Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fountains Hall Gardens, England

Across from Fountains Hall is a small formal garden recreated to reflect the history of the hall and Fountains Abbey, where the hall is located.

Path to the garden

A simple lawn

Another simple lawn

A more elaborate lawn

The gardeners grow various plants and herbs used by the monks. Angelica Archangelica was part of a cure for pestilence, though it was used in conjunction with fasting and bed rest and fervent prayers, so it's not clear what was the most efficacious part of the cure.

Angela Archangela

Arnica montana was known by the name Leopard's Bane. Goethe used it as a tea for his angina. The plant actually irritates the digestive tract and is used today for external wounds or sprains as "Tincture of Arnica."

Leopard's Bane

Hypericum Perforatum is known as St. John's Wart and was classically boiled in wine. For internal ailments, the wine was drunk. For external ailments, the plant was used as an ointment or in a bath. Nowadays it's used as a herbal remedy for depression. Right next to St. John's Wart is Tropaeolum  Majus or Nasturtium. It was used as a disinfectant and to heal wounds. An infusion from the leaves is supposed to help coughs. Nowadays the peppery seeds and flowers are used in salads.

St. John's Wart and Nasturium

The hedge of the garden is Taxus Baccata or English Yew, a common ingredient in witches' brews. The plant was often planted in graveyards due to its long life, suggesting the eternal life hoped for by the deceased. The wood is also used for bows in archery.

English Yew

The garden does have some more prosaic plants, including fruit bearing trees that go well with the climate.


A bridge at the back of the garden leads further into the estates but is not accessible to visitors.

Bridge over calm waters

A local fowl perched on a fence

Lucy enjoyed hanging out in the area, especially on a bit of the Abbey's ruins.

Lucy perched on rocks

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fountains Hall, England

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, Fountains Abbey was sold to a London merchant who stripped the property of its valuable assets. Later, the land was sold in 1597 to Stephen Proctor. He built a manor house called Fountains Hall on the estate, which is still in use today as holiday cottages offered by the National Trust. The main part of the hall is available for viewing, which we did on one of our visits to the Abbey.

Fountain's Hall

Detail of the entrance

The entrance hall features a cross that is a World War II memorial commemorating Charles and Elizabeth Vyner, eldest children of the last owners of the hall. The children died during the war at ages 18 and 19. The inscription reads "When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today."

Cross flanked by a serviceman and a servicewoman

The first large room is the great hall in the style of medieval entertaining halls, with a walkway above for minstrels to perform without mingling among the guests.

Medieval-style hall

Fireplace in the middle

The hall has some fine artistic decorations as well as fun things for the young or young at heart.

Face of the sun over the fireplace

A bust

Another bust

Doll house version of the hall

Mommy does the easiest dress-up ever

Jacob tries it out

Other, more modernly decorated rooms display exhibits of paints or provide a place to relax.

Waiting room with art and two sources of heat

Beautiful bay window

Cozier study

Jacob gets cosy

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fountains Abbey, England

Back in 1132, some of the monks at St. Mary's Benedictine Abbey in York were dissatisfied with the loose lifestyle led at the abbey. Clothing, food, and behavior there did not follow the strict rules laid down by St. Benedict in his Rule. A riot broke out in the abbey and thirteen monks fled to the archbishop's residence in Ripon. He granted them some land nearby in the valley of the River Skell. They founded their new monastery, Fountains Abbey, on December 27 of that year.

The first year was extremely hard and the group asked the Abbot of Clairvaux, Bernard, for help. Clairvaux was a Cistercian abbey with the strict discipline and simple lifestyle that the monks longed for. Like many monasteries in England, this humble beginning grew into a grand complex. The abbey was quite wealthy in the 1200s but debts, sheep disease (they owned several farms in the area), Scottish raiders, and the Black Death all took their toll. A revival happened in the late 1400s, when thrifty and clever abbots were able to reform their lives and restore their prosperity. In 1539 things came to a halt when Henry VIII seized the property, ending 400 years of worship.

The abbey was sold to a London merchant who stripped all the valuables (including the lead roof and the stained glass) and rented the land out to tenant farmers. The stones from the walls were sold off piecemeal for other building projects in the area. An estate house, Fountains Hall, was built on the land at the end of the 1500s. The ruins of the abbey were never refurbished. The property passed through several hands until it was purchased by the National Trust in 1983.

Visiting now, most of the structure is readily visible.

Fountains Abbey

More of the abbey

The nave is large and now empty. Formerly, the laybrothers would attend prayers and Mass here. The laybrothers did much of the physical work at the abbey, tending the farms and sheep and keeping up the daily tasks of the abbey. The choir monks spent most of their days in silence except when praying the Divine Office (which happened seven times a day). They worshiped at the front of the nave in the area now known as the Chapel of Nine Altars.

Entering through the transept (in between the nave and the chapel of nine altars)

The chapel area

Lucy in the chapel area

Jacob on a pedestal

The nave

The tower was added in 1500 by Abbot Marmaduke Huby and rises 167 feet into the air.

External view of Huby's Tower

Inside Huby's Tower

Lucy finds a locked door

Adjacent to the church is the cloister, a small open field that had a covered walkway around the perimeter that led to various other rooms and buildings of the abbey. The most important room was the chapter house, where the monks gathered to hear Benedict's Rule read and to discuss the business of the abbey.

The cloister

Lucy resting

View from the cloister walls

On the cloister walls

Jacob in the Chapter House

Lucy in the same

Next the to chapter house was the Warming Room, the only room in the monk's part of the abbey with a fireplace. Fires burned from November through Easter. The monks were discouraged from lingering there--they'd just stop between duties to get a little warmer.

Warming room fireplaces

The outside wall had the laybrothers' refectory, where they ate their meals. The guesthouses stood beyond the wall. These were for lay travelers who visited the abbey either as their destination or as a stop along their journey.

Wall by the laybrothers' refectory

Outside of the wall

The guesthouses

Another view of the guesthouses

The River Skell runs right by the abbey and it was used to power their mill as well as provide sanitation. The toilets as well as the infirmary were on the river side of the abbey. It was perhaps unpleasant to be just down stream from the abbey.

Water diverted for the toilets

By the infirmary

View from the infirmary

Water returning to the river

Lucy relaxing in what's left of the infirmary

Back under the laybrothers refectory is the cellarium, where goods were stored by the monks. The room is quite large, with two aisles. Many functions are held here nowadays, including the annual Catholic Mass on the feast of St. Benedict and concerts in the summer.

Cellarium inner aisle

Cellarium outer aisle

The abbey has plenty of twists and turns to explore. Since it's a ruins, it's perfect for children to explore (though it may not be up to American safety standards).

They found a staircase!

In one of the rooms

In the big house!

A hallway

A monk's cell?

Map of the abbey (click to enlarge)

Model of the abbey