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New Watercolours of Fountains Abbey

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

Elizabeth Darley

Artist and Historian


Catholic British Artist

Introducing A New Project

The Chapel of the Nine Altars at Fountains Abbey


and thank you for coming here. I hope you will like what you find.

I’m going to take you to a place where, I think, three time periods do meet; I’ll take you to 13th century Catholicism in England, the 18th century English School of Watercolour painting and today’s world of travelling and experiencing new places. The place I am going to introduce you to is Fountains Abbey.

Today, Fountains Abbey is a ruin in North Yorkshire, UK. It is owned by the National Trust which looks after Fountains Abbey’s ruins and its natural environment such as wildlife, domesticated deer and the river Skell.

Do you like watercolours ? Do you like visiting monastery ruins? I’m painting watercolours of a monastery ruin that is important to me in a personal way although, Fountains Abbey is loved and cherished by a great number of people and I am one of them.

I have chosen Fountains Abbey because it has a chapel which has nine altars. As a Catholic, the idea of there being a need for nine altars in one chapel is interesting.

Staying in 2019 at the lovely and comfortable Deanery Hotel at Ripon, my little family and I enjoyed another visit to the National Trust’s beautiful ruins of Fountains Abbey. This time, when I slowly took in all the wonders there, I became preoccupied with the Chapel of the Nine Altars and it was the title of the chapel that interested me!

Back home at my studio which is also in Yorkshire, I started to make drawings of the stone walls which I sit near to as I’m working- I can easily see them out of my studio windows.

A bit of history……

The nine stone altars at Fountains Abbey were placed there around 1225 after the abbey had become remarkably successful. Founded in 1132, Fountains Abbey, by around 1221, gained a high number of lay brothers and a high number of Catholic priests. Hundreds of prayerful Catholic men who lived and worked at Fountains Abbey. No one was forced to go there. Catholic priests are authorised to offer daily Holy Mass to their brethren and to other Catholic priests and to Catholic visitors and guests. It seems that by the early 13th century at Fountains Abbey, there were enough faithful who attended daily Mass to warrant the building of a new chapel and that this chapel would need not one but nine holy altars. Logically, it would seem that the queues at the rood screen were rather long and people would need to have patience before their turn. This is a story of success.

Who am I?

I was born in the same county that Fountains Abbey was founded in- the old West Riding as it was. As a Yorkshire born Catholic artist, I feel to be quite ‘different’ from many other Yorkshire born or Catholic artists today, simply because I am part of an almost extinct species! How many Catholic Yorkshire born working artists do you know of?

But, seriously, I find it fascinating that England was, for around one thousand five hundred years, Catholic. Her kings and her people were Catholic. Her cathedrals and monasteries, her laws and her prayers were all Catholic. England’s Catholic calendar was universally understood within every Liturgical Year. Ordinary people had Church knowledge because they were at Holy Mass every Sunday morning at their local parish church. They walked there with their family and friends. Everyone would normally arrange their lives around the church calendar; they knew when to fast and when to feast, when to marry and when to pray, when to read the Bible and even the liturgical Bible chapter and verse for each day.

Maybe you feel it was all a long time ago and we live in a different world, but I am a living, breathing artist and I’m a Catholic. I’ve still got a lot to learn about my faith and my art but, it is very exciting. I hope you will come a little farther along this path with me and meet me in the next Blog soon.

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