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VI.--ON THE EXCAVATIONS NOW IN PROGRESS AT FOUNTAINS
ABBEY, WITH SOME REMARKS ON THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE MONASTERY. Read at the Joint Meeting of the Architectural Societies of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, at Ripon, June 17, 1851. By John RICHARD WALBRAN.
Of the several institutions which have been the agents of civilization, few have exercised, in this country, a more important and lasting influence than the Monastic system, which, though historically recognised in its ultimate tendency and result, has not been generally understood in operation and detail so well as the subject has allowed and deserved. Germinated from the enthusiastic devotion of individuals who endured, in austerest solitude, those self-inflicted sufferings by which they hoped to work out their salvation, it quickly engaged, far and wide, the sympathies of the broken in spirit, the contemplative, the aged, the studious, and the melancholy; indeed, all of those who, from extreme sensibility or morbid idiosyncrasy, sought retirement from contention with the world, or an escape from those scenes of outrage and violence to which the earlier stages of society were continually exposed. The famed piety of its early members, and the peculiar spiritual blessings which they professed to have acquired, soon drew within its influence those who could believe that by the sacrifice of worldly substance they would be rewarded an hundred-fold in the glory of heaven ; and in this country, more particularly after the reformation of society at the Norman conquest, it became a vast organization, divided into orders, enriched with manors, and lands, and princely houses; armed with great secular authority, and blessed with the most boundless means of diffusing social blessings, from the respective establishments that had arisen throughout the land. They were, in many of our now smiling vales, the first patient tillers of the uncultivated soil; they first ameliorated the condition of the English slave; they raised and fostered on their estates a contented and honest yeomanry, whose happy influence was felt when that of their patrons was no more; they exhibited and maintained before a rude, yet not heedless population, that ever-ennobling spectacle of abstraction from the world, and devotion to the spiritual and the unseeen ; they subdued the uncouthness and rebuked the passions of the warrior knights and squires who often gathered in their festive halls ; they fed the crowds of poor who stood daily at their gates, asking only in the name of Christ; and besides contributing, by the erection and renewal of their houses,
every het might mangel would Beserving Chile y cluim
to promote architectural science with its ancillary arts, they claim the everlasting gratitude of mankind for preserving that sacred lamp of learning and of truth which would have been extinguished in the whirlwinds that might rage everywhere but within their walls. Like every other agent in the development of civilization, its purpose was at last accomplished; its end was determined and fulfilled. The facility of communicating men's thoughts, by the new art of printing, had awakened inquiry, and arguments, and propositions, which the monks could neither defend, nor explain, nor resist. The subjugation of the baronial power, and the dispersion of property that followed the wars of the Roses, were creating a class of small but ambitious, and therefore jealous, landowners. Commerce, with all its antagonism with feudal and prescriptive rights, had begun vigourously to develope itself. Luxury and riches had long enervated and perverted the spirit and influence of the system itself; so that, when king Henry had silenced the magnates of the land, by participation in his spoil, it engaged so imperfectly the general sympathy of the people, that it was naturally and readily dissolved, leaving only, as its most obvious and visible exponents, those mighty and triumphant structures, of wbich the subject of our present consideration stands, unquestionably and prominently, the chief.
As early, at least, as the seventh century, the monastic system was introduced into Yorkshire, and during the Saxon times influential institutions were maintained at Ripon, Whitby, Lastingham, and elsewhere. After the banishment of the Culdees, they followed the rule which had been established and ordained by St. Benedict, and was the common rule of the time. But this, like every other human institution, had become, in process of time, considerably relaxed ; and in that great movement of the huinan mind which occurred in the twelfth century, it was recalled to its pristine austerity, chiefly through the energy of St. Bernard ; and an establishment, thus regulated, was formed at Cistaux, or, as it was writien in Latin, Cistercium, in Burgundy. It is not, of course, necessary to detail here the duties and observances it required, but I may remark, that among other reversions to primitive practice, the sites of monasteries were directed to be chosen in situations apart from the busy haunts of men, and in rural places suitable for meditation and seclusion. Thus, while the great Benedictine abbeys which were founded or established after the conquest were placed in or near manor places or towns--as the Abbey of St. Mary, at York, the Abbey of St. Hilda, at Whitby, and others—the Cistercians systematically
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as Roche Abbey Let this was of Yorkshire,
sought the banks of the rivers or the picturesque seclusion of the vales. Hence, by a process as natural as it was beautiful, the monks of Rivaulx named their noble house from its situation in the vale of Rie; the monks of Jorevol, or Jervaulx, from their settlement in the vale of the Yore; thus also Basedale derived its name. The derivation of Fountains has been questioned. Dr. Whitaker asserts' that the first name assigned to the house was the Abbey of Skelldale, and that the meaning of Skell not being then entirely obsolete, the monks translated it de Fontibus, a name which, when the original one was forgotten, was retranslated Fountains. But this position is neither corroborated by the instrument of foundation, nor by any other charter of the house, and it seems more probable that observation of the numerous springs that gush out copiously in the abbey dale suggested to the simple-minded founders the elegant and appropriate name it has borne. Sometimes a particular natural object bestowed a name, as Roche Abbey, from the adjacent rocks; Salley, from the field of Sallows. Yet this was not a rule of general application : for the Cistercian houses of Yorkshire, Byland, Meux, Sinningthwaite, Esholt, Hampol, Swine, Hutton, Appleton, Keldholm, and Wickham, were merely named from the manor or place in which they stood. This Cistercian or reformed rule, which the marvellous influence of St. Bernard spread over Christendom, was introduced into Yorkshire in the year 1131, when the Abbey of Rivaulx was founded. Yet, before this society was organized, its spirit had manifested itself in the great Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary, at York, and certain of its inmates, among whom was the prior of the house, were so far discontented with the laxity of the establishment, as to withdraw themselves entirely from it. Without money, without a a home, without any earthly possession save the vestments which they wore, these enthusiastic men felt, for a time, all the malignant influence of a dominant ecclesiastical society, and the anchorite's cell or a foreign home would doubtless have been their doom, if the prior had not been intimately acquainted with Thurstan, the Archbishop of York. This great and good man took the thirteen monks into his house, and even attempted, though fruitlessly, to visit the abbey in their behalf. At length, having determined to celebrate the Christmas of 1131 at his manor of Ripon, he selected, on the 27th of December, a shelter for them in the little vale of Skell, about three miles from the town, secluded enough to satisfy the most ascetic fancy, since
(1) History of Craven. Second edition, p. 202.
