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Title: Fountains Abbey - The story of a mediaeval monastery
Author: Hodges, George
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Fountains Abbey - The story of a mediaeval monastery" ***

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                            FOUNTAINS ABBEY

                   [Illustration: _Fountains Abbey_

       _J. M. W. Turner, R.A. pinxit._          _Art Repro. Co._

       _From a drawing in the possession of J. E. Taylor, Esq._]

                            FOUNTAINS ABBEY

                        THE STORY OF A MEDIÆVAL
                      MONASTERY BY GEORGE HODGES
                      D.D. DEAN OF THE EPISCOPAL

                          LONDON: JOHN MURRAY
                          ALBEMARLE STREET W


                           BALLANTYNE PRESS
                          LONDON & EDINBURGH

                              TO MY WIFE
                         I INSCRIBE THIS FRUIT
                          OF A GOLDEN SUMMER


The materials out of which this book is made were taken mainly from two
sources: a description and explanation of the Abbey ruins by Mr. W. H.
St. John Hope, and a collection and annotation of the Abbey records by
Mr. John Richard Walbran.

The ruins have been minutely examined by Mr. St. John Hope, who has left
no stone unconsidered. He has brought to his study of the Abbey a
profound knowledge of monastic architecture. The account of his
investigations is published in the fifteenth volume of the “Yorkshire
Archæological Journal,” to which is appended a historical ground-plan of
the Abbey, drawn by Mr. Harold Brakspear. The Marquess of Ripon has had
copies of this plan framed and placed in various parts of the buildings
for the information of visitors. Through the courtesy of Mr. Hope and
Mr. Brakspear I am enabled to give a reduced version of this excellent

The records have been gathered together by Mr. Walbran, and printed,
with many learned and interesting notes, in two volumes of the
publications of the Surtees Society, entitled “Memorials of Fountains
Abbey.” They begin with a contemporary narrative of the foundation of
the Abbey, and extend to the grant which the king made of the Abbey
lands after the suppression. They include the chronicle of the
administrations of the abbots; the deed of the ground on which the Abbey
stands; a series of royal charters and a series of papal privileges;
various records of the dealings of the Monastery with its neighbours,
clerical and lay; letters to Thomas Cromwell from Layton and Legh, the
commissioners at whose demand the Abbey was surrendered, and from
Marmaduke Bradley, the abbot who surrendered it; and the king’s
assignment of pensions by name to the abbot and the monks after the

Of these documents, the longest and most interesting is the contemporary
account of the foundation--_Narratio de fundatione Fontanis Monasterii_.
It was written by Hugh, a monk of the daughter house of Kirkstall, upon
information given him by Serlo, an aged brother then resident in that
abbey, who had once lived at Fountains. Serlo was almost a hundred years
old when he sat in the sun in the cloister of Kirkstall, and told this
story of his early days, answering Hugh’s questions. “It is now,” he
says, “the sixty-ninth year of my conversion. When I first went to
Fountains to associate myself to that holy brotherhood, I was, as I
remember, about beginning my thirtieth year.” The Abbey, at that time,
as he tells us in another place, was five years old; but he had been
acquainted with the brethren before. “When the monks left the monastery
of York, I myself was present. I had known their names and faces from my
boyhood; I was born in their country, was brought up amongst them, and
to several of them I was related by ties of blood. And although I am, as
thou may see, far advanced in years, I am very grateful to my old age
that my memory remains unimpaired, and particularly retentive of those
things committed to it in early years. Such things, therefore, relating
to the origin of the Monastery of Fountains, which I personally
witnessed, or have gathered from the credible report of my elders, I
will now relate.”

Serlo spent ten years at Fountains, leaving in 1147, with the colony
which founded Kirkstall. After that, the chronicler writes not from
personal observation, but from near acquaintance. There would naturally
be frequent communication between the mother and the daughter house. The
reminiscences end with the death of the sixth abbot, in 1190. Thence the
history proceeds, by the hand of Hugh and others, to recount the
administration of the seventh and eighth abbots, and mention is made in
the last sentence of the ninth and tenth.

In addition to these books, information is to be had concerning the
Cistercian Order in its official documents. These are the Life of St.
Stephen Harding, the chief founder; the Exordium (1120), a history of
the beginning of the Order; the Charta Charitatis (1119), its
constitution; the Rule of St. Benedict, to whose strict keeping the
Cistercians were pledged; the Usus Antiquiores or Consuetudines, the
Customs of the Society; and the Instituta Capitali Generalis, or laws
passed during several hundred years by the General Chapter for the
government of the Order. A life of St. Stephen, in English, was
published in 1844, under the editorship of John Henry Newman, as the
first in a projected series of lives of the English saints. The Rule of
St. Benedict is admirably summarised in the article on Monachism in the
“Encyclopædia Britannica.” The Institutes have been printed in
successive numbers of the “Yorkshire Archæological Journal” (vols. ix.,
x. and xi.) by the Rev. J. T. Fowler. The other documents are assembled
in the 166th volume of Migne’s “Patrologia Latina.”

In the Rites of Durham, a contemporary account of the customs of a
Benedictine abbey, light is thrown upon obscure passages in these
official documents, and much help is given in the way of homely detail
towards an understanding of the routine of the monastic day. Dean
Stubbs, in his lectures on Ely Cathedral, and the Rev. John Henry Blunt,
in his account of Sion House, prefixed to his edition of the “Myroure of
oure Ladye,” take us pleasantly into the refectory, telling us what the
monastic folk had for dinner, and with what curious signs they
communicated one with another during the silent meal.

The writer gratefully acknowledges the friendly services of the Dean of
Ripon and of Charles Edward Eardley Childers, of Pittsburg, and the
courtesy of the Marquess and Marchioness of Ripon during his
locumtenency of Studley Church, in the summer of 1901.

_Sept. 1903_





The Abbey and the Elm                                                  1

St. Stephen Harding                                                    3

The founding of Citeaux (_Cistercium_)                                 4

The pursuit of Poverty                                                 6

The coming of St. Bernard                                              8

Cistercians at Rievaulx                                                9

Discontent at St. Mary’s, York                                        10

Departure of the Monks                                                12

_The founding of Fountains_, 1132                                     13

St. Bernard receives the Abbey into his Order                         14

The starving time                                                     15

The arrival of prosperity                                             16




The Monks appreciated by their neighbours                             20

Newminster founded, 1137                                              22

Kirkstead, 1138                                                       23

Louth Park, 1138                                                      23

Woburn, 1145                                                          23

Lisa-Kloster, 1146                                                    24

Kirkstall, 1147                                                       25

Vandey, 1147                                                          25

Meaux, 1150                                                           27


The Cistercian plan                                                   28

The Architect                                                         29

_Nave and transepts_ [in their present form]                          30

Built by Abbot Richard, the first, 1132-1139                          31

And Abbot Richard, the second, 1139-1143                              32

Abbot Henry Murdac, 1143-1147                                         33

The Fire                                                              35

_Eastern range of cloister, and part of Western_                      36

Built by Abbot Richard, the third, 1147-1170                          36

Abbot Robert the Strenuous, 1170-1179                                 37

_Builds Southern range and completes Western_                         38

Abbot William, 1179-1190                                              38

Abbot Ralph Haget, 1190-1203                                          38

Abbot John of York, 1203-1211                                         40

Abbot John of Ely, 1211-1220                                          42

Abbot John of Kent, 1220-1247                                         43

_Builds Chapel of Nine Altars and Infirmary_                          44



The wall, the porter’s lodge                                          45

The chapel, the mill, bake-house and brew-house                       46

The guest houses                                                      47

The Cellarium

Cellarer’s office                                                     50

Vestibule, cellar, buttery, passage                                   51

Refectory                                                             52

Dormitory                                                             53

The lay brothers, _Conversi_                                          53

The Church

Porch                                                                 58

Gallery                                                               59

Nave                                                                  59

Retro-choir                                                           61

Choir                                                                 62

Chancel                                                               63

North transept: Tower                                                 65

South transept: Sacristy                                              66

Chapel of the Nine Altars                                             68

At service in the Abbey                                               69

The West walk: Novices                                                73

The dormitory                                                         74

The North walk: living-room                                           77

The cloister brothers, _Monachi_                                      80

The chapter-house: morals                                             84

The day’s work                                                        90

The parlour                                                           94

The warming-house: recreation                                         95

The refectory                                                         96

The bill of fare                                                     100

Under the dormitory                                                  105

The Abbot’s lodgings                                                 106

Scriptorium and Muniment room                                        109

Coal-yard and rubbish-heap                                           110

Misericord                                                           111

The Infirmary                                                        113

The end of the day                                                   115



Abbey lands and dignities                                            117

Abbot John Darnton, 1479-1494                                        117

Abbot Marmaduke Huby, 1494-1526                                      119

_Builds the tower_                                                   119

The Monasteries and the Reformation                                  120

Abbot John Thirsk, 1526-1536                                         123

Abbot Marmaduke Bradley, 1536-1539                                   125

The coming of the King’s commissioners                               125

_The spoiling of the Abbey_, 1539                                    126

The subsequent owners                                                129


Fountains Abbey, from a water-colour
drawing by J. M. W. Turner, in the
possession of J. E. Taylor, Esq.
(photogravure)                                             _Frontispiece_

The East End of the Abbey (photogravure)      _To face page_          24

The Interior, looking west (photogravure)          “                  40

Historical Ground Plan (coloured)                               _The End_

The Cellarium (photogravure)                       “                  52

Principal Patterns of the Roman Floors
at Fountains Abbey, from a print by
Wm. Fowler of Winterton      “                                        72

The Abbey from the South-East (photogravure)       “                  80

The Abbey from the South-West (photogravure)       “                  96

Fountains Hall (photogravure)                      “                 128

Plan of the Precinct                                            _The End_

     [These plans are derived from the _Yorkshire Archæological Journal_
     vol. xv.]


              Plate facing page 52. _For_ “The Cloisters”
                        _read_ “The Cellarium”

                Page 9, lines 3 and 13. _For_ “Rievaux”
                           _read_ “Rievaulx”



The first Fountains Abbey was a forest tree. In the days of the simple
beginning, the brethren ate and slept and said their prayers under an
elm which stood in the middle of the valley.

The elm lived into the eighteenth century, and toward the end of its
life was made to divide its honours with a group of venerable yews. Some
said that the monks found their first shelter under the yews. But Serlo
settled the matter, hundreds of years ago, in favour of the elm.
_Ulmus_, he said, _Ulmus erat vallis in medio, lignum frondosum_. The
yews were there, however, in the first days, and one or two of them are
still surviving.

They are propped up on either hand, like an old man leaning on his
staff; but they live. The elm has wholly disappeared. Mr. Walbran’s
maternal great-grandfather remembered “the stump of an enormous elm tree
in the last stage of decay, which was called ‘the Fountain’s elm.’” It
stood “between the river Skell and the stream from Stank’s pond, not far
from the eastern boundary of the Abbey site.” But the smooth turf covers
the place. Only the yews look down from their gentle hill upon the
broken walls. There they were when the monks came, a little adventurous
company, to begin their life of seclusion and prayer. Their leaves were
green when the Abbey rose in splendour, and mitred abbots walked in
their shadow. They saw the expulsion of the convent and the ruin of the
monastery. They are a symbol of the persistence of the quiet, elemental
forces amidst our human chance and change.

The monks of Fountains Abbey belonged to the Cistercian Order.

In the twelfth century, when the Abbey began, this was the newest
religious society. The Benedictines, after splendid services to
civilisation, had encountered the temptations which accompany the
praises and the gifts of grateful communities, and had been worsted.
They had verified the wise saying, “When anybody does a good thing, all
the neighbours join together to keep him from doing it again.” They had
grown rich in the treasures which are subject to the invasions of moth
and rust and thieves, but they were growing poor in the accounts of
heaven. The purpose of the Cistercians was to return to primitive
monastic simplicity. Gregory the Great had said that he who would see
angels must have his head pillowed on a stone. The Cistercians believed

Stephen Harding, who founded the Cistercian Order, was an Englishman,
from Dorsetshire. He spent his early years in the monastery at
Sherborne. Thence he went wandering, in the free fashion of the time,
partly to see the sights, partly to save his soul, and made a pilgrimage
to Rome. On his way back, in Burgundy, he chanced upon a little company
of monks, who were encamped in a clearing in the midst of a thick
forest. They had built a chapel with the trunks of trees, and around it
had gathered a forlorn group of huts made of the boughs, and were
freezing and starving to their hearts’ content. All this filled Stephen
with devout envy. He joined this monastery, and thereafter saw England
again no more.

But presently, the rule seemed to many of the brethren to be too hard
for human endurance, and they relaxed it, and began to live more softly,
so that Stephen was dissatisfied. And out he went, and a few like-minded
brethren with him, in quest of hardship, which they found at Citeaux.
This was a wild place in the dark woods, with a deep stream running
through the midst of it, the banks of which were the residence of beasts
of prey. Here Stephen was made prior; the honest severity of Benedict’s
laws was sought again; the brethren lived in holy simplicity.

