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Fountains Abbey: Location

Fountains Abbey: History
Trials and Tribulations
Strength and Stability
End of Monastic Life

Fountains Abbey: Buildings
Chapter House
Warming House
Day Room
Lay Brothers' Range
Abbots House
Outer Court

Fountains Abbey: Lands

Fountains Abbey: People

Cistercian Life






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The Narratio de fundatione Fontanis monasterii

I should show briefly in a chronicle by whose influence and in what manner
our holy mother, the church of Fountains, over which by God’s grace you

[Abbot John] now preside, was first founded, and in what way that vine,
blessed of God, grew in a place of horror and vast solitude and spread
herself abroad, stretching out her branches even unto the sea and her
shoots to the outer nations.
[‘Foundation history of Fountains’ (Narratio)]

Aerial photo of Fountains Abbey
© Dave MacLeod
<click to enlarge>
Aerial picture of Fountains abbey

The ‘Foundation History of Fountains’ (Narratio de fundatione Fontanis monasterii), was written in the early thirteenth century by Hugh, a monk of Kirkstall Abbey, one of Fountains’ eight daughter-houses.(9) Hugh, who had already compiled a foundation history of Kirkstall, was asked to write the Narratio by John of York (1203-1211), the eighth abbot of Fountains. The Narratio is a two-part work, which covers the first ninety years of Fountains’ history, from the flight of the Benedictine monks who left St Mary’s, York, in 1132, to the abbacy of John, elected in 1220.

An eyewitness
I myself was present at the time of the secession of the monks from the monastery of York; from my boyhood I knew by face and name those who seceded; I was born in their part of the country; I was brought up amongst them; to several I was related according to the flesh. Although I am stricken in years, I am very grateful to my old age for my memory remains unimpaired and holds fast to the things that were committed to it in early years.
[Serlo, monk of Fountains]

Hugh claims as his source for the early history of the abbey Serlo, an aged monk of Fountains (nearing one hundred years in age), who had witnessed the tumultuous events of 1132/1133 and the challenges that beset the early community, its incorporation within the Cistercian family and path to stability [see right]. For later events Hugh presents himself as the authority, either as an eyewitness or as one privy to first-hand accounts from those who were. However, it is now accepted that, despite his claims, Hugh actually relied on written documents, such as letters and legislative texts, rather than oral testimony.(10) Indeed, the Narratio includes several important letters, either as extracts or in their entirety, to lend authority and credence to his work; this was a common way for medieval writers to underline the veracity of their text.(11)

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