e of Larknesder the with whsts tha Ptiles on
the monks afterwards recorded that it was full of reptiles and brushwood, and more fit for the habitation of beasts than of men. Hither, however, he sent them; and with what feelings this little “band of hope” crept under the trees, when that first winter night left them in darkness-homeless, penniless, all but hopeless-by the side of the little brook, bubbling on then as now—can be known only to Him in whose contemplation they were so entirely absorbed, and to whose service they were so intensely devoted. Day by day, through that dreary winter, through the next gay and life-inspiring spring, these stouthearted men wrestled with their lot ; living in thatched huts under the trees and rocks, depending for food on the morsel of bread sent to them from the archbishop, aud drinking, in common with the beasts of the field, from the adjacent stream. In the chronicle of the house, that was written by one of the sufferers, it is said that an elm tree, which stood in the midst of the valley, and is otherwise known to have existed at the dissolution of the abbey, was their chief shelter; but the tradition of the country points out also some yew trees, that still survive, on a little knoll, to the south-west of the abbey; and since they have assuredly looked on the face of fifteen hundred years, it is not improbable that the monks availed themselves of their friendly shelter in the winter. During this period, their devotional exercises were not, apparently, regulated implicitly either by the rule of St Benedict, which they had formerly professed, or by the Cistercian rule ; for it was only after they had been here six or eight months that they agreed to adopt the severer discipline, and sent two brethren to Clarevall, to ask the advice and counsel of St. Bernard as to the institution of their monastery. The good father returned them a letter of most comfortable encouragement, and also sent a member of his own house to instruct them both in the spiritual as well as in the secular affairs of their undertaking. Ten new brethren now became associated to them; but still sympathy was unaccompanied by the contribution of temporal wealth, and at length they were reduced to the most severe distress. The detail of their sufferings, left on record in the chronicle of the house, is most pathetic and affecting. The abbot wandered vainly about the country in search of food for himself and his famishing brethren, neither had he anything wherewith to buy. To leave the place was most painful to them ; to sit in solitude, destitute of food, was impossible. Yet, clinging to their situation and their resolve, they were even con
(1) De Orig. Monasterij de Fontibus. Mon. Ang. vol. i. pp. 733—752.
strained, at last, to subsist on the boiled leaves of trees and herbs, rendered eatable only by the addition of a little salt.
Under these privations, the brethren dwelt in the little vale for two years, and until their establishment seemed entirely hopeless. Despairing therefore of permanent success, the good and wise abbot Richard went, at last, over sea, to St. Bernard, at Clarevall, to inform him of the condition of the society; and to pray for admission into his establishment. To this proposition the father of the order acceeded, and assigned them a situation in one of the granges of his monastery. But the tide of their suffering was at its height; for, while the abbot was sojourning in France, Hugh, dean of St. Peter's, at York, a man of great influence and riches, and one of those who accompanied Thurstan in his ineffectual visitation of St. Mary's Abbey, determined to join the brotherhood, and came to Fountains, bringing with him not only great treasure of money and goods, but an invaluable collection of books, of which he had been an industrious collector. The example of such a man—who may equitably be regarded as the founder of the house-could not fail to operate. Soon after, Serlo, a canon of York Minster, who likewise had shown his sympathy with our brethren by aiding Thurstan in his visitation, being on the point of death, was brought hither, with a great amount of personal property. Tosti, also, a rich fellow canon, now joined the society ; and, ere long, the men of the surrounding country, who had driven the brethren from their doors, when the food and shelter of their cattle would have been received with gratitude, as a luxury, were striving, by the reckless sacrifice of their patrimony, to be remembered in their prayers, and to rest beside their altars.
The wealth and influence of the house soon became as great as it had originally been limited. Before the close of the twelfth century, and within seventy years after the settlement of the monks under the trees and rocks, all the buildings of the monastery had been erected ; and, even in the beginning of the next century, when the country was involved in famine and military warfare, the stout-hearted abbot of that day rebuilt the choir and Lady Chapel ; and then, I apprehend, began that extraordinary structure of which I am more especially to speak on the present occasion.
But, since it is an innate principle of sincere men to diffuse any good they may have obtained, the best test of the vitality of any association must be the amount and value of its missionary operations, and it is pleasing to find, that while these men