- Our Lady of Doncaster
The Carmelites & the Shrine
The Carmelite Friary of Doncaster was founded by John Nicbrother (John Nightbrother of Eyan) in the quarter of the town then known as Hall Gate. Co-founders were Richard le Ewere and, by reason of their patronage, the King (Richard II) and John of Gaunt, his uncle.
On 30 November 1350, licence was granted for alienation in mortmain by, "John son of Henry Nicbrothere de Eyoun and Richard le Ewere of Doncastre to the Carmelite Friars who are coming there to dwell in the town of Doncastre, of a messuage and six acres of land there, to build thereon a church in honour of St. Mary and houses to dwell in". So, 1350 would appear to be the recognised date of foundation of the shrine.
From the first, their Doncaster house became one of importance, due perhaps to its position on the North Road. A Provincial Chapter of the Order was held here in 1376 and, during the Pontificate of Boniface IX, two of the Community were- appointed Papal Chaplains: i.e. in the years 1398 and 1402
Doncaster afforded an excellent stopping place on the route north from London to Scotland and the Border, as the Romans had found when they built Ermine Street. Henry VII, in his all-important progress North after his coronation came from Nottingham to Doncaster on a Saturday. The following day he heard Mass before the Lady Shrine. There were good reasons for his visit . Apart from his own sincere devotion to Our Lady, shown in so many other ways, here was a Shrine which claimed, technically at least, to have John of Gaunt as a founder.
A few years later, 13 June 1503, his elder daughter Margaret made her own progress to Scotland, to become Queen of James IV, whom she married two months later. She was met ceremonially on her arrival in Doncaster and lodged at Whitefriars, where she was introduced "according to precedent custom". The implication of that is worthy of note. Other royal visitors to the Shrine had included Henry of Bolingbroke (Henry IV), in July 1399, and Edward IV, 1470.
Gifts to Our Lady
When the young King Edward V was brought from Ludlow to London for his intended coronation, his protector, Anthony, Earl Rivers, was arrested by the Duke of Gloucester at Northampton and sent to Pontefract Castle. As soon as Gloucester had taken the throne for himself Rivers was executed, shamefully, at Pontefract. Before he died he bequeathed his heart to Our Lady of Pewe at Westminster; but the hair-shirt which he always wore in penance, he bequeathed to Our Lady of Doncaster, and in due course it was laid before her Shrine there.
This was but one, if the strangest, of many bequests to our Lady of Doncaster by noble personages. The following examples are cited as being typical of the practices of those days. Then, too, people delighted to provide the means for the burning of lamps and tapers (candles) in honour of Our Lady.
It was also a pious custom to leave specific directions as to the place of burial they wished for. Many such benefactors chose their favourite shrines of Our Lady for this, wishing for nothing better than to be laid to rest in the protection of her sanctuary. In I449, Constance Bigod, widow of Sir John Bigod of Settrington, left her girdle worked with silver and gilt to Our Lady of Doncaster. Roger de Bankewell, already referred to, was in fact buried close to Our Lady's Shrine, in 1366.
Later there were buried here Sir Robert Welles and his wife and, at her own request, in 1484, Margaret Cobham, wife of Ralph Neville, second Earl of Westmorland. Her tomb was of such beauty that it was spared at the Dissolution and was removed to the parish church.
In I482, Sir Hugh Hastings, then on an expedition against the Scots, thought it prudent to make provision, and left funds to provide wax to be burned during Mass before Our Lady's altar here. But he returned safe, and his Will did not become effective until his death in I487. In 1506 his daughter-in-law, Katherine, following in the same tradition, left to Our Lady of Doncaster her "tawny chamlett gown". One supposes that the rich material with which it was made was cut up into vestments, after the manner of the times, with which the statue was arrayed.
The Northumberland Household Book contains the following entry: - "Item: My Lord useth and accustomyth to paye yerly for the fyndynge of a light of wax to birre befor our Ladye in the Whit-Frers of my lordis foundation at Mastyme dayly throwout the yere sett befor our said Ladye there. To be paid to the prior of the said hous for the hole yere for the fyndynge of the said light. To be paid ounes (once a yere, xiii s. iiii d. )"
Nor may one forget the simpler gift of Alice West of Ripon, who gave Our Lady of Doncaster "my best bedes".
In time for Princess Margaret Tudor's visit, another gift of interest was made. John Twisilton left a silver gilt crown, token that he acknowledged the Queenship of Our Lady in this her shrine so much visited by, royalty. And, of interest is the following entry occurring in no less than the Expenses of Henry VIII:-
“1517, April. Sir Geoff. Wren, clerk of the closet, for a taper of wax burning before Our Lady of Doncaster, four years, 4 I."
The Miracle of Robert Leche
On the eve of the Reformation came this great miracle worked for Robert Leche and his family who were wonderfully saved from drowning after invocation of Our Lady of Doncaster.
The full text of the story of the saving of Robert and his family is recorded in the Kenyon MSS., issued by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, under the heading of "A curious account of a reputed Miracle". It is one of the most substantial of any such accounts preserved to us from the old Catholic days and the text in question runs thus: -
"Be it known to all Christian people that on the 15th day of July, I524, that as one William Nicholson of Townsburgh (some three miles from Doncaster) should have crossed the river (Don) at a ford at Seaforth Sands with an iron-bound wagon with six oxen and two horses, laden with household stuff, having in the said wayn or wagon one Robert Leche, his wife, two children (one child being half a year of age, the other being under seven years) set his servant Richard Kychyn upon the forward horse; and when past midstream, due to wind and rain, all were driven down stream; the first horse was drowned and the wayn and all was upset, with the wheels upside down.
