History of St Robert’s Church
Thought to have been dedicated at first to St Michael, the original church was built in the thirteenth century, and the first recorded Vicar left to become Archdeacon of Rochester in 1271. In 1318 a Scottish raiding party stayed here while attacking Knaresborough Castle. When they left they destroyed the church, leaving only the tower intact. Shortly afterwards, the church came into the possession of monks of the Trinitarian Order of St Robert of Knaresborough based at Knaresborough Priory and they rebuilt a new stone Chancel. It may have been at that time that the church was rededicated to St Robert. Since then the floor level of the Chancel has been raised but the fourteenth century piscina and the top of the sedilia are both still visible to the right of the altar. The church remained in use until its dissolution in 1539
The Nave was rebuilt in 1772 in the Georgian style. The top of the windows were altered to a gothic style in 1930 and the oak roof beams were added at this time. In 1977 a modern “Chapter House” was added and further meeting rooms were added in 1994.
Other features of the church include a seventeenth century font and a stained glass window from Knaresborough Priory. There are three bells in the tower, two dated 1669 and the other 1703, cast by Samuel Smith of York.
The handcuffs and truncheon used by the Victorian constable, employed by the parish, are displayed in the Chapter House.
Life of St Robert of Knaresborough
The church is the only Anglican Church in the country dedicated to this saint who was very popular in the middle ages. Robert was born around 1170, the son of Touk Flower, a leading citizen of York. From childhood he was fascinated with the religious life and, after being ordained a sub-deacon, he went to the Cistercian monastery at Newminster (Northumberland). After only four and a half months he returned home for a few days before traveling to Knaresborough where he took up residence with a “hermit-knight” in the cave he would later make his own. When the knight departed, Robert took the patronage of Juliana, a widow living in Knaresborough, who gave him the chapel of St Hilda at Rudfarlington, two miles south of Knaresborough. There he first developed a reputation as a wise and holy man who cared for the poor. Attacked by thieves he moved to Spofforth (the nearest to Pannal he ever lived) where his reputation grew so great he was overwhelmed by the crowds and retired to a priory at Hedley, near Tadcaster. There he was too good for the other monks!
He returned to St Hilda’s Chapel where he once again cared for the poor of the area, incurring the wrath of Sir William Stuteville who accused him of harbouring robbers and had his buildings destroyed. Robert told Stuteville’s servants to “Go back to your lord and tell him that willy, nilly, my resting place will be next to his tower for ever. I am not in the least afraid either of his malice or his threats. Because the Lord is my protector I have no fear of what man may do to me!” So he returned to Knaresborough and established his hermitage next to the River Nidd.
When Sir William decided to destroy that shelter, he had a nightmare that transformed his view of Robert, so that he begged the hermit’s forgiveness for his ill treatment. Many other stories of Robert exist both in Latin and Early English verse. One of the most intriguing concerns his complaining about the King’s deer eating his crops. Sir William, making fun of the saint, invites Robert to catch the offending beasts. Robert not only manages to herd the deer into his barn as if they were a tame flock of sheep, but also harnesses them to his plough and sets them to work repaying the damage they have done!
His brother Walter, now Mayor of York, came and paid for some new buildings, including a chapel dedicated to the Holy Cross. The floor plan of this can still be seen alongside Robert’s cave in Knaresborough today. In 1216 Robert was visited by King John, who gave him some land for his work with the poor. Robert died on 24th September 1218.