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One of the hidden gems in Knaresborough is the medieval Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag.
It was historically a wayside chapel for pilgrims visiting the Knaresborough Priory and was carved out of the rock face in 1408 after a divine miracle.
This ancient temple is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and has a valiant knight guarding the entrance of the shrine.
It’s been here for over 600 years and is still an active Marian shrine, place of worship, and a unique tourist attraction in Yorkshire.
Here’s a complete guide to the Chapel in the Rock in Knaresborough and how to visit!
Who built the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag in Knaresborough?
Although not much is historically known about the chapel, it is known that this shrine was carved out of the cliff in 1408 by a local resident called John the Mason.
There is a legend that he built the chapel after he witnessed a divine miracle. The story goes that John’s son joined him at the quarry one day and was almost crushed by a sudden rockfall.
John was too far away to save him but he prayed to the Virgin Mary to save his son’s life.
The rockfall suddenly changed direction and the boy lived. So, John wanted to build a shrine in dedication to the Madonna and Child.
King Henry IV granted permission to build the chapel on a plot of ‘wasteland’ for annual rent. John then painstakingly carved an intricate temple into the cliffside.
Years later, John’s son became a priest of Knaresborough and offered mass in his father’s chapel.
This Chapel in the Rock has remained here for over 600 years but it has had some renovations made to it over time in the Victorian era.
Over the centuries, it has served as a wayside chapel for pilgrims visiting the now-demolished Knaresborough Priory.
Today, it is still an active Marian shrine with a few services held each year. It is also a tourist attraction in Knaresborough.
How to visit the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag
The Chapel in the Rock is located in the market town of Knaresborough which is in North Yorkshire.
You’ll find the chapel in an old quarry on Abbey Road which lies beside the River Nidd.
There is some public parking on Abbey Road but this is very limited. The nearest paid parking is the Knaresborough Waterside Parking area.
This is £1.80 all day on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s only a five-minute walk to the chapel from there!
Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag opening times and prices
A good thing to note is that the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag is only open once a week on Sundays from 2-4 pm during the summer months.
So, if you were set on visiting the inside of the chapel then definitely plan to visit Knaresborough on a Sunday.
If you are here and it’s closed, you can just about see the chapel from outside the gate on Abbey Road.
It’s completely FREE to visit the chapel in the crag but donations are always appreciated for the upkeep of the shrine and gardens.
What to expect on your visit
To reach the chapel, you will ascend up some steep steps. Watch out if it’s been raining as these can get really slippy.
You’ll pass through a gorgeous garden of flowers that smells incredible. On my visit, it was packed with bluebells and it was stunning.
Once you reach the top, there are some friendly volunteers that will greet you on the day and are happy to answer any of your questions about the chapel.
Make sure to sign their visitor book whilst you are here. There is also a charity pot for donations which are always appreciated.
If you wanted more information, they have some shrine information booklets for sale and a Rosary of Shrines map too.
Carving of a knight guarding the shrine
The first thing you’ll notice is the wonderful rock carvings outside the chapel entrance. I’ve never seen anything like this before in the UK.
There are lots of cave and rock houses around the country but none so elaborate with carvings like this.
There is a window, an entry door, and then a carving of a sword-wielding knight guarding the entrance of the shrine! This carving was mentioned in a poem by William Wordsworth.
It’s amazing how this knight has managed to last over time without weathering but many believe it may have been a Victorian restoration.
I guess it is sheltered by the trees and foliage to avoid most of the damage. But, it’s in great condition if it’s an artwork that originated from the 1400s.
Just above the carvings, you’ll see a painted crucifix which signifies that this is a holy place and Marian Shrine.
What’s inside the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag?
As you step inside the tiny temple, you’ll find a shrine of the Madonna and Child.
This is dedicated to the Virgin Mary who is holding baby Jesus in her arms and there are lots of candles and offerings at her feet.
