Fountains Abbey is a breathtaking complex of 12th century monastic ruins in Yorkshire, England, about a 40-minute drive from the ancient city of York. One of the best-preserved ruins of Cistercian architecture in England, this stunning site is protected by England’s National Trust and recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
In 1132, 13 Benedictine monks, expelled from St. Mary’s Abbey in York, joined the Cistercian order, adopting their commitment to self-sustainability and simple architectural style. The monks returned to England and built a small stone church and several wooden buildings in the valley of the River Skell. These were soon replaced by more permanent stone structures. Despite occasional setbacks such as fires, the presiding abbots continued to expand the abbey over the centuries. At its peak, the abbey was home to 400 Cistercian monks and one of the richest religious houses in the country.
In 1539, King Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries, forcing the abbot to surrender Fountains Abbey to the monarchy. In 1540, the land and buildings were sold to Richard Gresham, who sold much of the fabric, stone, timber, and lead as building materials. In 1597, owner Stephen Proctor used stone from the monastery to build Fountains Hall. In the 18th century, owner William Aislaby combined the ruined structure with the Studley Royal Estate. In 1983, England’s National Trust purchased the 674 acres of Fountains Abbey and the Studley Royal Estate with the intention to preserve and protect their historical significance. In 1986, the abbey was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Fountains Abbey was originally built in the simple Cistercian architectural style, deliberately avoiding unnecessary ornamentation. This period of architecture shows evidence of the transition between the rounded arches of Norman architecture and the pointed arches of Gothic architecture. While the expansion of Fountains deviated from its original conception over its 400-year life as a monastery, the abbey’s ruins remain the most complete example of Cistercian architecture in all of England.
Studley Royal Park
Studley Royal Park
Today, the ruins of Fountains Abbey are surrounded by Studley Royal Park. The complex includes a Jacobean mansion, a Georgian water garden, a medieval deer park, and a Victorian church. Today, the entire estate is managed by English Heritage, and visitors are encouraged.