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Portfolio > North East England 3 > Fountains Abbey, Ripon                                                         Click on an image below to reveal enlarged version

Fountains Abbey, Ripon, North Yorkshire

Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England. It is located approximately 3 miles (5 km) south-west of Ripon in North Yorkshire, near to the village of Aldfield. Founded in 1132, the abbey operated for 407 years, becoming one of the wealthiest monasteries in England until its dissolution, by order of Henry VIII, in 1539. In 1983, Studley Royal Park including the ruins of Fountains Abbey was purchased by the National Trust. The abbey is maintained by English Heritage.  After a dispute and riot in 1132 at the Benedictine house of St Mary's Abbey in York, 13 monks were expelled, among them Saint Robert of Newminster. They were taken under the protection of ThurstanArchbishop of York, who provided them with land in the valley of the River Skell, a tributary of the Ure. The enclosed valley had all the natural features needed for the creation of a monastery, providing shelter from the weather, stone and timber for building, and a supply of running water. The six springs that watered the site inspired the monks to give it the name of Fountains. After enduring a harsh winter in 1133, the monks applied to join the Cistercian order, which since the end of the previous century had been a fast-growing reform movement and by the beginning of the 13th century had more than 500 houses. In 1135 Fountains became the second Cistercian house in northern England, after Rievaulx. The monks of Fountains became subject to Clairvaux Abbey in Burgundy, which was under the rule of St Bernard. Under the guidance of Geoffrey of Ainai, a monk sent from Clairvaux, the group learned how to celebrate the seven Canonical Hours according to Cistercian usage and were shown how to construct wooden buildings in accordance with Cistercian practice.

The abbey is a Grade I listed building owned by the National Trust and is part of the designated Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey UNESCO World Heritage Site. The archaeological excavation of the site began under the supervision of John Richard Walbran, a Ripon antiquary who, in 1846, had published a paper On the Necessity of clearing out the Conventual Church of Fountains. In 1966, the Abbey was placed in the guardianship of the Department of the Environment and the estate was purchased by the West Riding County Council, who transferred ownership to North Yorkshire County Council in 1974. The National Trust bought the 674-acre (273 ha) Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal estate from North Yorkshire County Council in 1983.


World Heritage Site designation

In 1986 the parkland in which the abbey is situated and the abbey was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It was recognised for fulfilling the criteria of "being a masterpiece of human creative genius", and "an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stages in human history."


National Trust ownership

Fountains Abbey is owned by the National Trust and maintained by English Heritage. The trust also owns Studley Royal ParkFountains Hall, to which there is partial public access, and St Mary's Church, designed by William Burges and built around 1873, all of which are significant features of the World Heritage Site. In January 2010, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal became two of the first National Trust properties to be included in Google Street View, using the Google Trike.

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