Historia Update: Life in ‘The Chapel’

Once again I have found myself much quieter on here than I would have hoped and I guess I am wholly to blame for this absence as it is my blog! However my silence is not without reason and the blame primarily hangs on the seemingly never ending job search during a pandemic combined with moving house. I don’t know if you recall my ‘Historia Hiatus’ post where I recounted the emotional departure from my previous home and how busy we all found ourselves moving out? Well, reverse that process and we are all busy bees again moving into our new home. Our new home however is actually a rather old home as we have settled into a 13th century Chapel. Intrigued? Read below for a little snippet of life in ‘The Chapel.’

Built in the 1250’s this lovely chapel was once a chantry chapel connected with Jervaulx Abbey. It functioned as a place where priests and monks would come and sing hymns and perform masses for the dead, praying for their souls. Sadly due to the Reformation, Jervaulx Abbey was closed and fell into ruin and slowly the chapel was abandoned. The chapel steadily fell into a state of disrepair and it became so bad that it was considered unfit for habitation and was used as a barn for farmers from about 1572 to 1950. In the 1950’s it was soon realised that this chapel was no mere barn but a building considered to be of considerable historical importance. It was awarded Grade II* Listed Building status in 1953 and restored to its former glory in 1999 to be a residential home!

So what is it like living in a converted chapel?

Before you ask, no it isn’t haunted – at least we don’t think so. Extensive archaeological excavations took place before the renovation of the chapel and they found no graves on the site, not even a single human bone, which put my mind at rest at least! They did however find the carcass of a cow, harking back to its days as a barn. My dad however, was rather annoyed at the archaeological finds, or should I say lack of. He was determined that some major archaeological artefact would be found here, even going so far as to hope that Excalibur may be found on the grounds. He was sorely disappointed that (direct quote) “not even a single paltry coin” (a statement offensive to coin lovers everywhere) was found in the garden: I think half of him wanted to make the house into a museum with a gift shop the way he talks about it sometimes. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to ‘find’ a mysterious sword one of these days that he has bought from Amazon and fastidiously dug into some forgotten corner of the garden.

My mum and I however are less concerned with the lack of artefacts and more about how to clean the 900 year old beams of the house which, as you can imagine, are ridiculously high in an old chapel. We have been googling exciting things like “best 2 metre feather duster 2020” and lamenting the fact we are only 5ft 2. Even on a high ladder with arms up high and our current rather squat feather duster at the ready, we fall short of the beams by a long, long way. At this rate we envisage the erection of monthly scaffolding to get up to them if our 2 metre feather duster does not pass muster. In conclusion, stupidly high beams look good, but are a nightmare to clean.

There are however some less difficult features of the chapel with no less charm! We have a little niche in the wall called a piscina, which was a place near where the altar would have been that was used for disposing of holy water used during the communion services; pretty cool right?! We also have two delightful little monks outside our door on the wall which I am yet to name and huge windows to the chapel that are actually doors. At every turn there is something else to find in this house, some little historical titbit to enjoy – and bore all your friends about when you do find them of which I am guilty!

The Piscina now with a candle in it rather than Holy Water

From a history nerds point of view though living in this house is a dream come true. I genuinely feel like I have stepped into the past when I am looking out of the old windows onto the fields that surround the chapel.

I catch myself imagining the lives of the monks who came before, thinking about their joys, happiness, worries and sorrows. Did they wonder what they were having for dinner? Whether Brother Athelstan liked them or not? Had they annoyed a friend and wanted to apologise? Did they have good news they couldn’t wait to share? Looking through the windows, not for the first time, I find myself thinking that although hundreds of years separate us we are connected to history through buildings like this and the shared experience of what it is to be human.

Happy history everyone!

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