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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

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Fountains under Abbot Richard (II) 1139-1143


That man was perfect and upright and one that feared God;
a most zealous imitator of all pious works. The virtue of his
mind shone alone in his face, the outer man took the image
of his soul … Of necessity he performed the part of Martha
but in his heart he aspired to the leisure of Mary.
[‘Foundation history of Fountains’ (Narratio)]

Royal confirmation of Fountains' lands and rights, by King Stephen (1135-1154)
© British Library
<click to enlarge>
Royal confirmation to Fountains from King Stephen

After the death of Fountains’ first abbot, Richard, the community was unanimous in its decision that the vacant abbacy should be filled by Prior Richard; his appointment was sanctioned by Bernard of Clairvaux. Richard had been the sacrist of St Mary’s, York, and had in fact instigated the reform movement there. It was thus fitting that he should now lead the Fountains community, the fruit of this reforming zeal. Richard, however, was reluctant to take on this role. He was a spiritual man, rather than an administrator, and preferred to remain free from worldly commitments and duties, and claimed that he was inadequate to hold such an office. While this assertion is neither uncommon nor unusual, the reason Richard cites is extremely interesting and suggests that the head of a community was expected to be an eloquent and proficient speaker. Richard refers to ‘a slowness of speech’ when addressing crowds, presumably some sort of speech impediment. The foundation history attributes this ‘slowness of speech’ to modesty, thus making a virtue of Richard’s ‘weakness’. Despite his reluctance and shortcomings as an orator, Richard was elected to the abbacy and accepted office in 1139.

I have not found in any man such skill in comforting the sad, in raising up the fallen and in finding out the hidden causes of the sickness of a conscience. Often ,I tell you, I have come to his feet to speak of my conscience and he has anticipated me in the very things I was about to say, has sketched for me, as it were, the form of my mind and to my amazement has told me the whole state of my soul.
[Foundation history [Narratio], pp. 191-2.]

The foundation history portrays Abbot Richard as a gentle and sensitive character, who wished to engage himself wholeheartedly in spiritual affairs and shied away from the limelight. Richard quietly consolidated the community, and whilst he did not contribute much to the physical development of the abbey, that is, to building work, he endeared himself to the monks with his tender and sensitive manner. Perhaps because he disliked speaking, Richard was a skilled listener who had a way with people. He was able to draw out the monks’ troubles and confessions, to soothe and heal their worries. Richard was clearly much loved by the community and Hugh of Kirkstall, who compiled the foundation history, speaks of him with fondness.

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