And then friends appeared. This good life was appreciated by rich and
powerful neighbours, and they brought gifts and built a church; and one
of them was buried there. This was Odo, duke of Burgundy, whose son
Hugh, with a company of friends, people of the court, took a fancy for
going to church at the monastery chapel, so that the plain place shone
with their silks and jewels, and the simple brethren were distracted in
their prayers by the neighbourhood of all this fine array. The chapel
was becoming a fashionable church. By this time Stephen was the
abbot--abbot of Cistercium, which was the Latin for Citeaux. And Stephen
stopped it. He turned all these gay worshippers out of doors, forbade
them ever to come in again, and shut the monastery gate in the face of
all his influential friends.

Then he made the plain services more plain. He forbade that “in the
House of God, in which they wished to serve God devoutly day and night,
anything should be found which savoured of pride and excess, or can in
any way corrupt poverty, that guardian of virtue, which they had chosen
of their own accord.” There must be no gold or silver in the church,
except a silver cup for the sacramental wine. A single candlestick must
suffice for light, and that must be of iron and straight from top to
bottom. Vestments must be of common stuff, no more of silk or
cloth-of-gold. All the pictures must come down. The brethren said their
prayers in a chapel as severe as a Puritan meeting-house. In the midst
of a time of monastic splendour, when monks of St. Benedict and even
monks of Cluny rode abroad like knights or princes, Stephen Harding’s
household were separate from the world in all sincerity.

Once, when the poverty which they invited came and lodged with them so
long that the pantry was bare even of crumbs, one of the brothers went
out to beg for bread, and came home with a great apronful. But when
Stephen found that the bread had come from one who had made his money by
dishonesty, he took it off the table, carried it into the fields and
gave it to the shepherds. The brethren used to notice that in the
evening, when the abbot went into the church, he often stopped, after he
had shut the door, and pressed against it with his hand. And when they
asked him what it meant, he said, “I am forced during the day to give
free course to many thoughts for the ordering of the house; all these I
bid remain outside the door, and tell them not to venture in, and to
wait till the morrow, when I find them all ready for me after Prime has
been said.”

It seemed, for a time, as if this severity of discipline and this
unworldliness of spirit would forever bar the door against new-comers.
Brethren died, and nobody took their places. At last, however, all this
good planting came to its proper harvest. One day, in the year 1113,
thirty men appeared at the gates of Citeaux, asking to be received as
novices. And their leader was a man whose character and strength made
him presently the greatest churchman of his time. With the accession of
Bernard, the Cistercian monastery grew speedily into the Cistercian
Order; and the Cistercian Order came in due time into England.

Turstin, Archbishop of York, wrote to Bernard at Clairvaux, asking for
Cistercian monks; and Bernard, being now, in Stephen’s old age, at the
head of the Order, sent over a colony which settled in the valley of the
Rie, at Rievaux. There they lived their new life of simple devotion.
And presently the fame of the sanctity of the monks of Rievaux began to
vex the consciences of their neighbours.

The Benedictine abbey of St. Mary of York was a rich and vast
establishment. It had received gifts from William the Norman, and from
William his son. It was so fine that Richard the prior and a little
company of sympathetic brethren, touched by the example of the simple
manners of Rievaux, came to the conclusion that it was too good a place
to be an appropriate residence for a Christian. They determined to leave

Richard the prior, Gervase the sub-prior, Richard the sacrist, Walter
the almoner, and Robert the precentor were of one mind in the matter,
and presently a sufficient number of devout conspirators was added to
make thirteen. That was the required number for the beginning of a
monastic colony. Together they came to the old abbot and asked leave to
go. But the abbot met them with a stout refusal. The malcontents were
made to understand that they had asked a grievous thing; they had
despised their order, and brought confusion into the holy house; they
had attempted to break their solemn vows. To this, the prior made
appropriate answers, but satisfaction was impossible. Back and forth,
the matter was discussed all summer, most of the monks taking the
abbot’s part. At last, in October, the archbishop came. There was a
noisy meeting in the cloister; abbot and archbishop, monks and seculars;
with the townsfolk crowding at the abbey gate. “Your church is
interdicted!” cried the archbishop, raising his voice above the din.
“Interdict it, for aught we care, for a hundred years!” shouted the
brethren. Then they made a rush for the prior and his friends, who got
with great haste into the church, the archbishop being with them, and
barred the door for fear of their lives. Finally, they escaped in
safety. The affair made a great commotion in a day when abbots and
bishops were seldom on good terms. The abbot sent messengers to the
King, the first Henry; the bishop wrote to the legate of the Pope. But
the thing was done, and stayed done.

Two Richards, two Ralphs, Gervase, Walter, Robert and Alexander,
Geoffrey, Gregory, Thomas, Hamo and Gamel thus abandoned St. Mary’s, and
for the moment were lodgers in the archbishop’s house. Even this little
company were not all of one mind, for presently two of them were
homesick and went back; of whom Ralph “made terms with his flesh and his
belly clave to the ground,” that is, he remained in the old way, but
Gervase again repented and cast his lot with the reformers. Ralph’s
place was taken by a second Robert, a monk of Whitby.

Archbishop Turstin had a country seat at Ripon, to which he went to
keep the Christmas of 1132, bringing the thirteen brethren with him. And
on the morrow of the festival, taking them out three miles into the
country, he established them upon a piece of his own land, in the narrow
valley of the Skell. The deed of gift of this land--the “charter of
foundation”--is still preserved at Studley Royal. William the dean of
York, William the treasurer, Hugh the precentor, Robert and William the
archdeacons, five canons of St. Peters, five canons of St. Wilfrid, and
nine laymen signed it as witnesses.

The place, as the narrative says, was a long way out of the
world--_locum a cunctis retro seculis inhabitatum_; it was full of
thorns and rocks, and seemed a better dwelling for wild beasts than for
men. But they accepted it with gratitude. In the midst of the valley
they made a thatched hut, with the trunk of the great elm for roof-pole,
and having chosen the prior Richard to be their abbot, they began with
contented minds to live the life of devotion and straitness for which
they had longed amidst the pernicious comforts of the Abbey of St. Mary.
They named their little monastery _De Fontibus_, from the springs which
abounded in the valley. “O ye wells, bless ye the Lord,” they
sang--_Benedicite, fontes Domino_, and the words were echoed back in the
frosty air from the cliffs on either side.

The same spirit was in all their hearts--the spirit of religion, the
desire to devote themselves more perfectly to God. They took life very
seriously. They had stout convictions, and purposed to live in
consistency with them, and sought a place where that should be possible.

In the following spring, the brethren sent messengers to St. Bernard at
Clairvaux, asking to be admitted to the Cistercian Order. Bernard was at
that time the greatest man in Europe. He had just decided between two
rival claimants which was the true Pope. He received the men of
Fountains with great kindness, finding in them a spirit kindred with his
own. He sent them back with a gracious letter, which is still preserved.
_Fratribus charissimis et desideratissimis_, he wrote, _Ricardo abbati
et hiis qui cum eo sunt, frater Bernardus abbas Clarevallis, in Domino,
salutem_. And he sent with them Geoffrey, a monk of his own monastery, a
person of ability and experience, to teach them the new ways. Thus the
new life began; and presently their number was increased. Seventeen new
brethren came, seven of them being in orders.

Their number was increased, but their resources were in no way enlarged.
The archbishop, indeed, continued to be good to them, and the neighbours
occasionally sent things in,--housewives at their weekly baking
remembering the brethren and putting in an extra batch for them.

A little money they earned by making mats. But that year there was a
famine in the land, till the abbot had to go out through the surrounding
country to find food, and even then found none; so that for a time they
lived on leaves which they boiled with salt in the water of the
stream--the friendly elm, as the narrative says, affording them food as
well as shelter. One day, they said, the Lord Christ knocked at the
door, in the guise of an ill-clad, hungry man, and asked an alms in the
starving time, when they had but two loaves and a half, and no prospects
of more. At first, they had prudently refused him, but when he continued
asking had given him one loaf. And behold, within a half-hour, two men
appeared from Knaresborough Castle with a plentiful supply of bread,
over which the monks recited the “Inasmuch as ye have done it” of the

Finally, the situation became intolerable. The brethren had, indeed,
made choice of poverty, and had come out into the wilderness in devout
search of her; but this was a different matter. This was destitution
rather than poverty, so that, the next year, when there appeared no
likelihood of any betterment, the abbot made a journey to Clairvaux, and
begged St. Bernard to give them lands in France, or in any place where
they might live and not die. And Bernard agreed to give them a
habitation near his own abbey.

Happily, they did not need the gift. Abbot Richard, on his return, found
a change in the fortunes of the house. The colony had been joined by
Hugh, the dean of York. He had been in the company of the archbishop on
the day of his stormy visitation, and had seen the men of Fountains as
they faced the reproaches of their brethren; and being now an old man
and tired of the world, he had resolved to say his prayers for the rest
of his life with them. Thus he had resigned his high position, and
turned his back on his splendid minster, and had cast in his lot with
the starving colony. And he was fortunately rich, and brought books with
him, and money. Part of the money they gave to the poor, part they put
into the general fund, part they used to pay the carpenters and masons
who were building the church and cloister.

After this, prosperity continued. Canon Serlo, of York, who, like the
dean, had witnessed the escape of the monks from St. Mary’s, and whose
name is still to be seen among the witnesses to the charter of
foundation, now became a brother of Fountains; and with him Canon Tosti,
who is remembered in the narrative as a pleasant person. And each added
to the treasury. Then Robert and Raganilda de Sartis, owners of the
neighbouring estate of Herleshow, gave it to the monks, adding
to it the forest of Warsall. Also Serlo de Pembroke, a young
courtier--_juvenis quidam de domo regis_--lying at the point of death,
gave them his country-seat at Cayton, and when he died was buried in the
monks’ graveyard, _inter sanctos_. This was probably the first interment
in the little cemetery which awaited the brethren to the east of the
rising church. About the same time, the abbot got a farm at
Aldbrough--_grangiam fertilem_--in a place which even from Roman times
had been a fruitful region.

Presently, in 1135, King Stephen being at York, the monastery was
exempted by him from payment of “taxes, danegelds, assises, pleas and
scutages.” Also, a little later, in 1141, Pope Innocent exempted the
monastery from payment of tithes.

From that day, says Serlo the narrator, who had now become a member of
the monastic household, the Lord blessed our valleys with the blessing
of heaven above and of the deep that lieth under, multiplying the
brethren, increasing their possessions, pouring down showers of
benediction, being a wall unto them on the right hand and on the left.
What perfection of life, he cries, was there at Fountains! What
emulation of virtue! What stability of discipline! The house was
enriched in wealth, without; still more in holiness, within. Its name
became famous, and the great people of the world reverenced it.




The goodness of the brethren made a deep impression upon the community.
Turbulent and cruel as were the times, there was, nevertheless, some
attention paid to the voice of conscience. It is true that this voice
commonly made itself heard after the event, and served rather to
reproach men than to deter them; but it did speak, and men listened. The
deeds which they did were incredibly bad, but after they had done them,
and the fierce heat of passion had died down, they were both sorry and
afraid. Then they remembered that “the effectual fervent prayer of a
righteous man availeth much.” Doubting the value of their own prayers,
they looked about for righteous men to make intercession for them. God
sat on His throne, like the king, and had His court about Him, part of
angels, part of saints in glory, and part of holy persons still in the
flesh. The sinner’s hope of success in his petition lay in the securing
of the kindly offices of some of these influential courtiers. And these
were to be found most readily on earth in monasteries. Accordingly,
these companies of praying men seemed, even to the sinners of the
neighbourhood, to be engaged in an important and essential business. If
the sinner had money enough, he engaged a group of them to pray for him
in particular. He built a monastery, and established them in it for that
necessary purpose.

Thus Ralph de Merlay, chancing on his travels to spend a day at the
Abbey, and there beholding the pious conversation of the brethren, made
up his mind, from what he saw, that these were the kind of men to have
influence with God; and being in need of friends at that court, he
asked the abbot to let him have some of them, _pro redemptione animae
suae_. This was the first colony which went out from Fountains. The year
was 1137. The knight took the monks into his castle at Morpeth, in whose
neighbourhood he presently built them a monastery, which they called
Newminster. The abbot of this new brotherhood was the Robert who had
come from Whitby to take the place of the inconstant Gervase after the
flight from York: a good man, modest in his bearing, gentle in his
conversation, bearing rule with mercy, and at last enrolled in the
honourable list of the saints. The abbey, like the mother house, was
built beside a little river; and its three daughters, Pipewell, Sawley
and Roche, sat likewise, in the true Cistercian manner, on the banks of
narrow streams.

In the next year another nobleman, Hugh of Tatshall, in Lincolnshire,
resolved to establish a Cistercian house, and sent to Abbot Richard for
advice and monks from Fountains, and founded Kirkstead Abbey on the
river Witham. At the same time the Bishop of Lincoln asked the abbot for
more men--the two companies of colonists leaving Fountains on the same
day--and settled them, after some wandering, at Louth Park. Their abbot
was the Geoffrey who forsook his companions at the bishop’s, and went
back to St. Mary’s, to return in deep penitence; who was thus assured of
their entire confidence in him.

In 1145, Hugh de Bolebec, for the redeeming of his sins, begged for the
services of the brethren of Fountains, and an abbey was built at Woburn.

