Sunday, October 13, 2013

Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, Knaresborough

The Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag in Knaresborough is part of St. Mary's parish, the Catholic church in town. The chapel was built in 1408 by John the Mason, the master builder who worked on Knaresborough Castle and the medieval parish church, now St. John the Baptist church. The folklore about the founding of the chapel is this: John was at the quarry with his son when a stone began to fall. John was not close enough to save the boy so he shouted a prayer to Mary to protect his son. The rock changed course and missed the boy. In thanksgiving, John the Mason built the chapel.

The chapel remained in use up to the suppression of the monasteries in the 1540s. Reports of visitors in the following centuries show that it was still cared for and may have been used by Catholics secretly. The property was bequeathed to Ampleforth Abbey in 1916 and has been in care of a local preservation society. Mass is held here on four major Marian feast days: the Annunciation (March 25), the Visitation (May 31), the Assumption (August 15), and the Immaculate Conception (December 8).

The chapel is, as the name suggests, in part of the cliff face. The walk up from Abbey Road is a little treacherous with uneven stairs.

L and J lead the way!

The chapel is located just outside of town along the River Nidd. When people left town, they would often stop to pray for a safe journey and safe return.

The chapel is guarded by a knight. Historians assume the knight was carved at the same time as chapel. Some have thought it was a representation of St. Robert of Knaresborough, a local hermit of great holiness who died in 1218. The chapel came to be mistaken for St. Robert's Cave which is a mile further up the River Nidd.

Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag

Inside is quiet and small. A sign identifies the chapel. A carved face also dates from the 1400s but its purpose and identity are lost to history.

Sign next to a face

Face detail

The main altar has a statue of the Madonna and Child, a common topic for art in the middle ages.

Main altar

The floor has a spot identified as a former reliquary but it does seem like an odd location.

Reliquary site?

The ceiling also has some ornate carving in the medieval style.

The stone ceiling

A map shows various Marian shrines throughout England. We took the time to light some candles and say some prayers.

L by the shrine map

Outside, the lady keeping an eye on things told me a bit about the garden. In medieval times, the Trinitarians had a monastery nearby. They had a three-part garden. One part was dedicated to medicinal plants, probably supporting a nearby leper colony. A second part was the culinary garden which provided herbs and vegetables for cooking. Finally they had a Marian garden which provided flowers for the chapel. The gardens in front of this chapel follow the Marian theme, including plants associated with the Holy Mother, including marigold (Mary's gold) and Lady's Bedstraw (thought to be in the manger where Jesus lay).

Lady's Bedstraw

More of the garden

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