Fountains Abbey – lighting up history

Illuminated Abbey

Every Saturday night in October, the National Trust open the fabulous site of the ruins of Fountains Abbey and floodlight the dramatic stone walls, pillars and majestic arches. Once a huge and wealthy place of worship and industry, Fountains Abbey still remains an impressive structure. When we were there it was a dark and stormy night, (the remnants of storm Brian apparently) but at least it stopped raining shortly after our arrival. The Abbey looks incredible lit up with huge golden and white lamps showing every detail of what was once such a finely crafted building.

Monkish majesty

The cellarium of the Abbey with its beautiful vaulted stone ceiling remains pretty much in tact. When we were there, the fine Honley Male voice choir were giving a concert in the cellarium and their voices resonated with an uplifting musical selection, including Bread of Heaven and a song from Phantom of the Opera, through this space that has witnessed history.

Singing in the cloisters

A recording of monks singing in cadence created even more atmosphere among the illuminated ruins, as did the beautiful reflections in the large puddles that became huge dark mirrors created by the recent rainstorm.

A moment of reflection

Parts of the Abbey’s exterior and the cellarium are currently appearing in Gunpowder Plot, the new BBC series about Guy Fawkes and Robert Catesby, starring Kit Harrington of Games of Thrones fame. These men were persecuted catholics, and devised the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in retaliation for James I’s brutality towards those of their faith.

The Abbey at night

The Abbey was transformed for ten days of filming in early 2017 and the cellarium and the steps of Fountains Hall are the backdrop for several scenes adding Gothic ambiance to the programme.

Doing a Banksy

Fountains Abbey near Ripon in North Yorkshire are the largest monastic ruins in the country.
The Abbey was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York seeking to live a devout and simple lifestyle.The monks here were of the austere Cistercian system of lay brothers.It was because of the industrious lay brothers that Fountains Abbey became so wealthy through wool production, lead mining, cattle rearing, horse breeding and stone quarrying.

Monkish majesty

This made it a prime target for Henry VIII who destroyed all the monasteries in his quest to change the religion of England so he could marry Anne Boleyn.  The monks were not killed however but sent

were sent away with pensions. Whether these were index linked or final salary, we don’t know.

The Cellarium

The estate was sold by the Crown to a merchant, Sir Richard Gresham. It remained in private hands until the 1960s. The National Trust then bought the estate from the West Riding County Council in 1983.

Welcome to the Abbey

I had never been to Fountains Abbey before, and the site is much bigger than we were able explore in the pitch dark, even with our lanterns and head torches so I am keen to revisit this special place perhaps in the spring when the days once more become longer and lighter.

Many thanks to Andrew Emms for the fab pictures!
The swelling river Skell




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