Founded in 1132, Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and best preserved of the ruined abbeys in the United Kingdom. The Cisterian foundation operated for around 400 years until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.
The abbey complex is located in the valley of the River Skell which cuts across the site, with some of the building spanning the river.
The foundation started following a riot in the Benedictine House of St Mary’s Abbey in York in 1132. Some fo the monks were expelled and were taken under the care of the then Archbishop of York (Thurstan) who gave the land as it was ideal for the development of a monastic community, with the river and local topography providing shelter. Natural resources where available is the shape of timber and stone for building. Following the winter of 1133, the monks applied to join the Cistercian order. They were successful becoming the second Abbey in the North Yorkshire to follow the order after Rievaulx.
Walking around the ruins, many features are still discernable.
Immediately underneath the great East Window, with the mullions no longer present is the centre section (three altars) or the Chapel of Nine Altars. The base of the High Altar is slightly further west.
Looking west from below the west window the High Altar is in front of you with the Nave stretching away
As with many Abbeys, a tower was built which still stands basically intact.
The abbey thrived with many endowments, even surviving the looting of Northern England by the Scots after the Battle of Bannckburn. In 1539, the Abbey was surrendered to The Crown following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It was subsequently sold on to a London Merchant in 1540, who dismantled part of the complex to sell materials (timber, stone, lead) to offset to cost of the purchase.
In the 18th century it became part of the Studley Royal Estate. In 1966 the Abbbey came under the guardianship of the country, being managed by the National Trust since 1983.
In 1986, the Abbey and associate parkland was designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO.