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How useful are the secondary sources provided in understanding Medieval Monasticism compared with the site of Fountains Abbey?

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Introduction

How useful are the secondary sources provided in understanding Medieval Monasticism compared with the site of Fountains Abbey? Medieval Monasticism refers to the reflection of the way of life that monks lead in an extremely religious time where the influence of the church was great and was incredibly stronger than the power that the church consists of today. The concept of self-imposed hard-ship was taken up in the 4th century, where under the guidance of St. Anthony, the first Christian monks lived in the Egyptian desert. After many objections that Christ's true teaching could not be entirely followed whilst on your own, solemn bishops and hermits created monastic rules. The most influential of these rules being that of St Benedict of Nursia, written around 530 which had an enormous impact upon western monks, including the Cistercians. Benedict's rule of living such an austere lifestyle was reformed in 1132 where Cistercians simplified liturgy, art and architecture and built a building as a place to introduce others to living in such a modified way and an area to practise their worship of the Opus Dei under demanding regulations. The erection of timber buildings began not long after a simple hut beneath an elm tree. There are four specific areas covering the general abbey and the actions that took place from when it was founded to the time of the suppression of the abbey in 1539. The development and regression of the abbey can be summarised under these areas: Religion, economics, social and political. Religion considers the worship that took place and anything that is related to the beliefs of those involved with the abbey. Fountains was thought of as a solely religious institute when it originated, however, as time progressed, this was modified, and it has been these three other factors that have influenced its alteration. Economics reflects on the income of the abbey and what its wealth did for it. ...read more.

Middle

This is useful for us in understanding that the monks diet was simple although wholesome. However, the mill did not only have one purpose, it also brought in income to the abbey, by selling its products. The grange located on the site provided me with a lot of information about other granges that were outposts of the Abbey as well as information about its own use. There was a map displayed in this particular grange which showed where granges at various places outside of Fountains Abbey were. These retrieved a lot of the income for the abbey. At Fountains they would keep sheep at the grange and sell the wool and meat. Knowing that it provided so much income for the abbey suggests incredible amounts of information about the monk's way of life. They would have had to spend a lot of time working in this area for it to have produced so much money (which I know to be true from my own knowledge), which means less time was spent on religion and worship. They lay brothers spent a lot of their time doing manual labour and this was a definite stray from religion. When visiting the site, it was clear that the importance of the cellarium was great (due to the grooves in the window frames where bars used to be, and from my own knowledge I understand that those working here had the very important job of protecting incredibly important valuables. This meant that concentration on religion was affected and money and trade was diluting the importance of worshipping God. Although Monasticism concentrates on religion, it also considers the architecture of the building. We can tell that due to the developments in the architecture, that the wealth improved later on, and the abbey was worked upon architecturally in order to present a good image and make it more grand. These improvements would have cost considerable amounts and so we can come to the judgement that as it got more money, it moved away from the simpler life-style and became more beauteous. ...read more.

Conclusion

There are other areas of the abbey that combine religion and other aspects. The refectory where the monks ate could be seen as not being religious as it was a place where it wasn't entirely about worshipping Christ, however during the meals they would be read to about God, and talking amongst their selves was forbidden. This makes it unreliable in relation to answering the question, as it was a combination of religious and other factors. The chapter house was the centre for business transactions. It could be perceived that this was a definite example of diverting away from religion concepts. However, there would have been bible readings before any business was conducted which means religion wasn't forgotten, even though economics improved. A lot of the money made through the business side of the abbey was spent on architecture, for example Huby's Tower and Darnton's window, and this magnificent architecture could have been the abbey competing to be the best in order to please God, which relates to religion. Trade was responsible for the majority of its income and this created contact with the outside world, moving away from worship, and it could have been a cause as to why the abbey's religious aspects were eroded over time. Although the site is largely useful to support the statement "From its foundation to its dissolution in 1539, Fountains was solely a centre of religious worship" the site is limited by the fact it is a ruin and not a working monastery. After studying the site and the sources I have come to the conclusion that even though Fountains was profoundly religious, there is large amounts of evidence demonstrating that it was not entirely for this purpose. The wealth of the abbey began to corrupt its values and primitive meaning, along with power this is the main purpose for Fountains straying so far from religion. Jenny Nevin, 10BTR History Assignment GCSE Coursework: Fountains Abbey 1 ...read more.

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