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Fountains Abbey: 08. Monks' Refectory

(54°6′35″N, 1°34′56″W)
Fountains Abbey: 08. Monks' Refectory
SE 274 683
  • Rita Wood
01 Sep 2002, 04 May 2015, 21 Jun 2015

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The refectory at Fountains is entered from the S walk of the cloister by the most impressive doorway in its whole length (Gilyard-Beer 1970, 54-5; Coppack 1993, 51-3). The S wall of the cloister has a generous laver or lavatorium either side of the doorway.

This is the second (stone) refectory, and follows the custom of Cistercian communities in the later twelfth century in being elongated N-S; it bridges a concealed water channel at its S end and ends close to the N bank of the Skell. The interior is rectangular, of five bays by two, and there was an arcade down the middle. The seating arrangements for the community around the E, S and W walls, represented by alterations in the levels of the grass and by stone supports for its tables, can be reconstructed, (Gilyard-Beer 1970, 54-55).

The main room had six windows in the W and E walls, and two pairs on the S and N walls; these are shafted internally; part of a blocked oculus can just be made out high in the S wall. The roof was formed in two N-S spans using the arcade and the W and E walls; there were thus two roofs making a double ridge and double gables.

A gallery extends through three bays of the W wall and projects to the W; the mealtime readings were given from here. The gallery is entered by a round-headed doorway at the N end. On the R, inside this doorway, is a recess. A stair rises L to the gallery which is open onto the refectory. The base corbel to support the reading-desk remains; also another corbel further along the same wall.

Outside the doorway are two lavers which had piped water.

For further information, see the report, Fountains Abbey: 1. Church.


The earlier refectory had been aligned E-W, but this could not be extended; other Cistercian monasteries had a refectory aligned N-S, and in the 1170s, that at Fountains was rebuilt (Coppack 1993, 49,51-53; Coppack 2009, 66-8).


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration


Interior Features

Vaulting/Roof Supports


Interior Decoration

String courses




Annulets feature on the shafts of windows in the Refectory. The only other site in the West Riding which have annulets [so far as the fieldworker is currently aware], is Selby Abbey, where Pier 5 of the N nave arcade has one cluster of annulets on the aisle side.

Pulpit and lesser corbels:

For the pulpit, compare the vault corbel on the S wall of the refectory, and the corbel in Nidderdale marble in the museum. The chapter-house and refectory have similar double leaves on some of their corbels.

For the lesser corbel, compare the triple form used in the E guest house.

Main doorway:

It appeared to the fieldworker that voussoirs of the first and second orders to the refectory side were cut in one [big] stone: this would be unusual/?unknown for twelfth-century work in the region but might be yet another indication of advanced techniques coming in with the Cistercians, in this case not just design of mouldings, but lifting gear and improved transport. The internal projection above the jamb is certainly most unusual. If ever there was an example of superfluous Cistercian sculpture, this is it.


Coppack, G. Fountains Abbey: the Cistercians in Northern England (Stroud, 2009).

G. Coppack, 'Fountains Abbey and recent developments in Cistercian Studies', pp. 7-16 in R. Martlew (ed.), Medieval Studies in the Yorkshire Dales (York, 2013).

G. Coppack, The English Heritage Book of Fountains Abbey (London, 1993).

R. Gilyard-Beer, Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire (HMSO, 1970).