"Then did the company all call and cry out to Almighty God and Our Blessed Lady, whose image is honoured and worshipped in the White Friars of Doncaster. Each in turn managed to call upon Our Lady and be saved; but Robert Leche's wife, carried three hundred foot and more midstream, and the wagon rolling over and over, and she in it. "All people on land did kneel, and prayed that if ever Our Lady of Doncaster showed miracle, she would show some grace upon this woman. And saved she was; shouted out that she did right well for God, and that Our Lady of Doncaster had saved her. "And that these premises be true and not feigned, William Nicholson, Robert Leche and his wife and children, came to Our Lady of Doncaster upon St. Mary Magdalene's Day next after, and did declare this gracious miracle, and it was sworn upon a book before the Prior and Convent with various witnesses named. "And at that day this gracious miracle was rung and sung in the presence of three hundred people and more. DEO GRACIAS. "
The Destruction of the Shrine
In the aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace, whose leader, Robert Aske had stayed with the Carmelites at Doncaster, the priory and Shrine were doomed. The priory was handed over to the king's commissioners on November 13, 1538, the surrender was made by Stubbis and seven other friars. It was taken by the Commissioners, Hugh Wirral and Teshe, who made an inventory of the friary property at the same time. But Our Lady of Doncaster's statue had already been removed under Archbishop Lee's orders.
According to Wriothesley, Windsor Herald, who wrote the informative Chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors: - "It was the month of July, the images of Our Lady of Walsingham and Ipswich were brought up to London with all the jewels that hung around them, at the King's commandment, and divers other images, both in England and Wales, that were used for common pilgrimage . . . and they were burnt at Chelsea by my Lord Privy Seal". Two other chroniclers, Hall and Speed, suggest that the actual burning did not take place until September. The fate of the image of Our Lady of Doncaster is not stated, and beyond the Archbishop's action in seizing it we have no means of knowing what did happen to the statue. A famous letter from Bishop Latimer to Cromwell mentions the image by name, referring firstly to the image of Our Lady of Worcester he says:
"She hath been the Devil's instrument, I fear, to bring many to eternal fire; now she herself with her older sister of Walsingham, her younger sister of Ipswich, and their two sisters of Doncaster and Penrhys will make a jolly muster in Smithfield. They would not be all day in burning".
The Shrine Reborn!
The revival of devotion to Our Lady of Doncaster has been quiet and unobtrusive, one intimate among Doncaster people and without widespread publicity. The Marian Year of 1954 certainly gave great impetus to the revival, and many hitherto unaware of it became suddenly aware of the shrine so near to their homes.
The Bishop of Leeds, the Diocesan, Right Reverend Mgr. John Carmel Heenan, D.D., himself encouraged the devotion by composing a prayer in honour of our Lady of Doncaster, to which he attached an indulgence
O Lord Jesus Christ, Who from the cross bequeathed to us Mary Thy Mother to be our Mother also, grant us the grace to be worthy to be called her children. May Mary be Queen and Mother of every home. Our town in ancient days was renowned for devotion to Our Lady of Doncaster. Today, once more we crave the comfort of her motherly protection. Bless all who invoke her sweet name and may Mary lead us to Thee who are the Way, the Truth and the Life: Who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, for ever and ever. Amen. (100 days indulgence.)
St. Peter's Church, Doncaster, is a worthy home for the renewed Shrine of Our Lady of Doncaster. It was built at a difficult time and externally, perhaps, might not be considered as imposing as a Shrine-church of Our Lady should be. But appearances are often deceptive and within a considerable degree of stateliness has been achieved.
That this is indeed the home of a Shrine of Our Lady is suggested before ever the visitor enters, by the remarkable tympanum over the main portal. Mr. Charles Hatfield's description of it, in his 1868 Historical Notes, gives a contemporary opinion of it, within a few months of its erection: "The doorway is divided by a shaft of polished granite, which serves as a pedestal for the statue of Our Blessed Lady, carved alto relievo, having Our Lord and Saviour in her arms and on either side standing figures representing St. Peter and St. Charles Borromeo, patron saints of the church. The background of the design is relieved with drapery and the ensemble is very chaste and effective. It is cut in Roche Abbey stone. A nimbus or halo surrounds the principal figure on which is the following inscription: BENEDICTA ET VENERABILIS ES VIRGO MARIA QUAE SINE TACTU PUDORIS INVENTA ES MATER SALVATORIS. " '
From the first going in one is assured that this is indeed a place where the Mother of God is held in due regard and with affection.
The Church was opened by Cardinal Heenan on Palm Sunday 1973 and the people of Doncaster joined with Bishop Moverley (first Bishop of Hallam) in celebrating its consecration on the feast of SS Peter and Paul, 29 June 1988.
The new church is octagonal in shape. John Bentley’s Tabernacle Door, the four reredos panels and the altar designed for the old church are incorporated in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of the new church.
The Statue of Our Lady of Doncaster now stands in a specially designed Shrine Chapel on the north side of the church. Phyffers' statue stands in an oak reredos with modern stained glass windows depicting St Joseph, the Annunciation, the Nativity and Our Lady’s Assumption.
Shrines of Our Lady in England", Anne Vail, Gracewing Publishing 2004.
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