The UK Leg – Fountains Abbey Plus

I left off Saturday night when we were expected to join Mei-Mei’s Church service on Sunday at 2pm, but were told that the Ukrainian couple had called off the planned dinner for Sunday because of a broadcast football match involving their country’s team. Su hatched a revised plan overnight. We were to attend a Church of England Sunday Service at Ripon Cathedral scheduled for 10:30am and to take a detour to Fountains Abbey nearby afterwards before visiting Harrogate for a very famous cake shop Betty’s Tea Room, which was to be the highlight.

So, Kenny, Su and I set off for Ripon Cathedral before 9am. Its full name is the Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Wilfred, and until 1836 was known as Ripon Minster. It is sited in Ripon, of course, in North Yorkshire; and was founded as a monastery by monks of the Irish tradition in the 660s, and was re-founded as a Benedictine monastery by St Wilfred in 672. The church became collegiate in the tenth century, and acted as a mother church within the large Diocese of York for the remainder of the Middle Ages. The present church is the fourth, and was built between the 13th and 16th centuries. In 1836 the church became the cathedral for the Diocese of Ripon. In 2014 the Diocese was incorporated into the new Diocese of Leeds, and the church became one of the three co-equal cathedrals of the Bishop of Leeds. Traditions have it that people have been going to worship and pray at Ripon for more than 1,300 years. The cathedral building is part of this continuing act of worship, begun in the 7th century when Saint Wilfred built one of England’s first stone churches on the site. Within the nave and choir, there is evidence of 800 years of master craftsmanship expressing their faith in wood and stone.

We arrived the Cathedral just in time for the service, which was extremely solemn and meaningful. The décor, design and layout of the Cathedral were impressive and mind boggling. We stayed a little while after the service, noting that there would be a special service on 6th May to mark the coronation of King Charles III.

It never stopped raining even before we were making our way to Ripon. We decided to move on to Fountains Abbey, the ruins of which together with the Royal Studley Park was purchased by the National Trust in 1983, with the Abbey being maintained by the English Heritage as a UNESCO Heritage site. They Abbey is located approximately three miles south-west of Ripon, meaning quite close.

It was still raining when we arrived, but we decided to take a plunge, notwithstanding the rather steep admission fee of £18 each. Kenny also took the umbrella from his car. We started walking at 1230h, not knowing what was in stored for us, beginning from the Porter’s Lodge where we had an overview of the monument.

And we found out that Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and best-preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England. It was founded in 1132 and had operated for 407 years by the time it was dissolved by order of Henry VIII in 1539 when it was then one of the wealthiest monasteries in England.

In 1132, there was a dispute and riot at the Benedictine house of St Mary’s Abbey in York, during which 13 monks were expelled including Saint Robert of Newminster. They were taken under the protection of Thurstan, Archbishop of York, who provided them with land in the valley of the River Skell, a tributary of Ure.

The enclosed valley had all the natural features needed for the creation of a monastery, providing shelter from the weather, stone and timber for building, and a supply of running water. The six springs that watered the site inspired the monks to give it the name of Fountains.

The abbey precinct covered 70 acres (28 ha) surrounded by an 11-foot (3.4 m) wall built in the 13th century, some parts of which are visible to the south and west of the abbey. The area consists of three concentric zones cut by the River Skell flowing from west to east across the site. The church and claustral buildings stand at the centre of the precinct north of the Skell. The inner court containing the domestic buildings stretches down to the river and the outer court housing the industrial and agricultural buildings lies on the river’s south bank. The early abbey buildings were added to and altered over time, resulting in deviations from the strict Cistercian type. Outside the walls were the abbey’s “home granges.”

The original abbey church was built of wood and “was probably” two storeys high; it was, however, quickly replaced in stone. The church was damaged in the attack on the abbey in 1146 and was rebuilt, in a larger scale, on the same site. Building work was completed c. 1170. This structure, completed around 1170, was 300 ft (91 m) long and had 11 bays in the side aisles. A lantern tower was added at the crossing of the church in the late 12th century. The presbytery at the eastern end of the church was much altered in the 13th century. The church’s greatly lengthened choir, commenced by Abbot John of York, 1203–11 and carried on by his successor, terminates, like that of Durham Cathedral, in an eastern transept, the work of Abbot John of Kent, 1220–47.  Similarities to the choir at Beverley Minster have been drawn by architectural historian Lawrence Hoey. The 160-foot-tall (49 m) tower, which was added not long before the dissolution, by Abbot Huby, 1494–1526, is in an unusual position at the northern end of the north transept and bears Huby’s motto: Soli Deo Honor et Gloria.  The sacristry adjoined the south transept.

The cloister, which had arcading of black marble from Nidderdale and white sandstone, is in the centre of the precinct and to the south of the church. The three-aisled chapter-house and parlour open from the eastern walk of the cloister, with the monks’ dormitory above; along the cloister’s southern walk are, from east to west, the warming house with muniment room above, the refectory, and the kitchens. Parallel with the western walk is an immense, vaulted substructure known as the cellarium (divided into sections serving as cellars and store-rooms, and with the lay brothers’ refectory at its southern end, next to the kitchens), which supported the dormitory of the conversi (lay brothers) above. This building extended across the river and at its south-west corner were the latrines, built above the swiftly flowing stream.

So much from the research at the Internet.

We also learnt that there were only 22 monks in the beginning, and no more than 50 monks in its hey days. Henry VIII had caused its demise and the structures to becoming the present-day ruins. There must be tremendous historical and archeological interests in various parts of the ruins, but we didn’t have the time to explore them. By 3:30pm we decided to visit the café for the hot garlic soup and bread before moving on.  It was still raining.

Su decided to take a detour to see the Brimham Rocks which were close by. These are billed as weird and wonderfully shaped giant rock formations, created by an immense river 100 million years before the first dinosaurs walked the earth. And we went and took pictures, but none of us felt wiser or more inspired.

It was time to visit Harrogate for the much-hyped Betty’s Tea Room. Unfortunately, by the time we parked, it was just past 5pm when the shop would not admit new customers. Su bought some cakes anyway, which she didn’t particularly enjoy, but would give them to Mei-Mei the next day, confident that she would appreciate her efforts.

It was time to plan for dinner before returning to base. We went to All Bar One at Harrogate, which was inexpensive, had some simple food without wine and started the return-to-base trip before 7pm. Arriving vase by 8:20pm to prepare for a leisurely return to London the following day. Su’s Samsonite was beyond repair, which would need to be taken care of in London.

Next issue: what happened in London.

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