately placed themselves under St. Bernard, who sent Geoffrey of Clairvaux to teach them the Cistercian Rule. After two years of privation and poverty they decided to leave England and seek a home among their brethren abroad. This step was rendered unnecessary when Hugh, Dean of York, joined them, bringing with him money and property. He was followed by two canons of York, Serlo and Tosti, who brought still more wealth by means of which the suffering community was relieved and enabled to carry on the new foundation. In 1135 all their possessions were confirmed to them by King Stephen. The earliest buildings erected there were destroyed in 1146 by the followers of William, Archbishop of York, who thus wreaked their vengeance on Abbot Murdac, whom they considered the chief opponent of their master. The archbishop in after years made amends for the excesses of his adherents and expressed his deep sorrow for what had occurred. This loss did not check a rapid development; new buildings were immediately begun and that immense pile, the ruins of which still stand, was finished before the year 1250. In 1146 a colony of monks was sent to Bergen in Norway, and the monasteries of Sawley, Roche, Woburn, Meaux, Kirkstall, and Vandy were founded from Fountains. This period of prosperity was followed by one of want, caused by the constant inroads of the Scots. On account of this Edward II exempted the monks from all taxation (1319). Among the worthies of Fountains should be numbered Henry Murdac, its abbot and afterwards Archbishop of York (1147-1153), John de Pherd (de Fontibus) another abbot, one of the greatest architects of his day, who became Bishop of Ely in 1220, and John de Cancia, another renowned builder, who ruled over the abbey from 1220 to 1247. The names of thirty-eight abbots are known; the last but one was William Thirsk, executed at Tyburn for refusing the Oath of Supremacy (1536); the last abbot was Marmaduke Bradley who surrendered the abbey to the king in 1540. At the Dissolution there were thirty-one monks with the abbot, and the revenue was estimated at about £1000. Richard Gresham purchased the site for £1163; in 1596 Sir Stephen Proctor acquired it for £4500; the family of Messenger next held it; in 1786 Sir W. Aislabie bought it for £18,000; it is now owned by the Marquess of Ripon. The abbey with its offices stood in an enclosure of twelve acres, and the present ruins occupy two acres. The walls of the church, with one tower, still stand, and there are very substantial remains of the chapter house, cloister, refectory, and calefactory. These ruins are most carefully preserved. Some idea of the abbey's greatness may be gained from the fact that the church was 351 feet in length with a nave of 65 feet wide; the refectory was 108 feet by 45, and the cloister 300 feet by 42.

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