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The Ruined Choir and Sanctuary of Bolton Priory.
In 1154, a group of black-robed Augustinian canons (priests) and their Prior arrived to occupy land next to the village of Bolton-in-Wharfedale, made available to them by Lady Alice de Romille, the owner of nearby Skipton Castle. They had spent two years enduring harsh conditions on higher land in nearby Embsay, until Lady Alice provided this site near the River Wharfe, sheltered by the surrounding hills from the cruellest of the winter weather. They quickly constructed their first shelter of rough stone, signs of which are still visible in the base stones of the ruined High Altar, and began their long sojourn which we continue today.
The canons’ day was a long cycle of prayer and worship, seven days a week, starting at 2 a.m. and not finishing until dusk. They also found time to preach, teach, run hospitals, give shelter to travellers and perform the duties of local priests for the community.
They had a number of sources of income: agricultural produce, tithes, and rents from farms, mills and mines. This money was given to sustaining the community as well as meeting the costs of continuing to build and extend the buildings. There were many hazards: illness, harsh winters, famine and poverty when crops failed, raids from over the Scottish border.
Over 4 centuries, however, the Priory thrived and grew, and the site grew and became more magnificent.
Then, very suddenly, in 1539 the Priory was faced with complete obliteration as King Henry VIII undertook a campaign to destroy the monastic houses of England.
Work to create the West Tower was halted, lead was torn from the roofs, furnishings stripped out, valuables carried off to the King’s treasury. Most of the estate was sold to the Clifford family, owners of Skipton Castle, and later passed to the Cavendish family, now the Dukes of Devonshire.
Fortunately, the last Prior, Richard Moone, intervened to ensure that the nave of the building was retained intact to provide a place of worship for the inhabitants of the village of Bolton-in-Wharfedale. A wall was erected to seal off the eastern end of the nave and a new church was born from the remains of the old. The centuries passed, and the old Priory buildings slowly crumbled away, whilst the Church continued as a focus for the community’s spiritual life.
ZUIKO 4/3 14-45mm