Fountains Abbey

two ladies walk past the autumnal ruins of the abbey

The dramatic abbey ruins at Fountains are the largest monastic ruins in the country. Step back into a rich and dramatic past and imagine what life would have been like for the monks who first came here all those years ago.

Whether you’re here to soak up the history and atmosphere, or to explore every corner with the family, the abbey ruins will have a special place in your memory. 

The abbey’s beginnings

The abbey was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks from St Mary’s in York. They'd grown fed up of the extravagant and rowdy way that the monks lived in York and so they escaped seeking to live a devout and simple lifestyle elsewhere. This was how they came to Fountains. 

By the time three years had passed the monks had become settled into their new way of life and had been admitted to the austere Cistercian Order and with that came an important development – the introduction of the Cistercian system of lay brothers.

Introduction of the lay brothers

The lay brothers (what we would now call labourer) relieved the monks from routine jobs, giving them more time to dedicate to God rather than farming the land to get by. It was because of the help of the lay brothers that Fountains became so wealthy through wool production, lead mining, cattle rearing, horse breeding and stone quarrying.

" Idleness is the enemy of the soul. For this reason the brethren should be occupied at certain times in manual labour and at other times in sacred reading."
- From St Benedicts Rule

It wasn’t all plain sailing

Bad harvests hit the monks hard and they also had to deal with raids from the Scots throughout the 14th-century, which led to economic collapse. This was only made worse by the Black Death which struck the country in 1348.  

Despite its financial problems, the Abbey remained important. The abbacy of Marmaduke Huby (1495 - 1526) marked a period of revival and the great tower built by Huby symbolises his hope for the Abbey’s future.  

The Dissolution

The Abbey was abruptly closed down in 1539 in the Dissolution of the Monasteries ordered by Henry VIII, and the abbot, prior and monks were sent away with pensions.

Fountains Abbey today

The estate was sold by the Crown to a merchant, Sir Richard Gresham. It remained in private hands until the 1960s, including William and John Aislabie who designed Studley Royal water garden of which the abbey became an integral part of. The National Trust bought the estate from the West Riding County Council in 1983.

Join a guided tour of the abbey and learn about its secrets.
a group of adults enjoying a guided tour of the abbey ruins.

Join a tour and learn more

Join in one of the abbey tours led by our expert guides to really soak it all up, or visit Porter’s Lodge to read all about the abbey and monks for yourself. 

We're an UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to Studley Royal gardens. The abbey sits within the grounds of the garden - making one dramatic view. The Aislabie's delighted their Georgian guests with visits to the ruined abbey, as you can see in the picture above.