Cistercian abbey in North Yorkshire, England, situated 13 km/8 mi north of Harrogate. Celebrated as the greatest monument to English monasticism and its architecture, it was founded about 1132, and closed in 1539 at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The ruins were incorporated into a Romantic landscaped garden (1720–40) with a lake, formal water garden, temples, and a deer park.
For four centuries Fountains Abbey was the greatest Cistercian house in England, and even in its ruined state the plan and arrangement of a large Cistercian monastery can clearly be seen.
The building Save for being roofless, the great church with its Perpendicular tower set, unusually, at the end of the north transept seems at first sight to be complete, with its long narrow nave, plain and unadorned in conformity with the Cistercian austerity, built in the middle or later 12th century; its chancel, enlarged and rebuilt in the early 13th century; and its beautiful chapel of the Nine Altars or east transept, which no doubt inspired its only English counterpart at the cathedral of Durham. The ‘great cloisters’ (or more properly, the cellarium), vaulted with two aisles and 90 m/295 ft in length, is a unique feature of the ruins; there are a refectory and a chapter-house, in which were interred the remains of 19 abbots.
HistoryThe ‘Abbey of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fountains’ originated in a revolt of some monks against the laxity of discipline and worldly tendencies that prevailed at the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary's, York. They were determined to found a new community, and in 1132 were provided by Archbishop Thurstan of York with a dwelling-place at Fountains. Very early the monks had applied for admission to the Cistercian order, and this being granted, Fountains became affiliated to Clairvaux in Champagne, at that time governed by St Bernard. The little community lived wretchedly for years, but later three monks of York (Hugh the dean, Serlo, and Tosti) came to the monastery and bestowed their wealth upon it. Other benefactors followed, and participation in the medieval wool trade brought enormous wealth to the foundation.
In 1539 Fountains Abbey was surrendered to Henry VIII, who sold the whole estate to Richard Gresham, whose son, the founder of the Royal Exchange, broke up the estate, and sold the abbey to Stephen Proctor. The latter used stones from the ruins of the abbot's house to build Fountains Hall, ruining himself in the process. After many transfers of ownership the abbey and hall passed in 1768 to the Aislabies, ancestors of the Earls de Gray and Marquesses of Ripon, who owned the adjoining Studley Royal estate. It was then transformed, with great success, into the chief feature of the vast landscape garden.