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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

QuizCistercian charity


The gatehouse at Roche
© Cistercians in Yorkshire Project
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The gatehouse at Roche

The poor relief extended by Fountains was perhaps most striking during the famine of 1194, when Abbot Ralph Haget set up what can best be described as a refugee camp. For six months the community provided shelter, food, medical and spiritual care for the afflicted.(8) The number of grants made to Fountains during Ralph’s abbacy which were earmarked for the care of the poor is a testimony to Fountains’ reputation at this time for its charitable work.(9) Indeed, a neighbouring Cistercian, Matthew of Rievaulx, paid tribute to Fountains’ charity in a poem:

O fount of gardens, paupers’ open gate
You cure the sick, disease alleviate.

A particularly interesting and revealing donation made to the abbey at this time was the grant of 40 pence a year to provide head-coverings for the poor folk infected by worms, who came to the abbey gate seeking help.(10)

Fountains continued to exercise charity throughout the Middle Ages, and to act as the dispenser of the laity’s alms. Theophania, the daughter of Oliver de Stainley, granted Fountains the rent and services of Hugh, to support the care of the poor congregated at the gate.(11) Following the Dissolution of the monasteries Yorkshire men paid tribute to the monks’ worthy contribution to poor relief in the locality, and the loss suffered upon the closure of the religious houses.

The abbeys in the North gave great alms to poor men and
laudably served God … the service of God is much diminished
by the suppression.
[Robert Aske, leading figure in the Pilgrimage of Grace]

Thus, they fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty,
clothed those who needed clothing, and comforted the sick,
sore and lame, and helped strangers to lodging within
their gates.
[Michael Sherbrook, priest of Rotherham]

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