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The Burial Place of St Margaret Clitheroe?

St Margaret Clitheroe,Stydd. The Burial Place of St Margaret Clitheroe?


The hypothesis that St Margaret Clitheroe is buried in the chapel at Stydd is based, in the first place, on three accounts, two of which are dated 1586 and 1592. (St Margaret was put to death March 25th, 1586)','."the sergeants and catchpolls were commanded to bury her body at midnight in an obscure and filthy corner of the city that none should know where, which they did with great secrecy, that in the whole six weeks after catholics could not find it".

View of Stydd Chapel Ribchester

View of Stydd Chapel Ribchester


It was found and secretly transported. How far? "A long journey on horse back to a place where it rested six days before the necessary preservatives could be gotten... and after was laid up as a worthy treasure until God... send His peace again unto His Church , that then it may be kept with due honour". "... a great journey where he buried it again more decently eight weeks after her martyrdom". We are talking, then, of a journey that took about a week.
In what direction? York was the centre of a system of Roman roads which still gave guidance in the 16th century, north to Catterick, east to Bridlington, south along Ermine Street, and invitingly westwards by Tadcaster and Ikley to Ribchester. A precious burden was being carried in secret through the country that was hostile because Yorkshire was under the jurisdiction of the aggressive Council in the north, some of whose members had been particularly eager for the condemnation of Margaret Clitheroe. The country Palatine of Lancaster was relatively safe haven.



View of Stydd Chapel


Stydd Chapel - The square windows seem to have been transferred from St Wilfrid's, Ribchester, in the 17th cent


To whom would they come? The staunchest Catholic in the area of Ribchester was possibly William Hawksworth of Mitton. His landed interests stretched across the West Riding to well beyond York, so the lines of communication were just right. He had acted as guide to Campion on his visit north. He had sent no fewer than four of his sons to Douai, the college whose president was William (Cardinal) Allen. His wife was a close relation, probably a niece, of Allen's mother. There were two priests in York connected with St Margaret. John Mush, Margaret's spiritual director, had been appointed by Dr. Allen as leader of the secular priests in the North. It is likely that he was acquainted in York with William Hawksworth. However, it is another priest working in York who was mentioned in Margaret's indictment as having being harboured in her house. He is Fr. Francis Ingleby- and he was connected with the Hawksworths through the marriage of his youngest sister.


Stydd Chapel - Porch

Stydd Chapel - The Porch appears to be later c.1800's


So where might the body of St Margaret have been "with reverence buried where the God's grace it may be kept a glorious relic for better times to come?" It has been noted, above, that missionary activity in the Ribchester area seems to have been centred on Bailey Hall which stood in the parish of Mitton. In 1915 a party from Stonyhurst excavated the ruins of a medieval chantry attached to the Hall. Beneath the site of the altar they discovered a burial crypt, approached by a flight of thirteen stone steps and lying in the traditional position for the shrine of a martyr, to be dated not earlier in the second half of the sixteenth century. It was empty. For whom had this "luxury" been prepared? The family that held Bailey Hall was a junior branch of the shireburnes and firmly recusant. Their Chantry chapel had been founded in the fourteenth century by a kinsman, Robert de Cliderow ! Thought they had the chapel they would not seem to have had the wealth to construct so lavish a vault for themselves. The need to provide seems again to point to William Hawksworth whose favourite house was just two miles away. But if this exceptional burial place was prepared to receive the remains of St Margaret Clitheroe - where is the body?


 Unmarked Tombstone


Unmarked Tombstone The resting place of St Margaret Clitheroe?



Interior of the Stydd Chapel - East Window

The east window is early 13th cent. The pulpit Jacobean (17th cent.)


By 1716 the Shireburnes had left Bailey Hall. Richard Shireburn had joined Bonnie Prince Charlie in the '15 rebellion. His estates were forfeit and by Act of the Parliament Bailey Hall was to pass into the Protestants hands. Was the body of St Margaret to be rescued and kept safe "for better days to come?" In 1686 an estate, a little further to the west, had been purchased by a Catholic consortium - Stydd. The Anglicans in Lancashire were sympathetic to the defeated Jacobites. The Vicar of Ribchester had accepted two men "Executed for treason" for burial in his churchyard. Fr Sir Walter Vavasour, baronet, who had operated from Bailey Hall carried some social clout and was on good terms with local Anglicans- himself to be buried at Stydd. A request for permission to transfer to the chancel of Stydd chapel the body of a Catholic lady buried privately in Bailey Hall chapel might have been easily granted.


Bailey Hall

Bailey Hall - The almshouses are said to have been founded by one
of the Shireburns (Stonyhurst) and maintained by the
Walmesleys of Showley Hall from 1720. To the right you
see the present Catholic church (1789).


In the Vavasour family there is an oral tradition: "She was taken a horse's journey at night and was buried; there she will remain until the church is restored to its own". this seems to have originated with Fr Vavasour and would not refer to the journey from York but to the translation from Bailey Hall to the Stydd chapel.

There is one more curious fact. Anne Clitheroe, Margaret's daughter, by July 12th, 1593, was in gaol in Lancaster Castle for "causes ecclesiastical". Why had she come across into this area?

This account is based on an article "THE LOST BODY OF ST MARGARET CLITHEROE: AN HYPOTHESIS by Katherine M.Longeley which appeared in the Northern Catholic History, No. 31,