Situated on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales on the banks of the River Skell is Fountains Abbey, a Grade 1 listed ruin founded by Benedictine monks in 1132.
Now a crumbling ruin, haunting in appearances and serene in atmosphere, Fountains Abbey was founded by 13 Benedictine monks from St. Mary’s in York. Having grown out of the way they had previously lived in York, the monks escaped, seeking to love a devout and simple lifestyle elsewhere. They settled in Fountains near Ripon in North Yorkshire, a remote village deep in the Dales, flanked by rolling hills, the ambling river and wooded land; the perfect location for monks to set up a life so quiet solitude.
After three years the founding monks had established themselves at the abbey and had been admitted to the Cistercian Order and with that came about the introduction of the Cistercian system of lay brothers, something that would become an integral part of Fountains Abbey. Lay brothers relieved the monks from routine jobs giving them more time to dedicate to worship. It was largely because of this that the abbey became wealthy, through wool production, lead mining, cattle rearing, horse breeding and stone quarrying.
Fountains Abbey faced various financial crisis, thanks to bad weather, raids from the Scots and the Black Death in 1348, leading to the decline in the Abbey’s condition. Despite this, it still remained an important part of the Cistercian Order until it was closed down during the Dissolution of the Monasteries Act in 1539.
Today, the abbey is under the watchful eye of the National Trust who have helped preserve the ruin for today’s visitors. It’s ethereal ambience and unique Cistercian architectural style echoes its long and rich history. Whilst parts of the abbey still stand in an almost complete state, other areas are noticeably more ruined than others; the roofless nave now acts as a carpet of grass, showing way to the impressive arcade and upper gallery. The rib vaulted ceiling of the cloisters still largely exist today, covered in creeping lichen and acting as a sanctuary for the local habitat.