Fountains Abbey - History and Facts | History Hit

Fountains Abbey

Ripon, England, United Kingdom

Fountains Abbey was once a thriving monastery until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. Its ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Lily Johnson

23 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire was founded in the 12th century, and soon became a thriving centre of Cistercian religious activity. Today its atmospheric ruins give an idea of the power and wealth of medieval monastic communities in England, before being dissolved by Henry VIII.

Fountains Abbey history

Fountains Abbey was founded in 1132 after the exile of 13 monks from Benedictine St Mary’s Abbey in York, who through their desire for reform had enacted a dispute and subsequent riot.

The Archbishop of York, Thurstan, gave these monks new land on which to found their own monastery in the valley of the River Skell, where there was water access and shelter from the weather. The newly built monastery was admitted to the French Cistercian Order within 3 years, becoming the second Cistercian house in northern England after Rievaulx Abbey.

Fountains Abbey played an important part in the development of the area, providing jobs to locals and assisting in raising its status. Both the abbey and its surrounding area thrived as a result, and grew to become an important centre of religion.

Like many in the country, Fountains Abbey suffered during the 14th century as a result of economic hardship and the Black Death, and it began to slowly deteriorate. Following restoration work in the 15th century however, the abbey was once again flourishing.

It was royal intervention that finally ended the life of Fountains Abbey, when in 1539 it was closed under the orders of King Henry VIII. Alongside hundreds of other monastic houses in England, Fountains was ruined in what became known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Fountains Abbey today

Today, Fountains Abbey is owned by the National Trust and is the largest set of monastic ruins in England, attaining UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986. Visitors can explore these extremely well-preserved remains, including the cloisters and the cellarium – interestingly, the cellarium of Fountains Abbey is home to several species of bats, but these only come out after dusk.

The abbey’s vast scale gives an idea just how important the monastic community was in medieval England, with its ornate stonework and towering archways a delight to explore. In the surrounding grounds may also be found sprawling Georgian water gardens, an Elizabethan hall, and a medieval deer park, for a full day of activities spanning 900 years of history!

Getting to Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey is located in Ripon, Yorkshire off the B6265 to Pateley Bridge. It can be accessed via the A1, following which the brown tourist signs lead to the site, where there is free parking. The 36 bus service offers daily connections from Leeds and Harrogate to Ripon, from which the 139 bus service alights at the site’s Visitor Centre, however this route is long and a taxi may instead be advisable.

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