Saturday, 25 June 2011

Fountains Abbey - 6

Here is another view of the majestic tower.

A dispute and riot at St Mary's Abbey in York led to the founding of Fountains Abbey in 1132. After pleading unsuccessfully to return to the early 6th century Rule of St Benedict, 13 monks were exiled and taken into the protection of Thurstan, Archbishop of York.

He provided them with a site in the valley of the little River Skell in which they could found a new, more devout monastery. Although described as a place "more fit for wild beasts than men to inhabit" it had all the essential materials for the creation of a monastery: shelter from the weather, stone and timber for building, and plenty of water.

Within three years, the little settlement at Fountains had been admitted to the austere Cistercian Order (founded in France in 1098). Under its rules they lived a rigorous daily life, committed to long periods of silence, a diet barely above subsistence level, and wore the regulation habit of coarse undyed sheep's wool (underwear was forbidden), which earned them the name "White Monks."

One of the Abbey's most important developments was the introduction of the Cistercian system of lay brothers. They were usually illiterate and relieved the monks from routine jobs, giving them more opportunity to dedicate their time to God.

Many served as masons, tanners, shoemakers and smiths, but their chief role was to look after the Abbey's vast flocks of sheep, which lived on the huge estate stretching westwards from Fountains to the Lake District and northwards to Teesside.

Without the lay brothers, Fountains could never have attained its great wealth or economic importance.

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