In 1146, the Bishop of Bergen came to Fountains, and his heart was set
on having a Cistercian house in Norway. Thirteen brethren were found to
brave the sea and the unknown land. Thus was erected the monastery of
Lisa-Kloster, the abbey of the valley of light. One of the Ralphs of
the original settlement was the abbot. In the library of Corpus Christi
College, Oxford, is a manuscript life of St. Olaf, which was once among
the books of Fountains. It is bound with other manuscripts in the skin
of a seal. Ralph came back after many laborious years to spend his last
days in the mother house. He may have brought with him this memento of
the Norway mission. It is pleasantly told of him in the narrative that
he used to sleep a good deal in his old age, and that the Lord sent a
prompting angel to awake him when he slept too long--_si sompno,
forsitan, per noctes diutius indulgeret, eum excitaret_.

The next year, 1147, saw three colonies go out from Fountains. Henry de
Lacy, of Pontefract Castle, having meditated upon his misdeeds during a
long illness, vowed that he would build a Cistercian house to the honour
of the Virgin

[Illustration: _Fountains Abbey_

_The East End._

_Photo. Watson._      _Art Repro. Co.]

Mary. Its tenants were Fountains men, under the abbacy of Alexander,
another of the founders. They had many troubles, some on account of the
climate, some on account of their neighbours. Serlo, our narrator, was
one of them, and might have made his story longer had he chose. It is
from another record that we learn that Alexander objected to the
nearness of the parish church, whose services distracted the attention
of his monks, and for the sake of peace and quiet pulled the building
down in spite of the parishioners. The parish appealed to the Archbishop
of York, then to the Pope, but the monks prevailed in both courts. The
neighbourhood, however, was naturally hostile thereafter, and presently
the abbot found a more convenient situation, where they built Kirkstall

Five days after the departure of these brothers from the gates of
Fountains, another company went, at the petition of the Earl of
Albemarle, to found the abbey of Vaudey, the house of the valley of
God. The monk Adam, who had been architect of the buildings at Kirkstall
and Woburn, and was now in charge of the monks at Vaudey, found that the
Earl of Albemarle was disposed to do yet more. He had once vowed, for
his sins, to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and had never gone, and now
was old and fat and could not go. This, as Adam faithfully reminded him,
was a serious matter; but it could be made right. If the earl would
build another abbey, Adam promised that his Order would persuade the
Pope to take that good work as an equivalent. The promise was performed,
through the kindly offices of St. Bernard, and the earl told Adam to
choose a suitable site. The monk, accordingly, looked about this way and
that in Holderness, where the earl’s lands lay. It was the country which
the Conqueror had bestowed upon Odo, his brother-in-law. The son of Odo,
the earl’s father, had complained of its sterility, saying that it gave
him only oaten bread to eat. But presently at Meaux, some four miles
east of Beverley, Adam came upon a fair hill, which by prophetic
coincidence had been named St. Mary’s Mount. Woods were growing all
about, with open lands which promised good harvests, and streams running
through them. There he thrust his staff into the ground, and cried,
“Verily, this place shall be called the house of the heavenly King.” And
there the monastery was built, in spite of the reluctance of the earl,
who had already selected the place for a park. The first abbot was the
enterprising Adam. This was in 1150.

Thus within a space of less than twenty years, St. Mary of Fountains had
become the mother of eight fair daughters. Meanwhile, the Cistercian
Order had been growing at some such rate as this in many other places:
too fast and too far, they feared at Clairvaux. In 1152, the General
Chapter discouraged the founding of new monasteries. After that, no more
colonies went out from Fountains.


Meanwhile, the thatched hut about the elm had given place to a group of
noble buildings.

A Cistercian monastery consisted of certain invariable structures
arranged according to a prescribed plan. St. Stephen’s Abbey of Citeaux,
St. Bernard’s Abbey of Clairvaux, determined all other abbeys of the
order. At the heart of the abbey was the cloister, an open square of
green, on whose four sides stood the essential monastic houses. On the
north was the church; on the east was the chapter-house, with a
book-room on one side and a parlour on the other, and the dormitory in
the second storey over all; on the south was the refectory, with the
warming-room on one side, and the kitchen on the other; on the west was
the store-house, having over it the dormitory of the lay brethren.
Outside of this cloister group, wherever it was most convenient, stood
an infirmary, and a guest-house, and whatever barns and mills and
workshops were needed for the maintenance of the conventual life.

During the administration of the first two abbots--Richard (1132-1139),
who had been the prior at York, and Richard (1139-1143), who had been
the sacrist--these buildings were erected, part of wood and part of
stone. The architect was Geoffrey of Clairvaux, whom St. Bernard had
sent to instruct the monks at their entrance into the Order. The stone
came from the steep banks of the valley. The labourers were the monks
themselves, assisted by their neighbours, some of whom were hired, while
others gave their day’s work as an investment in the securities of
heaven. It is interesting to find that the little company of poor monks,
rich in faith, laid out the foundations of their church upon the great
lines on which it stands to-day. Other generations built the chapel of
the nine altars and raised the noble tower, but the vast nave with its
transepts was both planned and completed by the men who began the
monastery. These large proportions did not necessarily mean that they
expected a great number of monks to say their prayers within these wide
walls. They were not adjusting the building, after our manner, to the
size of the congregation. They were intent upon the glory of God. The
church was to be an evidence of their conception of the dignity, the
strength, and the splendour of the Christian religion.

First, they built the chancel, which was pulled down in the next century
and built over again larger and finer. There they probably held their
services while the masons and the carpenters were busy with the other
work. Then they built the transepts, and the south wall of the nave as
high as the sills of the windows; then the lower courses of the west
wall. After that, they finished the south wall, because that was on the
cloister side; and built its great bays. Then, the north wall, and the
rest; roofing it all in. Mr. St. John Hope is of the opinion that the
church, passing through these various stages, and waiting at intervals
for additions to the building fund, was quite completed before 1147. The
west wall of the cloister belongs to the same period.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all this building, Abbot Richard was called
away to Rome. Bishop Alberic of Ostia, making a visitation of the
country as papal legate, and meeting Richard, was so impressed by the
abbot’s piety and sense that he made up his mind that the Pope had need
of him. So he took him away from Fountains--whether for a temporary or a
permanent absence is uncertain--and brought him down to the Papal Court.
There, however, the good man fell ill of a fever, and presently died.
This was in 1139.

Richard, the sacrist, who succeeded him, was a man of great humility. He
had been chosen, the narrative informs us, by the advice of St. Bernard,
by the unanimous voice of the convent, and under the invocation of the
Holy Ghost; but still he held back, diffident and honestly reluctant,
from the honours of the abbacy--_Homo simplex et timens Deum, et totius
religionis ardentissimus emulator_. Three times he went to Clairvaux
hoping to be released, and finally St. Bernard heard him; but when he
returned with this permission to retire, the whole assembly of the
brethren rose up with such grief and remonstrance that he consented to
continue. He died, however, at Clairvaux, where he was attending a
meeting of the General Chapter, and was there buried by St. Bernard, in

Bernard nominated as Richard’s successor a Yorkshireman who had for
some years been abbot of Vauclair, and he was elected by the brethren.
Henry Murdac was a strict disciplinarian. He proceeded at once to
destroy such tares as he discovered in the field of the Lord. The second
Richard had always insisted that he had no ability or even wish to play
the part of Martha. It is likely that under his gentle rule some of the
brethren demonstrated the fact that a change of names is not necessarily
a change of natures. The Benedictine abbey of St. Mary of York had been
forsaken for the Cistercian abbey of St. Mary of Fountains, but the new
resolutions had not driven out of all minds a secret preference for a
modicum of comfort. So Henry found occasion to amend the monastic ways.
He was a great abbot--_magnifice administravit_. He added to the
possessions of the house, and carried on the construction of the

Unhappily, Henry became deeply involved in the ecclesiastical politics
of the time. The good Turstin, the benefactor of the Abbey, had been
succeeded at York by William, who was accused of having obtained his
preferment by bribery. William had cleared himself of this charge before
a competent council, and had been consecrated archbishop by the
direction of the Pope. But he had not received the pall when the Pope
died, and Eugenius, a pupil of St. Bernard, became Pope in his stead.
Bernard believed in the guilt of William. He prevented the new Pope from
investing him with the pall. Bernard’s representative in England was the
Abbot of Fountains, who had already made a journey to Rome to protest
against William’s appointment. When, therefore, this ill news came to
the archbishop’s friends in Yorkshire, and they looked about for
somebody on whom to visit their indignation, Henry Murdac seemed the
person most eligible to that distinction. So they set out, a
considerable company of them, well armed, and made their way with clamor
of voices into the secluded valley, and forced the monastery gates and
sacked the place. Much they broke, some they plundered, and the rest
they set on fire. There it blazed, then, that great work, built, as they
said, in the sweat of their own brows--_in suo sudore constructa_. The
church, however, escaped great injury. Indeed, the abbot himself, who
was lying prostrate at the foot of the altar, was not discovered, being
protected by the hand of God. It is likely that the buildings which were
thus destroyed were temporary structures, for the most part, made of
wood. Whatever damage was done was speedily repaired. The neighbours
came in--_de vicinia viri fideles_--and the reconstruction was
undertaken with such zeal that the new was better than the old. Then the
chapter-house was built, and the dormitory over it down to the river,
and the guest-house by the bridge. To this time belong also the north
walls of the malthouse and the bakehouse. The fire took place in 1146 or

This violence was much more disastrous to the archbishop than to the
abbot, for the Pope deposed William and confirmed Henry, who was elected
in his place. Thus the monastery lost its third abbot.

It is interesting to remember that William was vindicated after all.
When Henry died, in 1153, a friendly Pope restored the deposed
archbishop to his place. One of William’s first acts on entering his
diocese was to visit Fountains, to express his contrition for the harm
which his friends, without his knowledge, had committed, and to promise
proper compensation. When he died, he was enrolled among the saints, and
the Abbot of Fountains was one of the judges who decided that he was
worthy to be canonised.

This was Abbot Richard, who had two predecessors with brief terms,
Maurice and Thorold. Richard had a long and troubled rule. Our ancient
enemy, the devil, disquieted by the peace of the holy house, tempted the
brethren, who behaved so proudly towards the abbot that he had to expel
some of them. After that, the Lord blessed him abundantly. So he died,
in 1170, and was buried in the new chapter-house, the first of nineteen
abbots who were to lie there under the monks’ feet.

Robert of Pipewell was the next abbot. He was a strenuous
person--_strenue administravit_, says the narrative; and again, _multa
strenue gessit in administratione sua_. He is praised for many virtues,
and among others for his zeal for building, but the particular additions
which he made are not named. He beautified the church, and erected
sumptuous buildings, probably the southern range of the cloister--the
refectory side--and the western guest-house. The northern part of the
west wall of the cellarium appears to have been made about this time.

William of Newminster (1179-1190) and Ralph Haget of Kirkstall
(1190-1203) carried on the Abbey into the thirteenth century; but
without any notable, or, at least, discernible, erection of buildings.

With William’s administration, old Serlo’s narrative stops. He praises
William, but says that he may perhaps (_forsitan_) have been just a
shade too strict. The acts of Ralph are described by Hugh of Kirkstall,
who has written up to this point at Serlo’s dictation. Here, says Hugh,
the old man made an end of speaking. You yourself, says Serlo, know well
what to say about the holy Abbot Ralph.

Hugh had become a monk while Ralph was Abbot of Kirkstall, and had lived
under his rule for seven years. Happy would he have been, he says,
could he have continued in that blessed state. Yet those were troubled
years at Kirkstall--_adversa foras pugnas, intus timores, domesticorum
insidias, rei familiaris inopiam, bonorum distractionem_. Everything
went wrong; without were fightings, within were fears. There was famine,
and spoiling of goods, and misconduct of bad brethren. And Abbot Ralph
made but an ineffectual effort to cope with these distresses. He was no
strenuous administrator. He was busy dreaming dreams, and seeing
visions. Once, he told Hugh, he even had a revelation of the Blessed
Trinity, in which he distinctly saw three Persons--_intribus personis
apparentem_! But these celestial sights seem not to have made his
terrestrial way plain. Nevertheless, on the death of William he was made
Abbot of Fountains; and, curiously enough, he seems to have done fairly
well in this larger place. He enforced the rule, both in the mother
house and in the dependent monasteries. He was particularly kind to the
poor, who, on the occasion of a famine and a fever, flocked to the Abbey
gates and were lodged there by the abbot in huts made of branches of the
neighbouring trees, where physicians and priests ministered unto them.

Three Johns ruled Fountains during the first half of the thirteenth
century, and substantially completed the fabric of the Abbey. John of
York (1203-1211), like his predecessor Ralph, had been a novice at
Fountains, and had passed thence to the abbacy of a daughter house. He
was recalled to the Abbey from Louth Park. John was a good man, of whom
but one complaint has found its way into the chronicle: some envious
persons said that he desired to be a bishop. This aspersion, however,
seems to have been due chiefly to his unusual grace of manner, and to
his large and liberal administration. Bred, though he was, in the
monastery, and getting absolutely

[Illustration: _Fountains Abbey._

_The Interior looking West._

_Photo. Frith._      _Art Repro. Co.]

nothing--as the chronicler assures us--from his native place but his
name, he appears nevertheless to have been acquainted with the world. He
was a hospitable person--_Dapsilis in mensa, communis in victu_--and
excelled in magnificence all who had preceded him. The King of England,
at that moment, was of the same name as the abbot; whom, however, he
resembled in no other particular. King John perceived the great wealth
of the religious houses, especially of the Cistercians, and began to lay
hold of it with a rapacious hand. But Abbot John, partly by courtly
manners, partly by his prudent use of the Abbey’s money, won the King’s
favour, and was thereby enabled to aid other houses in distress.

It may have been this general danger, and the comparative immunity of
Fountains in the midst of it, which at this time greatly increased the
monastic household. There were now so many brethren that the choir was
too small for them, and there were not altars enough. Abbot John,
accordingly, conceived the idea of rebuilding and vastly enlarging the
east end of the church. To him is commonly ascribed the plan of the new
chancel, and of the chapel of the nine altars. He had already laid the
foundations of these splendid structures, to the amazement of his
contemporaries, and had raised certain columns, when in the midst of his
work he died--_feliciter migravit ad Dominum_.

The second John (1211-1220) took up the great task and carried it
forward. The chronicle has now come to an end, and we know nothing from
its pleasant pages about this John or his successors. There is, however,
a letter in existence which was written to him nine days after Magna
Charta, by King John himself, in which the king directs that certain
treasures hidden by him for safe keeping at the Abbey--_vasa, pocalia,
aurea et argenta_--be now immediately and privately sent back. King
John, in anticipation of trouble, had trusted the monks of Fountains.
Now, expecting peace, he takes his valuables into his own house. Abbot
John soon came into relation with the other great actor in the Magna
Charta matter, for in 1220 he was made bishop by Stephen Langton. Thus
he removed from Fountains to Ely, where he died five years after, and
was buried in the choir of his cathedral, wearing his episcopal ring,
clad in his robes, and having beside him his stout pastoral staff.

John of Kent (1220-1247) succeeded John of Ely. He splendidly completed
(_gloriose consummavit_) the great beginnings of his predecessors. The
chapel of the nine altars and the great infirmary were finished in his
time. So were the new choir, and a reconstruction of the cloister, and a
guest-house--or the improvement of the existing guest-houses--and a new
paving of the church floor in tiles of a geometrical design. This abbot
built also the bakehouse, and the bridge. Leland, in 1541, speaks of
many shafts of black marble in the chapel of the nine altars, in the
chapter-house and in the refectory; and Mr Walbran traces the stone to
the Abbey lands at the upper end of Nidderdale, and to the hand of a
prosperous stone-worker of that neighbourhood, Thomas _Marmorius de

Thus the completed Abbey stood in splendour, the work of a whole
century: part of it done while Henry and Stephen and Henry Plantagenet
were ruling England, while Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury; part of
it done in the reigns of John and the third Henry, in the time of
Stephen Langton.



The completed monastery had a stout stone wall about it, for security
and peace. It enclosed an area of about four hundred yards in width, and
more than twice that space in length. The longer reaches of the wall ran
through high fields and woods on either side of the valley. At each end
it crossed the river: at the west end was the main gate.

Beside this gate stood the gate-house. Abbot Huby, in the sixteenth
century, built a house here and established in it Robert Dawson and
Ellen his wife; Robert to be porter and Ellen to be laundress. Robert
was to keep the gate; and Ellen was to wash or cause to be washed
(_lavabit vel lavari faciet_) the linen sheets (_linthiamina_) of the
abbot and abbey guests, and to do it without unnecessary
tearing--_congrue et honeste sine lesione voluntaria vel ruptura
eorumdem_. The fact, however, that at Citeaux there was an outer as well
as an inner gate-house, suggests that Abbot Huby was but erecting a new
lodge in the place of an old one. Here, at the outer gate, long before
Robert Dawson’s day, the almoner dispensed his daily alms. Here the
porter, at the sound of a knock, rose up crying, _Deo gratias_, an
expression of joy at an opportunity to be hospitable; met the guest,
blessing him with a _Benedicite_, and hastened to inform the abbot of
his arrival.

The abbot led the visitor along the road, having the river on his right
and the high bank on his left, until they came to the little chapel,
built in the twelfth century, a part of whose west wall remains, with a
round-headed window. There they said a prayer, after which the
hospitaller took the guest in charge. The stables and barns were
probably hereabouts. The mill is still standing, across the river, being
now used as a dairy-house; but most of the present structure belongs to
the thirteenth century. The bakehouse and the malthouse, a hundred yards
to the east, supplied the brethren with bread and beer; their ovens and
vats may be traced amidst the ruins.

Through the great gate, the visitor passed into the presence of the
Abbey itself. There, across a wide expanse of green, stood the buildings
of the cloister group: on the left, the church; then the long range of
the cellarium; and on the right, the guest-houses.


The guest-houses had the river on two sides, being set in a sharp angle
of the stream. On the north a wall led from the river to the western
guest-house, and was continued to the eastern, making two secluded
courts. Close to the corner of the eastern house a door opened in the
wall, through which the hospitaller led his guest into the inner court.
There at his feet rose a great staircase which gave access to the second
storey of that house. From the upper landing of these stairs a bridge
led to the second storey of the other house.

The two houses may have been for the use of different classes of
visitors, in a day when social distinctions were scrupulously drawn. In
that case, the better people were probably lodged in the eastern house.
There, entering the upper storey, they found their sleeping-rooms, with
deep-set windows looking to the north and east; and with two good
fire-places, one in the middle of the east wall, the other in the gable
end to the north. In these rooms was never a bed, a table, a stool or a
candlestick which had been made by a machine. All had come from the
hands of craftsmen who brought to their labour a determining quality of
personal interest. Descending into the courtyard, a door near the north
end brought the guest into the great hall--“a goodly brave place much
like unto a church”--where a central row of fair pillars upheld a
vaulted roof. This was for the ceremonies of the table. The arrangement
of the western guest-house was according to the same plan, with two
differences: it was =L=-shaped, the letter being turned about so that the
base lay by the river, while the shaft extended to the north; and the
hall, which was in the base of the =L=, was divided into two rooms. The
northern wing may have been the kitchen for both houses. A small
building by the river, where the two guest-houses met, may have been the
office of the hospitaller.

These houses were a hostelry, wherein decent wandering persons, “both
noble, and gentle, and what degree soever that came thither as
strangers,” were made welcome and given free entertainment. This was
the Abbey inn, known to all instructed wayfarers. In a day when towns
were far apart, and the roads bad and beset with peril, the sight of a
monastery tower in the late afternoon was pleasant to a traveller’s
eyes. In the guest-house hall he ate; in the guest-house chamber he
slept; and on the following morning, after mass, refreshed and blessed,
he went upon his way, thanking God for monks and monasteries.


The long range of building, extending from the church to the river, was
called the cellarium, because it was under the general charge of the
cellarer or steward of the monastery. It is likely that he had his
office in the room which stands out from this building at the middle of
its length. In this chamber, having a good window to the west, and a
fireplace between two narrow windows to the south, he kept his office
hours. St. Benedict himself, in his rule, had counselled all cellarers
to be punctual in this matter, that nobody be kept waiting.

The great vaulted hall, now open from end to end, was then divided into
five rooms by screens and partitions. The first room included the first
two bays of the north end. Instead of pillars, it had in the midst two
piers of masonry supporting a staircase, which ascended out of the
church into the room above. These piers made this a double room, whereof
the western half served as a vestibule to the church, while the eastern
half, once opening from the cloister, may sometime have been the
treasury, as at Durham.

The second room began at the southern pier and extended to the fourth
pillar, thus including four bays. This was probably the storehouse for
the domestic supplies of food and drink. A door in the west wall opened
conveniently upon the outer court.

The third room was between the fourth pillar and the sixth. It had a
door in its south wall, and appears to have been the buttery.

The wall which crossed at the sixth pillar ran between two doors, an
outer door into the court and an inner door into the cloister. Thus this
fourth room served as an entrance way. Its southern wall had the eighth
pillar in the middle of it, and this bay beside the entrance may have
been the outer parlour, the _auditorium juxta coquinam_, or room beside
the kitchen, which was provided for in the Cistercian arrangements. Here
in a niche of the east wall, now blocked, the porter sat beside the
cloister door. In this room the brethren of the Abbey met their friends
who lived in the world; here merchants came to show their wares.

All the rest of the hall, from the eighth pillar to the end over the
river, was open then as it is now, and served as the refectory of the
lay brothers. They came

[Illustration: _The Cloisters._

_Photo. Frith._      _Art Repro. Co.]

in by the door in the west wall between the eighth and ninth pillars;
their tables were set along the side walls under the windows; their cups
and plates may have been kept in cupboards against the blank wall of the
last two bays in the south-west corner; their food came in from the
abbey kitchen by a hatch which opened opposite the outer door.

An outside stairway--the day stairs--rose beside the cellarer’s office
at this door, and led to the dormitory of the lay brothers. At the north
end of the dormitory another stairway--the night stairs--went down into
the church. At the south, a room at right-angles, over the river, where
they made their toilet, gave access to the infirmary where they went
when they were sick, and in which they lived in peace and Christian
comfort when they were old.

The lay brothers were monks, like the others, in that they were subject
to the usual monastic vows, amenable to the regulations of monastic
life, and clad in a habit; but they were quite distinct from their
brethren of the choir and cloister. At the beginning of monasticism,
most of the monks were laymen. They had separated themselves not only
from the world but from the church. They believed that the deserts were
better places for prayer than any sanctuary builded by the hand of man.
They felt that they could best draw near to God, each in the silence of
his own soul. In an age whose faith was in salvation by services, they
turned their back on all the services. In an institutional time, when it
was commonly accounted essential to be in the communion of the church,
the monks were individualists. The fact is written in the letters of
their name. A monk--_monos_--is a man who lives alone. The time came
when a monk was never, under any circumstances, alone; but at the
beginning he was a solitary person, living his own life by himself.

It is true that the wise church quietly and patiently followed these
mystics in their wanderings, followed these enthusiasts who had forsaken
the priests and the sacraments, and carried to them the altars which
they had left behind, and by-and-by most of the monks were priests. But
that was a long process, and during a great part of the time the
convents of monks were lay fraternities, having only such priests as
were needed for the rites of the church. Thus the monastic services were
composed and arranged for the use of laymen. Indeed, the monasteries
were never thoroughly adjusted to the conventional church system. They
were never under the control of the diocesan bishop. Sometimes, they
defied him openly; sometimes, they gave him the nominal office of
visitor, and defied him privately. In general, he had little more
authority over Benedictines or Cistercians than he has at present over
Presbyterians or Methodists.

Accordingly, the lay brothers of Fountains were so named not to
distinguish them from their brethren in priests’ orders, but to mark a
difference between them and the cloister brothers. The _conversi_, as
they were called, were divided from the _monachi_ not by a barrier of
ordination, but by a barrier of education. They were monks who could not
read. When the Cistercian Order began, there were many such persons,
some of good birth, many of good ability, but ignorant of letters. It
was characteristic of the Cistercians that they made a place for the
piety of these men. Unable to read, they could not take part in the
regular offices of monastic devotion. But they could work. They could
plough and spade, they could brew and bake, they knew how to work on a
farm or in a mill; at the humblest, they could fetch and carry. And
these acts, the Cistercians taught, may be as religious as the
recitation of a litany. So there were the lay brothers, like St.
Christopher at the ford of the river, consecrating their hands and their
feet, their strength and their obedience, to God. They were sanctifying
the homeliest tasks by doing them as the servants of Heaven.

The lay brothers were in the department of the cellarer, to whom they
were responsible, as the cloister brothers were to the prior. They
attended to the secular side of the common life. Having to work hard,
they did not rise so early as the others; in summer, not till dawn. But
they said prayers at night, coming down into the nave, where their
stalls were ranged along on either side against the great pillars. In
the day, they might recite their appointed offices, stopping in the
midst of their work in the mill or in the field. When it was possible,
however, they had their service in the church, chanting softly in the
nave while the other monks were singing in the choir, and having forms
of their own which they had learned by heart.


The essential purpose for which Fountains Abbey was founded was the
pursuit of religion. The prevailing interpretation which was put upon
religion made it to consist, in great measure, of the saying of
services. Out of the confused noises of the common street, the monks had
retired into the quiet of the monastery in the hope of meeting God. And
they sought God in the church.

The church had a western porch, a dozen feet in width, extending along
the whole front. Part of the porch floor was made of gravestones,
beneath which lay the dust of devout laymen, who had begged the
privilege of being buried at the door of the house of prayer. The porch
roof touched the base of the great window, which was filled with the
glorious colours of the inimitable glass of the middle ages. Over the
window, in a niche, was a figure of the Mother and Child. Abbot John
Darnton had this made, and inscribed his name upon the supporting
corbel: an eagle, the symbol of the fourth evangelist, to mean _John_,
perched on a cask or _tun_, with a scroll beneath marked _dern 1494_.