You’ll find that the large window opposite the shrine is actually stained glass and is yellow on the inside when lit by natural daylight.
Again, there are rosaries, portraits, and offerings to the Virgin Mary on the sill.
There are lots more carvings found inside the chapel like a face in the rock and an intricate vaulted ceiling with rose details.
Anyone is welcome to visit the shrine for prayer and reflection. There is a small seat carved into the rock.
You can bring votive candles, flowers, and offerings should you be moved. Just make sure to check with the volunteers before you place them.
Altar Garden & Our Lady of the Crag Statue
Before you leave, make sure to check out the small garden beside the shrine with a statue of Our Lady of the Crag in the Altar Garden.
This garden and altar is actually a new edition and was created in 2018. You’ll find a statue of Mary who is praying with rosemary in her hands.
There is an altar just in front of her and this is often used for a small number of services that take place throughout the year.
This area around the chapel is lovely to explore as it’s beside the cliff. Just be careful as there are steep paths that can get muddy if it’s been raining.
House in the Rock
This Chapel in the Crag is not the only interesting attraction beside the River Nidd in Knaresborough.
Just nearby is the House in the Rock which used to be a tourist attraction years ago but now is a privately owned property.
It used to be called Fort Montague and was excavated by Thomas Hill, who was a linen weaver, and his son in 1770 and 1791.
Apparently, Thomas Hill flew the national flag, fired his cannon from the rock house, and printed his own banknotes.
The rock house was inhabited by his descendants until 1996 but then became a private residence in the year 2000. In my personal opinion, it should have been a museum.
Although you cannot go inside the House in the Rock anymore, there is a small plaque you can read about this peculiar residence and you can see the outside above on Abbey Road.
St Robert’s Cave
Along the same Abbey Road, you can visit the humble abode of St Robert’s Cave which was built in the 13th century.
This is a rare example of a medieval hermitage cut into the limestone rock and has a small house and chapel.
It was the residence of St Robert of Knaresborough who was born in York to a wealthy family.
But, he later became a Cistercian Monk in Fountains Abbey. He hated the monastery lifestyle and so decided to build his own Hermitage in Knaresborough.
So say, he was a miracle worker and people flocked to him to cure their illnesses. He lived in this cave until the end of his life.
Centuries later, a skeleton would be found in this cave and became the scene of a prolific murder case in the 18th century.
Daniel Clark was a merchant and swindler and it’s believed he was murdered by his close friend Eugene Aram. Aram later confessed and was hanged in York in 1759.
Visiting the cave is free and you can see the remains of the chapel, house, and St Robert’s beside the River Nidd.
Chapel in the Rock facilities
There isn’t much by way of facilities at the Chapel of Our Lady in the Crag. The nearest toilets are the pubs nearby which are the Half Moon and Mother Shipton Inn.
I would highly recommend stopping by Mother Shipton’s Inn for a drink or some food. They have a cosy pub by the fire and a pub garden for sunny days.
I stopped by here for their Sunday roast dinner and it was very, very tasty! I would recommend booking though as they can get busy on weekends.
Looking for more things to do in Knaresborough?
Knaresborough is a gorgeous historic town that is built by the River Nidd. You can see the Nidd Gorge or a popular thing to do in the summer months is boating.
One of the most popular things to do here is to visit Mother Shipton’s Cave. She was a prophetess who lived in a cave right here in the forest.
Just nearby, you’ll find a petrifying well that quite literally turns objects into stone! They are famous for selling their petrified teddy bears. It’s so interesting and I would recommend visiting.
You can head to the marketplace and see the ancient market cross, do a bit of shopping, or visit the church of St John the Baptist.
My favourite view of the whole town can be found on top of the Knaresborough Castle complex.
The views from here of Knaresborough Viaduct are picture-perfect and you can watch trains passing by.
You could also head out of the town to visit amazing locations like Plumpton Rocks, the National Trust Brimaham Rocks, or the historic Fountains Abbey!
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