The History of the Chapel
The Chapel of St Michael Archangel was completed in 1310, when the whole house received its major enlargement under Canon John de Markenfield. Mass would have been said here daily for over 250 years by the resident priest, who may well also have been Chaplain to the Markenfield Chantry Chapel in Ripon Cathedral three miles away.
Markenfield was always a fiercely Catholic house. In 1539, the forcible suppression of nearby Fountains Abbey and other great monasteries appalled the devout Markenfields. It is probable that the family did what they could to rescue much of what was then being broken up: the stone carved hand and wrist, possibly of a child-saint, found in the moat in 2008 and now on the window cill to the left of the altar, may have been a fragment of what they tried to rescue.
A generation later came the great rebellion known as the Rising of the North, led by the Markenfield of the time, Sir Thomas, then aged 37 “rash, daring and too wildely yonge” as he was described at the time, and by his venerable uncle, the Churchillian Sir Richard Norton of nearby Norton Conyers, who was the Rising’s standard bearer. A major contingent of the rebellion gathered under their command in the Courtyard outside on 20th November 1569. Their leaders last heard Mass in this Chapel before riding out at the head of an armed host, their intention to remove Queen Elizabeth from the throne, replace her with Mary Queen of Scots and restore freedom of worship to Catholics.
The end of the Rising was appalling. Like a moor fire it had leapt into being and like a moor fire it quickly died away, as a contemporary account describes it, as when it came to actual fighting, its leaders’ passion was not matched by military competence. The Queen’s troops encircled and outmanoeuvred the rebels, who broke ranks and fled in confusion. Over 200 were caught and hideously executed. Markenfield itself, house and estate, was confiscated for High Treason, and the family driven out. The courageous and daring Sir Thomas and his uncle managed to flee abroad to save their lives, never to return. Sir Thomas died of starvation on the floor of a miserable cottage in Brussels, 34 years later.
Now only two remarkable portraits of Sir Richard remain in the Chapel to recall that tragic episode: one defiant, the other profoundly melancholy. No likeness is known of Sir Thomas Markenfield. Every August, a Requiem Mass is held in the Chapel, sung by monks from Ampleforth Abbey, for the souls of the last four members of the Markenfield family to live here, and who died under such tragic circumstances:
Some time later, perhaps after the house had become a tenanted farm, the Chapel was divided into two horizontally by the insertion of a floor half-way up. The blocked doorway to the upper room can be seen above the spiral stairs, as can the slots, one each side of the main, east window, where a supporting beam for the upper floor was inserted. The top half of the West window was blocked in at that time.
The Chapel probably became briefly Protestant after 1569, but had fallen into disuse by the 1700s. In 1855 it is recorded as being used as a grain store by the tenant farmers of the day. Substantial restoration was carried out by the 7th Lord Grantley in the years 1981-84, working with Lady Grantley, when the dangerously sagging north wall was replaced by the attractively niched wall you see today. The arches of the niches are lined with two courses of a soft-toned brick — the only place in the house where brick is used, a discrete indication by the architect that it is not original work. A stone in memory of Lord Grantley, who died in 1995, is in one of the niches.
The Chapel was not at that time set up for regular worship, but services were occasionally held with a table from one of the bathrooms improvising as a makeshift altar. What was probably the first Latin Mass since the Reformation was celebrated here on 6th October 1995 by Fr. Geoffrey Parfitt, who had visited the room when a schoolboy and who had resolved then that, should be become a priest, he would one day celebrate here.
Full restoration and refurbishment took place in 2001, in thanksgiving for their marriage by Ian Curteis and Lady Grantley, now Lady Deirdre Curteis. It was the first recorded marriage in the Chapel since 21st November 1487, when Christopher Conyers married Anne Markenfield by Archbishop’s special certificate. It is a Catholic Chapel where Anglican services are also held; in practice they alternate fortnightly throughout the year. All are most welcome.