|Fountains Abbey Church, from the West Door looking East|
These were both Cistercian houses, and the architecture is restrained, from a decorative point of view, though what the Cistercians withheld in terms of detail they certainly made up for in scale. The frugality of the places remains striking however: I noticed, this time, the amazing lack of heating. There are great fireplaces in the kitchens and the Calefactory ('Warming Room'), and in the Guest Houses, but really nowhere else. The other day I was in a local secular ruin from the same era, Minster Lovell, and there are fireplaces wherever you look. These Abbeys, remember, are in Yorkshire, not Tuscany!
|Fountains, Abbey Church from the East end, with a view of the Tower|
|Jervaulx Abbey Church, from the West end|
It must be said, all the same, that these houses yeilded few martyrs for the faith: the one Yorkshire Cistercian monk who refused to take the oath of Supremacy was the martyr George Lazenby of Jervaulx; another monk of Jervaulx, Thomas Mudd, survived that moment of crisis but is recognised as a confessor.
Jervalaux Abbey was much more badly damaged than Fountains, in revenge for its role in the Pilgrimage of Grace. But there is still a lot to see. As you go around these places you get a feel for the layout, since all Cisterian Abbeys used the same basic plan. A bit like Roman army camps!
I've just read a very good article in the current Latin Mass Magazine on the loss of the monastic libraries: when the monasteries were dissolved, the libraries went to whoever got the property, and nearly all the books ended up being destroyed. They were, literally, used as loo paper. The author, the excellent Diane Moczar, quotes a succession of 17th Century Protestant antiquarians who lament the loss, particularly of historical sources. Every monastery had a library; thousands and thousands of volumes must have been lost. Some of the destruction was deliberate - college libraries in Oxford were also ransacked for Catholic theology books - but in the case of the monastic libraries it was indiscriminate. The loss to English culture and our historical self-understanding is incalculable.
|Jervaulx Abbey, Chapter House|
These Abbeys present, now, a touching sight, as well as an informative one. They began to be appreciated in the 18th Century from an aesthetic point of view, which is why they have survived as well as they have to this day. Even in a state of ruination they have had an important impact on our culture, through the medium of the Romantic movement, and the Medieval revival which followed. Sir Walter Scott, who was far from sympathetic to Catholic theology, was overwhelmed by the sight of Melrose Abbey by moonlight, and he recommends his reader to go by night:
|Jervaulx Abbey, romantically draped with wildflowers: it is privately owned, and not so obsessively tidy|
|Jervaulx Abbey buildings|