Sunday, May 25, 2014

St. Mary Magdalen/The Leper Chapel, Ripon, England

The Church of St. Mary Magdalen sits on the edge of Ripon. The church was founded as part of the Hospital of St. Mary Magdalene by York Archbishop Thurstan circa AD 1115. This Norman chapel is all that remains of that original site. The hospital took care of lepers in the area (Crusaders could have brought back the disease from their travels). The sisters provided food, clothing, and shelter for the lepers. As well, they maintained a priest for the chapel. By the 14th century leprosy had mostly died out and the hospital began serving the sick and destitute of Ripon. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII, the abbot of nearby Fountains Abbey became the chaplain for the hospital. The mastership of the hospital was given to the deans at Ripon Cathedral in 1688 and they have supplied clergy for the church since then.

Chapel of St. Mary Magdalen, Ripon

3/4 view

Visitors are welcome but have to get the key to the door. Some almshouses were built across the street and two of the residents have keys. The original doorway is true to the ancient Norman style.

The key to the church

The Norman door

Inside is the original Norman baptismal font, which was found in a local field. It was used as a cattle trough but was restored to the church in 1951. A new base was added.

Baptismal font

Another entrance is on the other side of the font.

Not in use

The nave of the church is separated from the choir by a fifteenth-century oak screen.


Just on the other side of the screen in the left (or northern) wall is a low window called the Leper Window. Lepers could attend Mass from outside and were able to receive communion through the window.

The Leper Window on the left

The sanctuary shows signs that statues and relics were kept there before the Reformation. One niche is clearly filled in.

A corner of the sanctuary

The stone altar is the original Norman altar, unharmed by Cromwell's Puritans except for a crack in the middle. The piscina on the south wall is also early and apparently still in use.

The Norman Altar (crack not visible)


A small mosaic in the floor is assumed to have come from a Roman villa in Ripon that is no longer extant.

A nice mosaic

In the mid-1800s, a larger church was built across the street to serve the congregation. It was not open for visitors.

Victorian Church of St. Mary Magdalen

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