Entering beneath the Norman arch of the west door, the visitor found
over his head a gallery which carried the great organ. A screen
supported the gallery, making a vestibule for the church, keeping out
the wind. A fragment of the base of this screen remains on the south
side, near a bit of the pavement which was put in by John of Kent.
Standing in the screen door and looking to the east, the high roof
reached over the nave, the choir, the presbytery, and the chapel of the
nine altars, to the splendour of the east window. The Norman nave and
transepts, with their great pillars and round-headed clerestory windows,
represent the primitive Puritan simplicity of the Cistercians. The
choir and presbytery and the nine-altars chapel are in the style called
Early English. The great windows, east and west, replacing plainer
windows, are, like the tower, in the style called Perpendicular. To-day,
by the destruction of the choir and presbytery, the whole church in its
great length lies open to the view, but in the middle ages it was
crossed by three stone screens.

The first partition, called the rood screen, crossed the middle alley
between the seventh pair of pillars, counting from the west door. It had
two openings, between which stood an altar. Over the altar, on a beam
which topped the screen from pillar to pillar, was a great cross or
rood. This screen formed the east end of that part of the church which
was assigned to the lay brothers. On the right hand and on the left,
this sanctuary was shut off from the aisles by walls, which ran along
the inner side of the pillars, making a long narrow chapel, with the
stalls of the lay brothers set against them. Thus the pillars were
hidden in the aisles, an observer at the west door seeing only the
capitals and upper portions of them above the walls.

The second partition, called the choir screen, crossed the tenth pair of
pillars, and a door in the middle of it gave access to the choir. The
space between these two screens, called the retro-choir, was intended
especially for aged and convalescent brethren from the infirmary. There
was probably a great bench for them against the back of the rood screen.

In the midst of the retro-choir, between the eighth and ninth pairs of
pillars, stood two altars, one on the north dedicated to St. Mary, and
the other on the south dedicated to St. Bernard. The reredoses of these
altars made a screen between the ninth pillars, having a doorway between
them. In this passage, between the altars of the saints, three abbots
were buried, in the fifteenth century. From the top of the two reredoses
to the top of the choir screen, a loft was built, called the pulpitum,
extending from the ninth and tenth pillars on the north to the ninth and
tenth pillars on the south, and on the north side carried out over the
aisle. Here, over the aisle, stood the choir organ.

Passing under this gallery, through the door of the choir screen, the
visitor stood in the central sanctuary, the church of the monks of the
cloister. On either side were twenty stalls, and against the screen,
facing the east, were three stalls on the right of the entrance, and
three on the left. The number of the stalls is determined by the
discovery of nine earthen pots buried in the masonry which underlay
them. These pots were, no doubt, as in several other churches, an
acoustic experiment. The distances between them indicate how many there
were in the whole range. In front of the stalls of the monks were lower
seats for the novices. In addition to the entrance through the choir
screen, there were two other ways of access, at the east end of the
stalls, on either side. Here is still on either side a stone step,
significantly worn. On the north side, stairs led to a high seat over
the door. In the middle alley, where the lecturn may have stood at which
the lessons were read at matins, an abbot was buried.

The presbytery, or chancel, began at these choir doors, and was raised a
step or two. Across the long space of its shining floor stood the third
partition, called the altar screen. Against it was the high altar.

Thus the church was divided into three churches; one for the brothers of
the cellarium, ending at the rood screen; one for the infirmary
brethren, ending at the choir screen; one for the brethren of the
cloister, ending at the altar screen. On the two sides of this
three-fold sanctuary ran long aisles, from the west wall to the chapel
of the nine altars. In the middle of this distance, the aisles opened
into transepts, north and south. The nave aisles, at first unobstructed
for passage around the church, were presently cut up by cross partitions
into chapels; but the choir aisles continued to be used as ambulatories.
The transepts served as antechambers for the chapels which opened out
from them to the east.

Each transept had originally three of these chapels, but the building of
the new chancel had taken away the inner one on each side. Of the two
which thus remained, the outer chapel of the north transept had been
changed into a store-house when the tower was built, so that only the
chapel which was in the middle remained. Over the door, under a bracket,
is still to be read an inscription which informs us that it was
dedicated to the Archangel Michael.

The north transept ended in the noble tower of four storeys, the third
of which was probably for the bells, whilst the second may have served
as the sleeping-room of the men who rung them. The inscriptions which
ran round the outside of the tower are still in great part legible.

“Blessed be the name of Jesus Christ,” said the stones above.

“Blessing and wisdom and honour and power be to our God for ever”; “To
the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, be honour and glory for ever,”
said the middle lines.

“To God alone, to Jesus Christ, be honour and glory for ever,” was
thrice repeated, east and north and west, below.

The words were part in praise, part in apology. The beautiful tower was
forbidden by the ancient regulations of the Order. The Cistercian chapel
was to have but a modest tower, rising no more than a single storey over
the roof. These high parapets were a symbol of the pride of life: they
indicated that the ambitions of the outer world had successfully invaded
the monastery. Not so! cried the abbot who built them, repeating again
and again in great letters on the tower the assertion that it was raised
solely for God’s glory.

In the south transept, out of which, in the south-west corner, stairs
led up to the dormitory of the monks, the chapel which was originally
the middle one of three, was turned into a sacristy; and a narrow door
in the south wall gave access to a large room built against the chancel,
which may have been the office of the sacrist. In the sacristy, and in
other safe places, were kept the Abbey treasures. Here were the copes
which the monks wore when they went in procession, on great days. At the
time of the suppression, when an inventory was taken, there were eighty
of them. Six were made of cloth of gold, twenty-six of white damask,
four of white velvet, two of white fustian. Five old copes were of
embroidered work, and six of flowered work. One was “very well wrought
with images”; one, wrought with images, was of green damask; six were of
red silk, worked with flowers and stars; one was of black velvet. Some
of these splendid cloaks may have been given by noble benefactors out of
their own wardrobes. For Richard of the Lion Heart presented to the
prior of Durham his Parliament robe “of blue velvet, wrought with great
lions of pure gold”; whilst Queen Philippa, making a visit to Ely, gave
the prior her “jewelled robes of State, powdered with golden squirrels.”

Here, also, hung surplices, and eucharistic vestments of cloth of gold
and silk and velvet and serge. Here the abbot may have kept his two
mitres, one for common days, the other for high feasts; but both of them
shining with plates of silver, and garnished with pearls. Each had its
cushion; a word which the writer of the inventory laboriously spelled
“qweshan.” Here were processional crosses; chalices and patens reserved
for great festivals; shrines to be borne about the church on the
festival of Corpus Christi, one containing a rib of St. Lawrence,
another a bit of St. Anne’s scalp set in a plate of silver; and an image
of St. James, and another of our Lady, both of silver-gilt; a table, or
reredos, for the high altar at great services, bearing three images of
silver-gilt, embellished with gold and precious stones; and, most
precious of all, a cross of solid gold, set with gems, and having in it
a piece of the true cross of Calvary.

The “chapel of nine altars” had seven of these holy tables against its
east wall, the three which would naturally have stood under the great
window being combined into one. Each altar had its aumbry or closet for
the sacred vessels, and was parted from its neighbour by a low barrier
of wood, while a similar wall ran along the front of the whole row,
with doors admitting to the altars. There was a gallery over the altar
screen which parted the chapel from the presbytery; and a little gallery
over the door in the south-west corner, which was connected by a long
overhead passage with the abbot’s lodgings. It is likely that at
Fountains, as at Durham, there was a closet against the south wall,
where at the time of saying mass the sacristan provided the monks with
bread and wine for their various altars.

Having thus examined the church, we may imagine ourselves at service in
it upon some high occasion. The lay brothers in their brown gowns are in
their stalls. The monks are in their places in the choir. They are
dressed in white woollen cassocks, tied with a black girdle, and have
over breast and back a scapulary--a straight breadth of black cloth
before and behind, the two pieces fastened at the shoulders. Over this
plain garb, each monk now wears one of the gorgeous copes of the
sacristy. There are two candles on the high altar, and behind them is
the tablet with the three images, probably our Lord on the Cross, with
St. Mary on one side and St. John on the other, with “beads and plate of
silver-gilt, and some part gold and set with stones.” Back of the altar,
suspended high against the screen and falling to the floor, is a
tapestry hanging, of Arras work. The holy table is spread with white
damask embroidered with flowers. On a shelf in a carved recess of the
south wall are a basin and ewer for washing the priest’s hands; a
boat-shaped vessel for incense, with a spoon; two cruets, a pair of
silver censers, and a chalice and a paten for the bread and wine. Over
the head of the celebrant as he prays hangs a silver basin in which
burns a candle. All these things were in the Abbey when the final
inventory was made.

Thus the service begins; the commemoration of the supreme
self-sacrifice. The smoke of incense drifts across the light of the east
window; and there is a sound of chanting, imploring, adoring voices.
Hands are outstretched to receive the mystic bread and wine. And
presently they go out to undertake again their homely tasks in the name
of Him to whom belong the church and themselves.

To these repeated acts of worship, the monks came with a faith which
asked no questions. The services, it is true, were very frequent, and
human nature was with them what we know it to be with us; the thoughts
of the brethren would sometimes wander, and the devout words would be
words only. They were of our own kin and kind. Thomas Kydde and Lawrence
Benne, and Henry Jackson and John Walworth, and their fellows who were
here at the time of the suppression had their bad and their good, as we
have, and in about the same proportion. They were trying, the best way
they knew, to magnify the good, to make the ideal real, and to gain the
approbation of God. In the church they found assistance. There it was,
with doors open, day after day; its aisles fragrant with holy
associations, as with the incense of the prayers of the saints; its
shining altars, its appealing music, its mute assurance of divine
nearness. To it they brought their trials, their perplexities, their
hopes, their aspirations, their resolutions. It was the house of prayer
and the sanctuary of blessing. It was the heart of their life.


Out of the nave, near the south transept, a door opens into the
cloister. At the corner, where nave and transept met, is the pedestal
which held a bowl for holy water. Here the brothers stopped to dip their
fingers and sign their foreheads with

[Illustration: Principal Patterns of the Roman Floors at Fountains Abbey

From a print by Wm. Fowler of Winterton

_To face p. 72]

the sign of the cross. The green cloister court, without, had a porch
about it on its four sides, and these covered places, whose width is now
indicated by the grading of the turf, were called walks.

In the west walk, against the cellarium wall, sat the novices, busy with
their books, studying church music and grammar and theology. Apt
students, when they became monks, were sometimes sent to complete their
education at Oxford, where they lived in the Cistercian Abbey of Bewley
(founded in 1280), or in the Cistercian College of St. Bernard, now St.
John’s (founded in 1432). There they learned to preach, and teach some
simple theology to the novices who succeeded them. There they learned
also to interpret and apply the canon law: they became the lawyers of
the monastery.

It is likely that Fountains, like other great houses, maintained a
grammar school for the sons of the neighbours. The master of such a
school would not be a monk but a secular person, employed by the Abbey
but not a member of the family. The school-house has not been
identified. The building which once stood across the river at the south
end of the cellarium would have been conveniently placed for this
purpose. A glimpse of the discipline of such a school is had in the fact
that, in the sixteenth century, a schoolmaster, receiving his degree of
bachelor of arts, was presented with a birch as a symbol of his office,
and was required forthwith, in the presence of his examiners, to flog a
boy hired for that exercise.

Over the roof of the east walk, a line of windows opened out of the
dormitory. This was a long room, with two rows of beds from end to end,
like a ward in a hospital. The beds were provided with sheets of
linsey-woolsey, and the monks lay on straw which was emptied out of its
blue ticking and renewed once every year. At Durham, the custom was to
carry his blue bed to the brother’s funeral, and hold it as a canopy
over the grave during the service; so that every night when he lay down
to rest he was profitably reminded of his last sleep. The monks laid
aside their scapulars, but slept in their woollen cassocks, so that they
woke ready dressed. The day stairs to the dormitory are in the
south-east corner of the cloister. There was a room at the head of the
stairs, extending south to the end of the dormitory, which may have
corresponded to the master’s chamber in a like position in a school.
Here the prior may have slept with an attentive ear for any breach of
order. It is uncertain whether there were partitions between the beds,
or whether the brethren were denied even such scanty privacy as that. It
is plain that they had no “cells.” The building which opened at right
angles with the dormitory beside the river was the toilet room, the
_necessarium_. Through its hall communication was had with the abbot’s
lodgings. The abbot, according to rule, must sleep in the common
dormitory. He probably gave this regulation a liberal interpretation, as
the house grew great, and considered that this hall made his room
“constructively” a part of the chamber of the monks.

At two o’clock in the morning a great bell rang in the tower, and a
little bell in the dormitory answered it. Then every brother bestirred
himself. He threw a cloak about him, thrust his feet into his shoes, and
descended the night stairs at the end of the room into the dark church.

The night service, called matins, consisted of a reading of many lessons
and a chanting of many psalms, and was performed to the accompaniment of
the organ. A light burned before the high altar, and there was a light
in the loft at the organ, and another for the reader at the lecturn,
perhaps still another at the chant-book of the precentor. But otherwise
the great church was in darkness. The psalms were sung from memory. Now
and then some one went about among the singing brothers to make sure
that no man slept. This lasted for an hour or more.

