Furness Abbey, or St. Mary of Furness, is a former monastery located to the northern edge of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England. The abbey dates back to 1123 and was once the second-wealthiest and most powerful Cistercian monastery in the country, behind only Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire.
Founded in 1123 by Stephen, Count of Boulogne, it was built originally for the Order of Savigny. Located in the ‘Vale of Nightshade’, south of Dalton-in-Furness, the abbey is built entirely out of local sandstone. It passed in 1147 to the Cistercians, who gradually enlarged and rebuilt the original ornate church. The majority of the current ruins date from the 12th and 13th centuries. By the 15th century, it had been completely re-modelled and had become the second richest and most powerful – as well as one of the grandest – Cistercian Abbeys in England, behind Fountains Abbey. The gothic-style monastery and its adjacent structures cover an expansive area of land and reach a maximum height of 40 metres (131 ft) above ground level.
The monks of the abbey were large landowners, and the most powerful body in what was then a remote border territory. In particular, they were heavily influential on the Isle of Man. One of the kings of Mann and the Isles is buried at the abbey, as are many of the Bishops of Sodor and Man. Rushen Abbey on the Isle was built on land owned by the monks. They also owned mines on the island, and built Piel Castle to control trade between the Furness Peninsula and the Isle of Man. Being about 70 miles down the coast from Scotland, the monks occasionally found themselves in between the regularly warring Scots and English. When Robert the Bruce invaded England, during The Great Raid of 1322, the abbot paid to lodge and support him, rather than risk losing the wealth and power of the abbey.
The Abbey was disestablished and destroyed in 1537 during the English Reformation under the order of Henry VIII.
Furness Abbey is located off Manor Road close to Barrow’s main thoroughfare, Abbey Road, which is named after the Abbey itself. The Abbey also lies next to the Furness Line and was served by Furness Abbey railway station until closure in 1950. The closest stations are now Roose and Dalton.
English Heritage operates a small visitor centre at Furness Abbey which includes a number of stone carvings and effigies as well as a gift shop. The visitor centre and abbey are open to the public between 10am and 6pm daily, although this is restricted to 10am to 4pm on weekends within the winter/spring season. Free passes are available for English Heritage members as well as local residents. There is adequate onsite parking and disabled friendly amenities.
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