button to main menu  Gents Mag 1850 part 2 p.413

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Gentleman's Magazine 1850 part 2 p.413
Magazine for Sept. 1848. He next proceeded to describe the features of a Cistercian abbey. The rules of this order, originally drawn up by the early abbots, and from time to time enlarged, related not only to disciplne and mode of life, but also to the choice of site, the architecture and form of their buildings, and the degree and nature of their ornament and internal decoration; and from these rules there was scarcely a single variation within the first two centuries of the existence of the order. First, as to site, it was ordained that abbeys should never be built in towns, or even in hamlets, but in secluded valleys, remote from the haunts of men. All who remember any of our Cistercian abbeys will notice how strictly this rule was complied with - they generally lie high up in the valley, often in the narrowest part; and the monks appear to have generally cleared out the bottom of the valley for pasturage and cultivation, leaving the sides clothed with wood. Any one who has approached Furness Abbey from Dalton must have noticed how truly Cistercian this approach is. He need scarcely mention Fountains, Rievaulx, and Tintern in support of this rule, which is most stringently complied with in France and Germany; and although in England situations of this kind would be in some parts difficult to meet with, yet he knew of no instance in which the rule had been departed from, or the valley deserted for the high land. Next, as regards the church, they prohibited everything that had a vaunting ambitious character. Thus towers, which abounded in the abbey churches of the Benedictines, were eschewed by the Cistercians. They permitted, indeed, a low tower at the intersection of the arms of the cross, or over the crossing, as it was called, rising one stage only above the building, but nowhere else; and the tower we now see at the west end of Furness Abbey Church stands like that at the end of the north transept of Fountains, a monument of the degeneracy, so to speak, of the order, and an example of their departure in the sixteenth century from the rules thay had laid down and observed in the twelfth and thirteenth. The churches were invariably dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and to her alone. They were nearly all uniform in plan, built without exception in the form of the cross, having a nave with side aisles, north and south transepts, and choir, and having also three small chapels, forming a sort of eastern aisle to the transepts, but separated from one another commonly by a partition wall. They permitted no sculptures of figures or of the human form, no images, no carvings save that of crucifix, no pictures, no gold ornaments, no stained glass - that is to say, of a pictorial character - and no prostration in their churches. Now, although the period in which these rules were strictly carried out was possibly short, yet there is not one of their churches of early date upon which great severity of treament is not plainly stamped. He had searched in vain for such sculptures as are here prohibited in many of the Cistercian churchs of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, whilst comtemporaneous buildings of Benedictine origin abound with such carvings. So also in the chancel of Furness Abbey you will find an almost complete absence of sculptured ornament, and the effect made, dependent upon excellent proportion and purity of design, along with great varieties of detail. So far as regards this church, the conventual buildings were laid out with the same regularity and uniformity. Of these the principal were - 1. the chapter house, where all the business of the convent was transacted; 2. the common refectory and day-room of the monks; 3. the kitchen; 4. the principal refectory; 5. the hospitum, or guest house. These were the most important buildings of a Cistercian monastery. There were others of less importance; but these were always disposed round the quadrangle of the cloister in certain fixed situations, where we always know where to look for them in a ruined convent. The chapter house point always adjoined the south transept of the church, a small apartment used as a sacristy alone intervening; it was usually the building most ornamented next to the church. Next to the chapter house came a passage leading from the cloisters and offices at the back. Next to the passage came the common refectory or day room of the monks, a building generally of more plain character than the rest, and which extended beyond the length of the cloister to some distance, according to the number of inmates. the general features, which exactly correspond with Furness Abbey, he had described from a plan of the Cistercian abbey of Brombach on the Maine, in Franconia. Furness was founded in 1129, and the church could not have been commenced before 1160, belonging to the earlier part of the transitional period, and completed according to the original design. In this church, in compliance with rule, the whole of the arches of construction are pointed, all those of decoration are circular; a capital peculiar to the period, and in use for a period of not more than twenty years, also marks the exact date of the building.
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