Friday 8 June 2012

Fountains Abbey

Yesterday Anna (Mrs T to you) and I took the day off to celebrate the feast day, and went to Fountains Abbey for the day.

The abbey dates from the 10th Century, although most of the site was destroyed by fire in 1146.  As is usual with such sites, the buildings were enlarged, developed and re-modelled extensively over the centuries.  For example, the tower over the North transept is much later (15- 16th Century)  Previously there had been a central tower over the crossing point of the nave and the transepts.

The origins of the foundation lay in an abbey in York that had grown riotous: several monks left or were expelled and ended up in this valley.  There they started a new community, seeking to return to a stricter adherence to the Rule of St Benedict, and applying  to Clairvaux for support and direction.  Thus they became a cistercian foundation, and rapidly expanded.  With various ups and downs (including the Black Death, of course) they survived until Henry Vlllth ordered the dissolution of the monasteries.

The architecture is wonderful, with solid Norman pillars and rounded arches in the Nave of the Church, but increasingly pointed arches and a perpendicular style taking over.

Despite it being a wet day, we had a very enjoyable, and strangely moving, visit.  The combination of some parts more or less intact, such as the cellars, and others in various stages of ruin, combined with the sheer scale of the site gave a real sense of the scale of the loss.  It made me want to re-read Duffy...

Fountains shares the site with Studley Royal, the whole site being designated a World Heritage Site.  Studley Royal is a wonderful, formal 18th Century Water Garden.  It was created by John Aislabie, one-time Chancellor of the Exchequer, and one of the men behind the South Sea Bubble, after the Bubble burst (and his subsequent expulsion from parliament) in 1720.

His son acquired the adjacent Abbey lands and ruins, and extended the garden in a more romantic, picturesque style.

The whole site makes for a wonderful day out - even in the rain.


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