Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Furness Abbey

Nestling into the depths of a rocky, and once-remote, valley lie the substantial ruins of a quite majestic monastery. This extensive site, displaying its sturdy, red sandstone buildings amidst the multitudinous shades of foliage, depicts a scene of timeless grace and beauty. Founded in 1123, originally as a Savignac house, the monastery was sited here in 1127. Absorbed by the Cistercians in 1147, Furness Abbey became the second richest Cistercian house in England.

In common with many of the large abbeys, the building works spanned several centuries resulting in a variety of styles and ideas. The remains of Furness Abbey church date largely from the 12th and 13th centuries when the original Savignac church was enlarged. The western tower (pictured above) was built after some reconstruction work in the late 15th century, and survives to a good height. A remarkably fine example of a canopied sedilia, including a piscina and a small cupboard, has survived in the presbytery. The craftsmanship employed in the intricate design work must have been of the highest quality, and it has withstood the test of time extremely well.
Along the eastern edge of the cloister are five splendidly preserved Norman arches (pictured above) leading into the usual claustral buildings. The chapter house (pictured below) must have presented a magnificent sight with its 12 bay vaulted ceiling (which, sadly, no longer exists), its array of twin lancet windows with elaborate moulding, and lots of polished marble. There is a good example of how beautiful the moulded piers looked with their stiff-leafed capitals, as one still stands to full height.

Little survives of the south and west ranges, but the small chapel of the infirmary is amazingly well-preserved. It is complete with vaulting, the circular wall benches, some lovely window tracery, and the remains of an elaborate piscina. The water course (pictured below) that travels the entire length of the abbey which would have supplied the kitchen and toilets with clean running water is especially impressive. The entire complex still exudes the power and importance that Furness Abbey held in medieval England, and the surviving features with their intricate designs further demonstrate the wealth of the abbey. When considering the situation of this monastery to Scotland, and how frequent Scottish raids occurred during those times, it is incredible to see so much remaining almost untouched by the troubles.This site gave me the greatest pleasure to explore. The sheer size was overwhelming, the walls were so warm and welcoming, and every nook and cranny just begged to be investigated for fear of missing some delightful treasure. Fantastic place to take the children to explroe and enjoy a picnic on the grass.

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