During this semester, each student was assigned a site in the United Kingdom to serve as a tour guide and become knowledgeable about their chosen place and how it differed from all of the other castles and cathedrals and what made it unique. During the semester, we were assigned a site and had to do research on the place we chose to do, and once we get to the United Kingdom, we become the tour guide for the day and we show our group around the place and explain what the structures are and the history behind them based on what we learned throughout the semester.
The site I chose for the tour guide assignment was Fountains Abbey. Fountains Abbey is located three miles south-west of Ripon in North Yorkshire, and the founding of the abbey was in 1132, and it’s opening was in 1135. Fountains Abbey was founded by monks that were once a part of the Benedictine rule, but they strayed away from Benedictine rule due to its strictness because they desired change and reformation. This separation and formation of a new order was known as the Cistercian Order.
This abbey has some very interesting history due to the construction and the numerous renovations that were performed on abbey during its 400 year history. The Cistercian order believed in temporary buildings before the actual monasteries were to be built, followed by the first stone monastery, the enlargement of that monastery, then the church and monastic buildings were enlarged, followed by minor alterations to the buildings, and finally the last works. Fountains Abbey was one of those places that was always a work in progress, whether it was fixing the roofs, or by the expansion of constructing new buildings, there was always some work being performed on Fountains Abbey.
One interesting feature of this abbey is the Chapel of Nine Altars, and the only other building that has a similar structure is the Durham Cathedral. This was designed to develop a transept on the eastern half of the abbey, and the nine altars stood on the platform that runs in front of the east wall, while the nine chapels were separated by stone walls during the 13th century. What made this structure unique was that the decorative style was much different from the rest of the abbey, in which they used limewash on a masonry pattern with Nidderdale marble that was used often in the new building. This is just one of the many things that make Fountains Abbey unique.
Another interesting feature of the Fountains Abbey is the lay brothers’ west range, which is the largest of its kind that exists in Europe. It includes the outer parlour, the cellar, the cloister entry, and the lay-brothers’ refectory. The lay-brothers’ refectory consisted of 12 bays. That would be one big dinner party to attend. The dormitory on the first floor could house up to 400 people, which was quite a bit during that time period.
Fountains Abbey is a place with an interesting and unique past. It had its time of poverty and struggles, but it also had its time of success and achievements. Whether it is Huby’s Tower, the Chapel of Nine Altars, or the lay brother’s west range, Fountains Abbey was different and a place of its own, which was the entire purpose of the Cistercian order, which was to be different and have their own ways.