Parish Trip to Fountains Abbey

Posted on: 18/10/2019

On Sunday 13th October, a very wet and dreary autumn day, we took a parish trip to Fountains Abbey in Ripon, Yorkshire. Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England. 

Fountains Abbey was established by Benedictine monks from St Mary's Abbey in York, in 1132. Within a year, however, it was turned over to the Cistercian order, who intended to use it as a centre for missionary work in the north of England, and as a mother house for further monasteries in the north and into Scotland. Inside 50 years Fountains had become the most important Cistercian house in England.

The Cistercians had a very highly developed system, which varied little from one abbey to the next. For a start, most Cistercian houses were established in remote areas, far from the temptations and distractions of town and city life. The monks devoted themselves to spiritual devotion, and the day-to-day labour was left to lay brothers. These lay brothers worked the fields and tended sheep, and also managed far-flung estates granted to the monastery over time.

As with many medieval monasteries, the wealth of Fountains lay in sheep farming, and wool provided enormous income to the abbey in the early medieval period. But this golden age at Fountains fell foul to a combination of raids from Scotland, poor harvests, and the devastating effects of the Black Death.

Like all monasteries in England, Fountains fell foul of Henry VIII's reforming zeal, and the abbey was dissolved in 1539. The crown sold off the abbey and 500 acres of land in 1540. Stone from the monastic buildings was used by Sir Stephen Proctor to build nearby Fountain Hall in 1598-1604.

One of the most striking things about Fountains is the sheer scale of the abbey and grounds and one can only imagine how life would have been in its hay day. Although it was quite a wet day in some ways this only added to the atmosphere and didn't make the visit any less special.

The journey home however was one to forget with broken sat navs, closed roads, missed turnings it was likened to 'carry on' sketch! All in all however a pleasant day was enjoyed by all!

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