Yorkshire, England – Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey Ripon Yorkshire

Ripon had been rather quiet for a bank holiday Monday, which I suppose gives away the fact that it wasn’t that interesting – the busiest car park in fact was next to Sainsbury’s Supermarket – but in contrast, and I really wasn’t expecting this, Fountains Abbey was absolutely heaving with bank-holiday visitors.

We had considerable difficulty finding a parking spot and as we drove round and round, further and further away from the visitor centre I began to fear that I had made a mistake in coming here.

Eventually we found a space and beat two or three other people to it and as I eased the car into the tight space another driver waved to me and said well done – well I think that is what he said although he did look rather agitated and on reflection it wasn’t a friendly gesture and a smile it was ‘up yours’ and a scowl.

Now that we were parked any thoughts of by-passing the place and carrying on to an alternative visitor attraction immediately evaporated so we paid the rather expensive entrance fee of £10.50 each and made our way across a field to the ruined Abbey.

This is a fabulous place.  From the approach all you can see is the top of a stout tower because the Abbey was built in a deep valley of the River Skell and it is only when the path begins to dramatically drop that it is possible to appreciate the immensity of the building and to appreciate the serene beauty of this UNESCO  World Heritage Site.

Benedictine Monk Fountains Abbey Yorkshire

When the original thirteen Benedictine monks discovered this place in 1132 I bet they couldn’t believe their luck!  The sheltered valley had all the natural features needed for the creation of a monastery, providing natural protection and shelter from the weather, stone and timber for building and a supply of fresh running water.  After enduring a harsh winter in 1133, the monks applied to join the Cistercian order and in 1135 became the second house of that order in northern England after Rievaulx a few miles further north.  They began a journey that turned Fountains into one of the richest monasteries in all of Europe.

The Abbey flourished for four hundred years, its immense wealth based on sheep farming and the woollen industry especially after a law passed in 1326 which forbad English people from wearing foreign cloth.  What a stroke of luck that must have been, I can see the monks going around insisting on looking at the little labels sewn into peasant’s cloaks to make sure they weren’t made from something with an overseas origin.

All of this came to an end of course sometime between 1536 and 1541 during the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries when Henry VIII disbanded religious houses in England, Wales and Ireland, appropriated their income, disposed of their assets, and provided for their former members and functions. He was given the authority to do this in England and Wales by the Act of Supremacy in 1534, which made him Supreme Head of the Church in England.

What surprises me is this.  In 1540 they hadn’t even finished building Ripon Minster,  four miles away, and this place was way bigger and better, so why didn’t they just abandon the in comparison puny Ripon project and just keep this one?  It seems to me that the Dissolution Business Plan was fundamentally flawed!

The land was confiscated, the treasures stolen and the building sold for redevelopment, a sort of medieval brown-field site and the Abbey was systematically dismantled and the stone sold for alternative construction work including nearby Fountains Hall.

Although it was busy it was not uncomfortably crowded and we walked through the ruins and then through a meadow of wild flowers next to the river and to the landscaped water gardens of Studley Royal and then after a couple of hours in the sunshine and without a picnic basket with which to join hundreds of other al- fresco diners on the Abbey front lawn it was time to move on.

Fountains Abbey Monks

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19 responses to “Yorkshire, England – Fountains Abbey

  1. “…insisting on looking at the little labels sewn into peasant’s cloaks to make sure they weren’t made from something with an overseas origin.”
    This is too funny. I’m sure someone had invented labels. Ha ha.

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  2. Used to go there regularly when I lived up that way. Time it right and the placed was almost empty 🙂

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  3. Have to love those friendly drivers with their congratulatory waves 🙂 Nice monk’s outfit!

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  4. Beautiful isn’t it. Bound to be busy on a BH. A bit like Jervaulx and Bolton (priory not Lancashire). Studley Royal is lovely too. Can’t remember how much it was when I went. Probably 1/6.

    I think you are being most unfair to Ripon. Even to the extent of downgrading its cathedral to a minster.

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    • I must say that I was surprised just how busy it was!

      I was trying to be historically accurate. The Ripon Minster did not achieve Cathedral status until 1836! In fact I could even have overstated its status at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries – it may only have been a simple church!

      I did quite enjoy Ripon!

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  5. That’s fair enough. But not everyone is going to look up the detail of when it became a cathedral so you could be confusing the average non-historian who doesn’t realise it was built as a minster and only became a cathedral in the 1830s.

    My parents retired to a tiny village with a population of 3,000 or so. Fascinated me that it had its own minster. Have to admit the difference between abbeys, churches, minsters and cathedrals, both in size, status and populace fascinates me!

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    • So are you saying that historical accuracy is not important?

      I was interested to read about the church reorganisation of the Yorkshire diocese. Like you I have worked through a number of reorganisations in different jobs but it hadn’t really occurred to me that the same process could apply to the church! What sort of staff consultation did they carry out? Do the Clergy have a Trade Union? I wonder if the three Bishops (Leeds, Wakefield, Bradford) had to apply and compete for the one new job? How many people were made redundant in the process? It is almost worth a post!

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  6. Historical accuracy needs to be set in context. And one shd remember ones readers may not be aware of the background. A bit like writing a newspaper follow-up story. Always include a summary of the previous story because not everyone will have bought the previous edition.

    Anyway, it was a minster quite early on apparently, from the conquest, demoted, and then reinstated by J1.

    Reorganisations are silly. Usually done as an excuse to sack people who someone doesn’t like. Handy makes some interesting points about organisational growth and stagnation. I often wonder if the cost of reorganisation is worth it. Personally I wd let the bishop of wakefield be in charge. But I’m biased. One of them wrote our school anthem. Ghastly hymn.

    So, get working on that post 🙂 should be a good read. I’m off to write a suitably boring one 😉

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    • Already it is proving to be hard work. I can find 6 Minsters in Yorkshire (Beverley, Dewsbury, Halifax, Rotherham, Howden and Kirkdale). But here is the difficult bit – York is called a Minster but it is a Cathedral? Why is religion so confusing?

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      • You’ve forgotten Hemingbrough 😦

        I’m sure I can think of more. Does becoming a cathedral invalidate minster status? Doubt it, just that cathedral takes hierarchical precedence. I think!

        Don’t forget abbeys, priories, and chantry chapels while you are at it 🙂

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      • Probably not – Westminster Abbey and Southwell in Nottinghamshire are both Minsters and Cathedrals!

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  7. You are a real monk.
    For the next visit put on this monk’s costume, and the enter will be free, maybe. 🙂

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  8. You in a monk’s costume — priceless!

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