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Fountains Abbey: 04. Chapter House

(54°6′35″N, 1°34′56″W)
Fountains Abbey: 04. Chapter House
SE 274 683
  • Rita Wood
14 Aug 2001, 04 May 2015, 25 May 2015

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The chapter house building at Fountains comprises six bays E-W and three N-S, all formerly vaulted. The two westernmost bays of the six were divided from the main room, the point of division is indicated by the shafted corbels, N4 and S4, and by the changes in the wall surface marking the position of the vault. The two bays at the W end were lower because of the monks' dormitory above, whereas there was no building above the E end, which has clerestory windows. At ground level, there are three window openings in the E wall, three on the S and two on the N wall at the E end; these windows were shafted, but only the capitals remain and these are very worn.

The W end of the chapter house (properly, its vestibule) has three equal arches opening onto the cloister. No shafts remain unfortunately, and wind erosion has removed most details of the capitals beyond useful description. In the past, the N and S bays were partitioned off and used for books, but whether that was already the case in the twelfth century is uncertain, and seems unlikely.

The work is Gothic in its inspiration. The piers that supported the vault were of grey Nidderdale 'marble' (its earliest use at Fountains), and by Cistercian standards it was a highly-decorated building (Coppack 1993, 45). Fragments of pillars in the marble are still in the room, and there is a loose capital in Nidderdale marble from the chapter house (see main entry, 1. Church, in the section Loose Sculpture.)

For further information, see report for Fountains Abbey, church.


The chapter house was part of the rebuilding under Abbot Richard, 1150-70 (Coppack 1993, 45).

For further information, see report for Fountains Abbey, church.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses

Interior Features

Vaulting/Roof Supports





The triple base of the first order of the archways into the chapter house extends to the full width of a block and shows its plan as well as remnants of moulding; this base would have supported three clustered circular shafts with a flat side to the jamb. The form is that used in the wall arcading in the later transept of the nine altars (information from Glyn Coppack), of which a piece of the triple shafting was seen outside the Mill in 2015.

The three full-height entrance arches presumably functioned as doorways, but door fittings are absent.


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

T. N. Kinder, Cistercian Europe: Architecture of Contemplation (Kalamazoo, 2009).