Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday 17 May 2020

St Mary’s Chapel Jesmond

Before leaving the north-east on this Marian spiritual journey it is perhaps a good idea to take in a medieval pilgrimage destination not included in this particular list, but one which has survived, that at Jesmond, now part of Newcastle upon Tyne.

In the twelfth century the oldest part of the ruined chapel building was erected by the lords of the manor. It was associated with a holy well nearby, although it is unclear if that is the one that is now the focus for pilgrims. There was also a hospice or hospital linked to it. The foundation first enters the written record in 1272 in an Assize Roll which records how five clerics helped a criminal escape from Newcastle Gaol - first to Jesmond Chapel and then to sanctuary at Tynemouth.

In the fourteenth century the chapel was extended twice. This was despite, or perhaps a consequence of the fact that in 1333 the patronage was split between three sisters, which led to disputes, and sometimes three competing chaplains. In 1364 Edward III obtained the patronage which the Crown retained to 1449. In 1428 Pope Martin V made a grant of indulgences to the chapel to raise funds for repairs, and during the fifteenth century a chantry or chapel was added on the north side of the chancel. This new chapel had a west door of its own and a second north door, suggesting pilgrims were directed that way. The position is similar to that at Woolpit.

In 1472 the rector of Heslerton in the East Riding of Yorkshire made provision in his will for pilgrimaged to various prominent shrines including Jesmond, which suggests its appeal was more than purely local. As Diana Webb points out in her excellent Pilgrimage in Medieval England (2007) there were numerous local cults of the Virgin in parish churches up and down the realm in this period. It is claimed that Pilgrim Street and the Pilgrim Inn therein in the city of Newcastle gained the name because of people travelling to Jesmond.

Such journeys might take a more sinister turn - in 1509 it was alleged that there was a plot to kill or assault the Prior of Tynemouth on a visit to Jesmond that involved some of the Alderme and other leading citizens of Newcastle.

Suppressed by the Chantries Act of 1548 the site was sold in 1549 to the Mayor and Corporation of Newcastle who sold it on. The chapel served as a bar. Before falling into ruin. The remains were donated to the city in 1883 by Lord Armstrong.

The pilgrimage devotion had developed around the well, and some of that survived, or was perhaps replaced by the continuing attraction of the warm spring to the south of the abandoned chapel. Despite an attempt to turn it into a bathing place there are the remains of inscription Ave Maria Plena Gratia - the last word remains, but is apparently eighteenth century. This may well not be the original well.

St Mary’s Chapel ruins are still a place of devotion and Masses are occasionally celebrated there by the Bishop or the parish priest, and it also sees pilgrimages by local Catholic groups.

There are architectural and archaeological accounts of the chapel at St Mary's Chapel, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne and of the well at St Mary's Well, Jesmond, North Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne.

There is a series of photographs of the ruins at Jesmond Dene - St Mary's Chapel, a feature about St Mary’s Well at A pilgrimage to St. Mary’s Well, Jesmond, Newcastle and a general introduction to the area at Jesmond.

Our Lady of Jesmond, pray for us

No comments: