Sandstone & seasons

The Spirit of Fountains Abbey (1999)

In the 1990s, two marathon projects were moving towards fulfilment. The more important of these was the creation of a comprehensive and beautiful book on Fountains Abbey, as opposed to the black and white book I had previously published (Smith Settle, 1987). During my years of guiding at Fountains Abbey I had consistently heard comments from visitors on the ‘spirituality of the place’. People were genuinely moved by something they could not define. How could I capture such a quality?

In planning a book of this sort three aspects would have to be considered: a) all-important architectural features; b) the natural beauty of seasonal changes of atmosphere and colour in the sandstone; c) the four-hundred-year history of the abbey. The first two of these could be addressed with a camera. For the third I sought the help of The Fountains Chronicle, using an excellent translation from the Latin that covered the first two hundred years.  Eventually 200 colour plates and the Chronicle with other documents were used in conjunction, and I felt I had achieved an academic and artistic balance.

The cost of publication of course proved prohibitive, and with even the National Trust declining to publish on these grounds I was left with an unfulfilled manuscript lying at home, where it remains. However, a few copies were printed privately and donated to certain bodies – including the National Trust Library in London, Harrogate Reference Library, and the York Minster Library. At least the book exists for those who have felt the ‘spirituality’ of the place referred to earlier, and which I hope to some extent I may have reached.