After this service, the monks came out into the north walk of the
cloister, where cressets flamed uncertainly against the walls, and there
continued until dawn, reading or meditating, but having their hoods well
pulled back from their faces to make it evident that they were wide
awake. This study-hour was, of course, short in summer, but long in
winter. When the weather was very bad, they sought refuge in the
chapter-house. In some cloisters there was glass in the open stone-work
of the porch; but, at best, this was a cold place of an early morning.
The dormitory was cold, the church was cold, and the cloister was as
cold as the sky; but they were used to it, like all their neighbours.

This north walk was the living-room and study of the monastery. The
books in most frequent use were kept in a case which stood in a shallow
recess still to be seen in the transept wall. Others were stored in two
capacious closets on either side of the chapter-house door. Every year,
at the beginning of Lent, all the books of the monastery were spread out
on a carpet on the floor of the chapter-house, and a general accounting
was had. A roll was called of brothers and of books. Each monk rose at
the sound of his name, produced the book which had been assigned to him
the year before, and returned it, humbly confessing if he had not read
it through. Then the books were newly distributed and charged. At Ripley
Castle, bound in an octavo volume, are several of the Fountains books: a
Latin grammar, some sermons and some music, and a paraphrase of Ovid, in
which that irresponsible writer is made to serve as a mediæval
moralist. There is also a fragment of a book on medecine, to which they
might profitably have added, as at Meaux Abbey, a book on eating,--_De
Edendo_. No catalogue remains, but we can guess at the titles from the
lists of other mediæval libraries. There were writings of the fathers,
ancient and modern, with a pretty full set of the works of St. Bernard;
and several commentaries on the Bible; and a good deal of biography,
mostly ecclesiastical; and books on law and ritual.

So the brethren sat in the cold cloister reading their good books. The
Benedictines, who were scholars and literary persons, provided by rule
that these precious manuscript volumes should be handled with becoming
care. “When the religious are engaged in reading in cloister or church,
they shall if possible hold the books in their left hands, wrapped in
the sleeve of their tunics, and resting on their knees.”

Who were these men? Whence had they come? and why?

As for their origin, they belonged, so far as we can now discover, to
the same class from which the ministry is still mainly recruited: to the
great company of those who are neither rich nor poor, who neither earn
their living by their hands nor inherit the means of living from their
fathers, represented in mediæval England by the gentry, as distinguished
on the one side from the peasantry, and on the other side from the

As for their motive, each had his own. “What are you here for,
Bernard?”--the great saint of the Cistercians had the question written
on his wall. _Ad quid venisti, Bernarde?_ To this inquiry the abbey
might have returned as many as fifty different answers. Some of the
white-gowned men came in pure love of God, deeming a life of continual
prayer the most blessed of all lives, delighting in it

[Illustration: _Fountains Abbey._

_From the South East._

_Photo. Watson._      _Art Repro. Co.]

all, finding in the cloister the four-square city of God which is
pictured in the Book of the Revelation. Some came from love of leisure,
or of simple peace and quiet: the worse ones, disposed to be respectably
idle; the better, finding the outer world too boisterous for their
gentle souls. Some came because they were disappointed; some because
they had failed; some because they had suddenly seen the emptiness of
common life, the baseness of much of it, the flagrant evil of some of
it, and had come out of it that they might live to a good purpose.

Thus Ralph, the seventh abbot, had begun life as a soldier. He was a
contemporary of Robin Hood, who in the ballad met a friar of Fountains
and by him was soundly ducked in the middle of the little river. Richard
of the Lion Heart was at that time ruling England after his fashion. Men
were marching across Europe to the Holy Land. The profession of arms
must have appealed strongly in those days to the heroic, and even to
the religious nature of many men. But Ralph did not like it. It
displeased him much. And one day, coming to Fountains, where his father
had already become a monk, he consulted a lay-brother, whose name was
Sunnulph, _homo simplex et illiteratus_ but wise in the counsels of God.
And presently, the soldier and the brother each had a dream in the same
day. The knight dreamed that he was in a church, and that the figure on
the crucifix cried saying, “Why do you not come? Why do you wait?” To
which he replied with tears, “Behold, Lord, I come!” The monk, sleeping
in the long dormitory over the storehouse, saw the soldier dressed in a
monastic habit. So Ralph became a monk, and presently an abbot.

The possibility of that promotion brought some men into the monastery.
In a world hopelessly divided into classes, the monastery was the
residence of democracy. Here the humblest man, if he could but read and
write, might rise as he deserved, to be the kitchener, the hospitaller,
the sacrist, the cellarer; some day--who could tell?--the abbot, wearing
a mitre, consorting on terms of equality with the noblest in the realm,
ruling his fellow men.

But here are the brethren sitting in the chill cloister, reading their
good books, and awaiting the day. At the first light the bell rang and
they went again into the church for the psalms of lauds. After that,
they returned to the dormitory and washed their hands and faces in the
room over the river. By this time the sun was fairly up, and the hour
was come for the psalms of prime. The first psalm, according to the
gracious arrangement of St. Benedict, they said very slowly, in order to
give late-comers time to get in. Prime was followed by mass or by
chapter meeting, the order differing with the season of the year. The
monastic year was in two parts: winter began on September 14, being
Holy Cross day, a date still used in the Prayer-Book for determining the
autumnal ember days; summer began at Easter.

Out of the church, from prime or mass, the brethren proceeded to the
chapter-house. This great hall opened through three noble arches from
the east walk of the cloister. Two of these arches were blocked, as it
appears, by book closets; but not at the beginning. The books were
probably stored at first, as in other Cistercian abbeys, in the room
between the transept and the chapter-house. Afterwards this room was put
to other uses.

At the further end and on the sides the brothers sat on triple tiers of
stone benches. The meeting began with a reading from the monastic book
of martyrs, how this brother and that in the old time had lain down his
life for his Master. Then there were prayers; and sometimes a sermon,
to the hearing of which the lay brothers might be summoned. Then was
read a chapter from the Rule of St. Benedict, a custom which gave its
name both to the meeting and to the house in which it was held. Thus
their high ideal was kept continually before them. Once a week a list
was read of the household duties and of the brethren to whom they were
assigned. For these homely tasks came to the monks in turn. One after
another, they cooked the dinner, or waited on the table, or swept the
dormitory. Finally, cases of discipline were considered.

In a life which at best was somewhat monotonous and narrow, the minor
annoyances of human fellowship would easily be exaggerated. The rule of
silence could not restrain the brothers from thinking; and some of the
thoughts would naturally take the direction which is indicated in
Browning’s “Soliloquy in a Spanish Cloister.” The chapter meeting was,
accordingly, a place for the summary adjustment of all the petty
grievances. Brother Robert made his complaint against Brother William,
and Brother William confessed or explained, and whoever was adjudged to
be at fault was properly punished: sometimes by loss of precedence,
sometimes by lack of dinner; in serious cases, by flogging. Down got the
brother on the cold floor, paved with tombstones of past abbots, and
there was soundly whipped, for the good of his soul and for the
edification of the brethren. When whipping was not sufficient, he was
put in prison. Under the abbot’s lodgings, beneath the ground, were
three convenient dungeons, in whose walls and floor are to be seen to
this day the staples for the chains.

It is not likely that these dungeons were in frequent use. Many hard
things were, indeed, said about the monks at the time of the
suppression, but it must be remembered that they were said by
interested persons in the heat of controversy. Even then, it was agreed
that in the “great and solemn monasteries,” such as Fountains, religion
was “right well kept.” The monks were slandered that they might the more
conveniently be robbed. Henry VIII. desired for various reasons, good
and bad, to destroy the monasteries and take possession of their lands
and treasures. He desired also, like all the Tudors, to keep the good
will of the people. The royal commissioners, sent to visit the religious
houses and report upon them, understood the situation and met it. They
showed that the monasteries were so bad that a good nation ought to be
happy to have its king suppress them. It is true that the enthusiasm for
the monastic life was waning; the best men were turning their energies
and finding their ideals in other directions. The strength and devotion
of the people were being put into politics, into preaching, into the
practical life of the parish. Moreover, there had gradually grown up a
social as well as a religious separation between the monks and their
neighbours. Fountains Abbey, for example, was built, as we have seen, by
the benefactions of rich and noble persons. It was on that side an
aristocratic institution. It differed in this respect from the parish
churches which were erected and maintained by the plain people, and
especially by prosperous citizens of the mercantile order. Mr.
Micklethwaite has put the situation clearly in his paper on “The
Cistercian Order.” “To a citizen or a franklin,” he says, “a monk was a
dignitary, but the parish priest was his neighbour and friend, and the
parish church was his own.” This fact, that the great substantial middle
class were no longer deeply interested in the abbeys, not only accounts
in some measure for the indifference with which they witnessed their
destruction, but for the difficulty which the monasteries found at last
in getting recruits among men of this good kind. The personal quality
deteriorated. There were bad monks, no doubt, as there are still bad
ministers; and the few bad ones attracted more attention than all the
cloistered saints. And, anyhow, the life which they were endeavouring to
live was an abnormal life, apart from the wholesome influences of
natural human society, and from the helpful engagements of the common
routine. The monasteries inevitably degenerated. But “an enemy,” as
Burke said, “is a bad witness; a robber is a worse.” The quiet judgment
of the modern historian is in favour of the monks, and finds most of
them to have been men of respectable and pious lives. The sober persons
in white cassocks, who confessed faults in the chapter meeting and
cheerfully suffered chastisement for them to which the man in the street
gave not a moment’s thought, had a passionate longing to be good. They
were intent upon the living of a righteous life.

The day’s work would begin about seven o’clock. In the winter it
continued until three in the afternoon, making an eight-hour day. In the
summer there was a long intermission while the sun was high and hot, but
two hours of it were occupied in study. During the day the church bell
rang for the offices of terce and sext and nones; but these were brief
services, and men who were hard at work at a distance stopped where they
stood, and said them under the sky. There was a bite of breakfast called
_mixtum_--a piece of bread and somewhat wherewith to wash it down--which
was served before the work of the day began to those who were so old or
so young as to be unfit for their tasks without it. In the summer the
meal of the day was eaten at noon, and after it the brethren lay on
their beds in the dormitory and slept for an hour; or, if they chose,
read a book during that time, lying down, being careful not to stretch
out their feet into the passage between the beds, and turning the leaves
quietly so as not to disturb their sleeping neighbours. Late in the
summer afternoon there was a slight repast of bread and fruit. In the
winter, until Lent, the one meal was served when the brethren came in
from work; that is after three o’clock; in Lent, not until about five.

The monastic ideal of seclusion from the world demanded economic
independence. Everything that was needed in the monastery was to be
produced upon the premises. That, at the least, implied a garden for
vegetables, and an orchard for fruit, and a field for corn with a mill
in which to grind it, and ponds for fish, and woods for fuel. It meant
architects, builders, masons, carpenters and plumbers. In the infirmary,
which was the abbey hospital, there must be physicians and attendants.
In the guest-house, which was the abbey inn, there must be porters,
hostlers, cooks. The common details of a domestic establishment of a
hundred men were enough to keep many persons busy. It is true that much
of the heavy work was done by the lay brothers; but every choir brother
had his share also, and went out daily with axe or spade, with
fishing-rod or pruning-hook, with basket or barrow, to his appointed
task. The crops must be planted or garnered, the apples must be picked,
the hay must be got in, the wood must be cut, the buildings must be kept
in repair, horses must be shod, sheep must be shorn, and at all seasons,
in all weather, and under all circumstances, dinner must be cooked.

Accordingly, after the daily mass and chapter, this substantial activity
engaged the mind and muscle of the monastery. The abbot betook himself
to his executive affairs, the prior and the sub-prior to their daily
inspection of the establishment, the cellarer to his house-keeping, the
sacrist to his care of the church, the bursar to his accounts, the
infirmarius to his hospital, the terrararius to his inn, the almoner to
his dependents at the gate, the master of the novices to his school, the
scriptor to his copying, the kitchener to his cooking, others to the
fields and forests. For such as were unemployed about these matters,
there was the cloister with its books, and the church with its frequent
services. It is likely that there were idle monks; for the monk was of
like passions with us, and was beset by the same temptations which
assail us. As the Abbey increased in wealth, and the early ardour of the
monastic life began to cool, there was, no doubt, a disposition to hire
men to do some of the homely tasks which at first the monks had done
themselves. But the ideal of the monastic life was an active day,
wherein from dawn till dark there should not be an idle moment.
Indolence, as St. Benedict declared, is an enemy of the soul; and all
his arrangements of time and task were made with that in mind. Eastern
monasticism had two dominant notes, of pain and prayer. St. Benedict
took pain out and put work in the place of it. No man was to afflict his
soul or body needlessly, but every man was to devote himself, for his
physical and spiritual good, to vigorous exercise. The idle monk was
like the idle minister: he existed, but not often.

