Marian Devotion in England
In a little piece posted in December 2021, we referred to an ancient title given to England: Our Lady’s Dowry. Yes, that country has a long-standing tradition of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In mediaeval times, England boasted many Marian Shrines. Space only permits us to name a few of them: Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk; Our Lady of Grace in Ipswich, Suffolk; Our Lady of Doncaster, Yorkshire; Our Lady of Glastonbury, Somerset. Sad to relate, these shrines suffered much wanton destruction during the reign of destruction under King Henry VIII – the vast majority were completely destroyed. In modern times, however, some new shrines have been built to replace the lost ones, and new statues put back in place.
In this piece I want to tell you about one particular such shrine in Yorkshire, a county that lies in the heart of England. Although the shrine’s original statue of Our Lady suffered the fate of many others, the shrine itself escaped destruction. In recent years, a new replacement statue was put back for veneration. We speak of the shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Crag, in Knaresborough.
The small market town of Knaresborough is situated in the West Riding part of Yorkshire, in the north of England. The town is quite hilly, like many other towns and villages in that part of the country. For a small town, there is much of historical and religious interest in Knaresborough.
Close to the town centre lie the ruins of Knaresborough Castle, a place which commands a panoramic view of the River Nidd valley below. This is a good starting point for our pilgrimage. The castle was originally built in the 12th century, and re-built during the 13th century. Sadly, it was mostly destroyed by Cromwellian forces in the middle of the 17th century.
As you look out over the river valley you will see the viaduct which carries the railway line. The river below is a very popular place for boating. To the visitor, there appears almost a Continental feel to the place.
Towards the Shrine of Our Lady of the Crag
We leave the Castle grounds and head towards the aptly-named Gracious Street (I wonder if there is an implicit reference to Our Lady in that name?) From there begins a very steep descent down to the bridge that crosses the River Nidd. At the bridge we turn left onto Abbey Road, which is a picturesque riverside walk (and probably named after a local religious house – more anon). On the right of the walk lies the river. On the left you will encounter some impressive rock and cave formations. And it is here that you will find the Marian shrine of which we speak.
To be continued…
– friar Solanus Mary OFM Conv.