All the work was done, as far as was possible, in silence. Out of the
east walk of the cloister, beside the chapter-house, opened the parlour.
There, as the name indicates, the monks could talk. The original rule
specified only the dormitory and the refectory as places wherein speech
was forbidden; but silence came to be the common habit of the monastic
life, its enforcement depending much upon the disposition of the abbot.
The monastery was the abode of blessed stillness. Within its walls men
lived in peace and quiet. They did their tasks without conversation.
They read their books, and ate their meals, thinking their own
uninterrupted thoughts. They sat in the cloister, where the wind and the
sun played in the grass, and were altogether undisturbed. It was not so
much a penitential as a protective silence, good for the soul, and

There was even a bit of quiet pleasure in the midst of these silent
labours. In the south walk of the cloister, between the dormitory stairs
and the refectory, was the warming house, the abbey fireside. Here, in
the cold weather, the monks came to warm their hands. The abbot had a
fire-place of his own; the cellarer had one in his office; and the
infirmary and the guest houses were cheerfully warmed; but the common
brotherhood had but this one hearth. Here was concentrated all the heat
of the place, in the huge fire-places. One of these great openings is
now blocked, having been disused before the suppression, when the
number of monks was growing smaller, but the other is still ready for a
load of logs, whose smoke would pour out of the tall chimney. Two large
openings in the west wall gave some heat to the refectory. Here, in the
warming house, in Advent, the brothers kept a “solemn banquet” of “figs
and raisins, cakes and ale,” of whose celebration at Durham it is said
that there was “no superfluity or excess, but a scholastical and
moderate congratulation amongst themselves.” A door in the south-west
corner opened upon a little court; the woodhouse stood in the eastern
part of it, and a wooden bridge, from the refectory corner, led across
the river. Over this bridge came the stout brothers in their gowns of
brown or white, their arms full of wood. At Durham, near the warming
house, there was a garden and a bowling alley.

The muniment room at Studley Royal contains among its treasures a

[Illustration: _Fountains Abbey._

_From the South West._

_Photo. Frith._      _Art Repro. Co.]

book of accounts of the bursar, kept in the time of Abbot Grenewell
(1442-1471). There it appears that they had “a pair of clavichords” at
the Abbey--the pianoforte of the Middle Ages. This would seem to imply
domestic music. Somebody must have played, while the brethren stood
about and sang. There are also various records of fees paid to persons
who went about the country from abbey to castle, from manor-house to
market-square, for the entertainment of their neighbours. Minstrels came
from Beverley, with those of Lord Arundell, of Lord Beaumont, of Lord
Fitzhugh, even of the King; who not only sang but acted as conjurers,
gymnasts, contortionists, and variety showmen. Sometimes the audience of
the Abbey was given to a story-teller--_fabulator_--“the story-teller of
the Earl of Salisbury”; with selections from the Hundred Merry Tales or
the _Gesta Romanorum_. Players came from Thirsk and Ripon. Sometimes
the entertainer was a jester, or, as they said, a fool. One of the
bursar’s items shows a payment of fourpence “to a fool called Solomon
(who came again).” These diversions would perhaps be given on the
cellarer’s terrace; that is, in the space to the west of the cellarium,
which was once enclosed within a wall, from the church porch to the
cellarer’s office.

One of Abbot Grenewell’s purchases was a great clock, made by John
Ripley, and probably set in the south transept of the church. In the
middle of the hot day in summer, after the service of sext, and late in
the afternoon in winter, after nones, when the clock pointed to the
proper hour, a bell in the cloister rang for dinner; either a bell or a
board struck with a mallet. Outside the refectory door, on either hand,
were stone troughs with running water from the river. In the middle of
the cloister is a great stone bason. When that welcome sound was heard,
the brothers washed their hands in the troughs or in the bason, wiping
them on a roller towel which hung beside the door. Then they entered
their noble dining-hall, lofty as a church, with ceiling of wood and
floor of stone, wainscoted above the height of a man’s head, and having
down the midst a row of marble pillars. At the end opposite the door,
and along the wall on both sides, were stone benches, and in front of
them were tables of oak, covered with linen cloth. The prior commonly
presided, the abbot dining in his own lodgings. All stood in silence
till the prior was in his place, and remained standing while he rang a
little bell during a time sufficient for the saying of the fifty-first
psalm. When the bell stopped, the priest of the week said grace, and
they all sat down.

In the fair gallery of stone in the west wall, deeply recessed and
lighted by great windows, reached by a short flight of stone steps, the
reader stood to accompany the silent meal with words of Holy Scripture
and of ancient authors. The kitchen adjoined the refectory on the west,
having its great ovens in the middle of the room, and entered from the
refectory by a service door which had a round revolving shelf across the
middle of it. Between the door to the gallery and the door to the
kitchen there was perhaps a sideboard; and in the corners toward the
cloister were cupboards for cups and plates and spoons, each provided
with a sink. There were forty-five silver spoons here when the inventory
was made, but only three small cups or mazers, and one big one, of
silver. This would appear to indicate that the cups and plates were of
some cheap material and not worth counting.

The bill of fare showed bread and vegetables and fruit and fish.
Sometimes there was meat, but this was cooked in the kitchen of the
infirmary, and served in the misericord, or House of Merciful Meals. No
flesh which had ever walked about upon four feet was dressed in the
cloister kitchen or served in the cloister refectory. But fowls were
eaten, and eggs were a staple of monastic diet. The monks had wine and
beer for drink, according to the custom of the country. In the book of
signs--_De Signis_--which shows how the monks of Ely indicated their
wishes at the silent table, four gestures are set down to mean beer:
signifying good beer, _bona servisia_, small beer, _mediocris servisia_,
smaller beer, _debilis servisia_, and a very common beer called
_skagmen_. In the “Mirroure of Our Ladye,” the sister of Sion House who
desired an apple was directed to “put thy thumb in thy fist, and close
thy hand, and move afore thee to and fro”; for milk, “draw thy left
little finger in the manner of milking”; for mustard, “hold thy nose in
the upper part of thy right fist, and rub it”; for salt, “philip with
thy right thumb and his forefinger over the left thumb”; for wine,
“move thy forefinger up and down upon the end of thy thumb before thine
eye.” A dinner to the accompaniment of these cheerful communications,
while one read aloud from a good book, may well have been a pleasant

At Ely, during the week beginning August 5, 1336, the brethren of the
monastery had on Sunday eggs, chickens, pigeons and dripping; on Monday,
pottage and cod; on Tuesday, fresh meat and mutton; on Wednesday, fresh
fish, white herring and cod; on Thursday, fresh meat, white herring and
cod; on Friday, white herring and cod; and on Saturday, dripping, milk,
white herring and cod.

When Abbot Grenewell went to attend the assizes at York, as he did in
1455, at the March session of the court, he dined the first day on fish
alone; on the second day, having guests at his table, he added salt and
mustard to the fish; on the third day, fish was served with figs,
raisins and gingerbread; the fare of the fourth day was like that of
the second, and the fifth day followed the third. With this were bread
and beer and wine.

Monastic meals, though monotonous, were wholesome; and there was a good
deal of variety in the preparation of the fish. St. Bernard, in his day,
complained of the ingenuity with which eggs were cooked in religious
houses. “Who can describe,” he cries, “in how many ways the very eggs
are tossed and tormented, with what eager care they are turned over and
under, made soft and hard, beaten up, fried, roasted, stuffed, now
served minced with other things, and now by themselves! The very
external appearance of the thing is cared for, so that the eye may be
charmed as well as the palate.” As the monasteries increased in wealth,
there would be a constant temptation to dine more abundantly. Eating is
not only one of the earliest but one of the most universal of arts, and
no cook nor convert could completely resist its allurements. For the
most part, however, the abbey fare was fit food for soldiers, for men in
training for a war with Satan.

Thus the silent meal progressed, the level voice of the reader at his
desk in the gallery, accompanying the cheerful sounds of honest eating
and drinking. No brother was permitted to leave until the meal was
ended, nor walk about while his companions were eating. Neither was he
allowed to wash his cup with his fingers, though he might wipe it with
his hand. He was forbidden to wipe either his hands or his knife on the
table-cloth,--until he had first cleansed them on his bread. When he
helped himself to salt it must be with his knife; when he drank, he must
hold the cup with both hands. “Eyes on your plates, hands on the table,
ears to the reader, heart to God”: thus ran the rule. Then the prior
rang a sharp note on his bell. If the great mazer of silver with a gilt
band, which is mentioned in the inventory, was a grace cup, then it was
at this moment that it went its round, each brother lifting it to his
lips, holding its two handles. Then, two by two, they marched into the
church and said the miserere psalm.

Out of the cloister, in the south-east corner, between the parlour and
the day-stairs to the dormitory, a passage led to the buildings which
lay beyond. The beginning of this passage crossed a long room which
extended to the south, whose central line of pillars upheld the
dormitory floor. The ceiling was low and the windows were at the south
end, so that its use is not apparent. It may have been the chamber of
the novices; it may have been the tool-house. It may have been an office
or checker, wherein the master of the warming house kept his hogshead of
wine, and his spices, figs and walnuts, with which to mitigate the
austerities of Lent. Or the chamberlain may have used it, whose charge
was to furnish the brethren with linsey-woolsey for their shirts and
sheets; in which case, the tailor may have sat in the light of the south
windows, mending frayed scapularies and darning holes in cowls and

The passage led into a gallery, with open arcading of stone on either
side, and a second storey over. Out of the gallery, to the right, opened
the abbot’s lodgings, where a long hall gave entrance into several
rooms. Beside the door a stairway rose to the upper chambers, which
appear to have been large and light, with comfortable fireplaces, and
oriel windows looking out to east and south over the river. In one of
these rooms, or in the misericord which was connected with this building
by a hall, the abbot dined with visitors of state. Here, at the time of
the inventory, were two gilded basins of silver, three silver ewers,
eight “standing pieces” with covers, nine “flat pieces,” all of silver,
with a goblet and some spoons: so that the abbot’s table must have
presented a shining and sumptuous appearance. The open space bounded by
the dormitory basement on the west, the arcaded passage on the north,
the rere-dorter or necessarium on the south, and the abbot’s lodgings on
the east, may have been the abbot’s garden, his _hortus inclusus_.
Somewhere, at a convenient distance, must have been the abbot’s stable
for his six horses--_sex equi ad stabulum domini abbatis_,--in charge of
his boy, whose russet suit cost fifteen pence. The chalice, paten and
cruets which were in the abbot’s house would seem to mean that one of
the rooms was an oratory, with an altar. Under the abbot’s lodgings were
the cells for offenders.

From the north-west corner of the second story, over the entrance, a
passage opened into the upper course of the long gallery. Here was a
hall with many windows, warmed here and there with fire-places,
extending east to the infirmary, north to the chapel of nine altars,
and west to the dormitory. Here the abbot could walk; here, in the oriel
which projected into the chapel, he could say his prayers and hear mass
quite by himself. He was the only member of the monastic family who had
the privilege of privacy.

The gallery is almost entirely ruined, but a comparison with the
arrangements of other monastic houses suggests that the upper storey of
the western part, next to the dormitory, was the library or the
writing-room. Here, where there was plenty of light, the records and
accounts may have been kept. Here the books may have been copied which
were used in the choir, and in the cloister and in the school. The
completed records, especially such as related to the abbey lands, may
have been stored in the room over the warming house, now used as a
museum for fragments of pottery and broken carvings found in the ruins.
This room, reached by the day stairs to the dormitory, had a bar at the
door by which the occupant could lock himself in. This bar is a
perplexing fact, and nobody has as yet explained why any official of the
abbey should need to defend himself against intrusion in this peremptory
fashion. If this was the muniment room, it held the great books of the
Chartulary of Fountains, of which the volume A to C is in the British
Museum. D to J is at Ripley Castle, and K to M is in the library of the
late Sir Thomas Phillips. The remaining volumes are not yet traced. Here
were kept the bundles of title-deeds, now at Studley Hall; with pendant
seals, which show that there were neighbouring farmers who attested
their signatures with impressions of Roman gems which their forefathers
had turned up with the plough. The President Book would be kept here,
with its dated list of abbots up to 1471; and the Coucher Book, with
its register of the dealings of the monks with their manors. These two
probably lay by the abbot’s side as he sat in his place in the chapter
house at business meetings. They are now preserved in the muniment room
at Studley Hall.

The long corridor, which connected the cloister with the infirmary,
passed, as we have seen, the abbot’s lodging on the right and the
entrance-way to the chapel of the nine altars on the left. Opposite the
chapel entrance there was an opening into the coal-yard. Coal was found
here when the recent excavations were made. In the south-east corner of
this yard lay the abbey rubbish heap, the materials of which were
apparently shovelled out from the window beside it, whose sill shows the
marks of this daily exercise. Here were found various broken dishes, a
sickle blade, a copper can, bushels of oyster shells, and bones
identified as belonging to beef, mutton, pork and venison, together
with a great quantity of ashes.

The room out of which this refuse was thrown is reached by a passage
which opens out of the long corridor close by the infirmary door. Here,
according to Mr. Walbran, stood the reservoir, fed by a lead pipe from a
spring on the high bank.

The meat bones in the rubbish heap suggest the near neighbourhood of the
House of Merciful Meals. This is the room which lies to the south of the
reservoir and the coal-yard. A screen extended across the east end of
the misericord, and there was a dais for the high table at the west end.
Along the north wall are still remains of one of the stone benches.
Tables stood here, as in the refectory of the cloister.

The long corridor ended at the door of the infirmary. This was a noble
group of buildings, now ruined almost to the ground. There was a great
hall, one of the finest in the kingdom, with two rows of stately
pillars. It had a fire-place at each end, and the aisles were divided by
partitions into small rooms, some having fire-places of their own. Back
of it, to the east, reached by broad stone steps, eight of which remain,
stood a two-storied structure, with vaulted basement probably for
domestic stores, and with upper apartments which may have served for the
entertainment of guests of unusual distinction. Up these stairs, then,
attended by officers of the Abbey, went the Nevilles, the Marmions, the
Mauleverers, on their visits to the monastery. In the chamber above
slept the abbot of Clairvaux, when he came on his round of inspection of
the Cistercian houses. Adjoining this lodging, on the south, was the
chapel, into which a flight of narrow stairs descended from this
guest-room. The base of the altar is still _in situ_. Next the chapel,
with a yard between, was the spacious kitchen, whose great round ovens
are still in place. Here, was cooked the food for the infirmary, for the
misericord, and for the occupants of the lodging. A staircase beside the
chapel-door seems to have led from the kitchen to the guest-room, over
the arch of the entrance.

Here, in the infirmary, were gathered the old men, who had been monks
for fifty years. Here the sick were cared for. Here regularly, in
groups, a fourth part of the brethren at a time, came all the monks in
succession for the periodical _minutio_, or letting of blood, according
to the medical discipline of the time. In this comfortable seclusion
they regained their strength. The doors of the infirmary were shut
against the harsher regulations of the monastic life. Fires blazed on
the hearth and roared up the great chimneys, and there were good things
on the table at dinner time. The place was both a hospital and an old
men’s home. The buildings extended over the river, which flowed in four
tunnels beneath. To the north, beside the chapel of the nine altars, lay
the cemetery. In this quiet place, remote from even the peaceful stir of
the cloister, the monks expected to end their days. Their longest
journey out of this blessed haven was when they crept along the
corridor, and the nine-altars chapel, and the presbytery aisle, to their
place on the stout oak bench against the back of the rood screen, to
hear mass on some high festival. They awaited only one longer journey,
when they should be carried out of the infirmary chapel to the green

When the time for that last journey drew near, the abbot came to
administer the sacrament, with all the brethren assembled. Then a cross
of ashes was traced upon the floor, with a merciful covering of straw
upon it and a quilt on that; there the sick man was laid. When the
brother’s breath grew faint and difficult, and it was plain that the
moment of his departure was at hand, a board in the cloister was struck
repeated blows with a mallet, and all the monks hastened to their
brother’s side. Thus he closed his eyes, amidst the prayers of his
friends, and passed from the peace of the monastery to the rest of

This quiet end of life was continually symbolised in the quiet ending of
the monastic day. Late in the afternoon, the office of vespers was said
in the church, somewhat elaborately, with much singing and
organ-playing. After vespers, in the twilight, the monks sat in the
cloister, about the refectory door, and somebody read aloud from a good
book, preferably the Collations of Cassian. On Saturday afternoons
during the reading, the brothers by turns sat in a row on the stone
benches which were over the lavatory troughs on either side of the
refectory door, and had their feet washed in the running water by the
cooks of that week and of the week to come. Then the compline prayers
were said, in the summer about seven o’clock, in the winter about eight.
And at the end of the service, every monk pulled his cowl over his head
and went to bed.



For two hundred and fifty years--from the time of Abbot John of Kent,
whose day ended in 1247, to the time of Abbot John, called Darnton,
whose day began in 1479--no notable additions were made to the fabric of
the Abbey. The energies of the brethren were directed to the diligent
living of their daily life.

In Craven, the Abbey owned a hundred square miles within a ring fence;
in the neighbourhood of Ripon, their lands ran in one direction for
thirty uninterrupted miles. The monks of the daughter house of Kirkstead
had farms in Lincolnshire, forty thousand acres of pasture land in
Wildmore Fen, and property in Boston, Lincoln and London. They had
tithes of the deer in Kirkstead Chase and the swans on Witham river.
They sold wool in Flanders. They maintained several large mills and an
iron works. And Fountains was much richer than Kirkstead. These
possessions brought heavy responsibilities, and made a great demand on
the monks’ time. There were tenants and title-deeds to be looked after,
collections to be made, markets to be considered, with buying and
selling, and the care of sheep and cattle.

In addition to these cares, the abbot was the official visitor of eleven
other abbeys--the eight daughter houses, with three which had grown out
of the first--and went about among them on journeys of inspection and
encouragement and counsel. Also, as late as the fourteenth century, he
had a seat in Parliament, where he wore his mitre and discussed the
affairs of the wide world. Early in the fifteenth century he attended
the Council of Constance, where he heard Wyclif condemned and saw Hus
burned. Late in the same century, when Henry VII., the last of the
mediæval kings, kept St. George’s Day in state at York, it was the Abbot
of Fountains who read the epistle at high mass in the Minster.

This abbot was John Darnton, who resumed again the old enthusiasm for
making the Abbey beautiful. He put new windows in the place of the plain
old ones, in the west end of the nave, and in the chapel of the nine
altars, east and north and south. After him, on the very eve of the
Suppression, looking forward to centuries more of prosperity and peace.
Abbot Marmaduke Huby built the noble tower.

About this time the Abbey bought a map--“a paper map of the world”--for
which the bursar paid eight pence. There it hung upon the parlour wall,
that all the monks might see what sort of place they lived in--a small
world, whose centre was at the altar of St. Peter’s Church in Rome. But
while the new glass was being put in the big new windows the tidings
came that a new world had been found across the sea; and to this
expansion it soon became necessary to readjust the horizons both of maps
and of ideas. In the process of this readjustment the Abbey came to an

When the Reformation began, the abbeys were all against it. To the men
of the cloister, living by rule and wonted to silence, the bold ideas of
the robust prophets of the new time had a harsh and forbidding sound.
Rumours of the current sayings and doings found their way into the
Abbey--the farmer made report to the cellarer when he brought in his
beets and onions--and the brethren shuddered to hear them, as men shake
and shiver upon whom the cold wind blows around the corner after a day
spent by the warm fire. In the quickening contention between the old
learning and the new the monks held with the past.

Thus it was also in the increasingly embittered politics of the time. At
Jervaulx Abbey, on a July Sunday in 1536, a monk sharply interrupted the
preacher who was maintaining that the king was the head of the Church.
The monk said that he neither would nor could take the king’s highness
for to be the only and supreme head of the Church of England. He
affirmed that the Pope was the head of the Church, and not the king. And
his brethren agreed with him. That was what they held at Fountains. On
one side were the king and the bishops, on the other side were the Pope
and the monks. The contrast between abbey and cathedral--between the
monks’ church and the bishops’ church,--is of like significance with the
contrast between the castles of Kenilworth and Warwick. The two castles
took different sides in a great national division; and Kenilworth,
which chose the side of Charles, and lost, is a battered ruin, while
Warwick, which chose the side of Cromwell, and won, is a stately
inhabited mansion. The abbey and the cathedral made their choice in an
earlier division. It needs but a glance to tell which chose the side
that was defeated.

Fountains, like the other monasteries, was ill prepared for the heavy
storm. The convent had decreased in numbers. One of the fire-places in
the warming-house, one of the ovens in the refectory kitchen, had been
blocked up as being no longer needed. The partitions down the rows of
pillars in the nave had been removed, for there were no lay brothers to
sit in the long lines of stalls. Men were asking menacing questions as
to the practical value of these vast establishments which were
withdrawing from the general life of the nation so much wealth and
strength. Parliament suppressed nearly four hundred of the lesser
monasteries, partly on the ground that they were places of evil living,
partly on the ground that their revenues were needed for the better
benefit of the people; and there were few complaints. Though the greater
abbeys were expressly exempted at that time from the accusations of
immoral conduct, even they could not escape the charge of rendering but
a scanty and uncertain service to the community.

It was the misfortune of Fountains, at this critical time, to have an
incompetent and unworthy abbot; though even a saint could not have saved
the place from the hand of the spoiler. In 1530, the Earl of
Northumberland appealed to Cardinal Wolsey, in behalf of the brethren of
Fountains, to remove the abbot. Abbot Thirsk, he said, doth not
endeavour himself like a discreet father towards the convent and the
profit of the house, but hath, against the same, as well sold and
wasted the great part or all of their store in cattle, as also their
woods in divers countries, neither does he maintain the service of God
like to the ancient custom there. The King’s commissioners, Layton and
Legh, said worse things about him. They declared that he was defamed _a
toto populo_. They complained that there was no truth in him, one day
denying and the next confessing various sins laid to his charge. They
were especially indignant because one night he took secretly out of the
sacristy or treasure room a gold cross adorned with stones, and in
company with a jeweller, who had come from London, whom he took into his
lodgings, did abstract from the cross an emerald and a ruby, which the
London jeweller bought of him, cheating the abbot badly. It is plain
that the poor man was at his wit’s end, sorely badgered by these
insistent visitors, seeing the ruin of his holy house, and trying, if
possible, to save something out of it. Finally, he resigned his office
into the hands of the commissioners, who assigned him a scanty pension.
He took refuge in the Abbey of Jervaulx, where he became involved in the
revolutionary proceedings of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and atoned for
such misdeeds as he may have committed by being hanged at Tyburn.

Abbot Thirsk’s successor, Marmaduke Bradley, was selected by the
commissioners. They said that he was the wisest monk in England; and he
showed that he was even as wise, as the Bible says, as a serpent, by
doing what his masters bade him. In 1539, at their demand, he
surrendered the Abbey to the King.

The commissioners came down from London, late in the November of that
year, and called a meeting, probably in the chapter house. There they
assembled the abbot and the convent and the chief people of the
neighbourhood, to whom they duly declared “the godly determination of
the King’s majesty to alter and change that house, with many others,
from an unchristian life to a trade of virtuous and honest living.” The
thirty-two brethren were promised proper pensions. They were accordingly
advised “to submit themselves to his Majesty’s clemency and goodness,
and by way of surrender to yield up into his Grace’s hands their
monastery, with all the lands, possessions, jewels, plate, ornaments,
and other things belonging to the same.” The commissioners then took
possession of the convent seal, with all the keys, and made an
inventory. Thus politely, and even piously, was this royal robbery

The abbot betook himself to Ripon, where he held a prebendal stall. The
prior and his thirty brethren were turned briskly out of doors to face
the approaching winter. Despoiled of their own garments they were given
suits of citizen’s clothes, and were set outside the gates of their
fair paradise to make their way, as best they could, over the strange
roads of the cold world.

The gold and silver of the rich altars, with all things of value such as
could be moved, were put in waggons and sent to the king. Distant though
the Abbey was from any town, the rumour of these proceedings would
attract a crowd. And the crowd stole what they could. The servants of
the commissioners, who had a better chance, stole more, according to
their opportunity. They rode about in those days, from the wreck of one
abbey to the ruin of another, with rich copes for travelling cloaks and
chasubles for saddle cloths. The master thief was abroad, and it was a
pity if the little thieves could not have a share.

Then the windows were taken out, so carefully that but a handful of the
precious glass remained in all the ruins, and were disposed of, nobody
knows how or where. The bells were taken down and carried off; one to
be hung, tradition says, in the cathedral tower at Ripon. Finally, the
roofs were pulled off, and the lead brought into the dismantled church;
and there between the great pillars, betwixt the broken altars of St.
Mary and St. Bernard, in a fire whose fuel was the carved work of the
choir stalls, it was melted into convenient shape for the market.

An eye-witness has left a description of the spoiling of the dependent
house of Roche Abbey. “The sudden spoil fell,” he says, “the same day of
their departure from the house.... The church was the first thing that
was put to the spoil, then the abbot’s lodging, dorter and frater
[_i.e._, dormitory and refectory] with the cloister and all the
buildings thereabout within the abbey walls.... The persons that cast
the lead into fodders plucked up all the seats in the choir where the
monks sat when they said

[Illustration: _Fountains Hall._

Photo. Frith.      Art Repro. Co.

service, which were like to seats in minsters, and burned them and
melted the lead therewith, although there was wood plenty within a
flight-shot of them, for the abbey stood among the woods.” Everybody was
busy, he says, pilfering what he could and hiding it among the rocks,
“so that it seemeth that every person bent himself to filch and spoil
what he could.” At Fountains, the ashes of such fires remained until the
last century, amidst the general wreck.

The place was sold within a few months to Richard Gresham, a gentleman
of London, who paid seven thousand pounds for it. In 1597, the heirs of
Gresham sold it to Stephen Procter, a courtier of Elizabeth, who pulled
down some of the buildings outside the cloister that he might get
materials for his fine new Fountains Hall, near the west gate. His
affairs falling into great confusion the place was again sold, and
thereafter passed from hand to hand until, in the middle of the
eighteenth century, it came into the possession of William Aislabie, the
owner of the neighbouring estate of Studley Royal. From whose
granddaughter, Miss Lawrence, it passed by will to the Earl de Grey, the
uncle of the present owner, the Marquess of Ripon.

                  Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & CO.
                          London & Edinburgh



[Illustration: Plan of the Precinct FOUNTAINS ABBEY]

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