Text by John & Margaret Loughlin
For at least sixty years prior to the building of St. Margaret Clitherow's Church, Mass had been celebrated at a variety of locations in or near Grassington. These included various public houses, a class-room at Linton Residential Special School (now defunct) from 1951 until 1966, and thereafter Grassington Town Hall (the Devonshire Institute).
Although the Diocesan Directories show that the priests of St. Stephen's, Skipton were responsible for the services, some of St. Margaret's older parishioners can recall that for a time, Passionists from Myddleton Lodge, Ilkley said Mass at Linton School in the 1950s. By the late 1960s there were 80-100 attending Mass, swelling to 200 or more at peak holiday times, and in view of this, the Rt. Rev. William Gordon Wheeler, Bishop of Leeds, decided that a permanent Mass centre was needed in Wharfedale.
The Very Rev. Cornelius Lehane, Parish Priest of St. Stephen's, in liaison with architect Peter Langtry-Langton, set about finding a suitable site. The first choice, near Grassington Bridge, became the subject of a public enquiry on 13 February 1968, and planning permission was refused on the grounds that 'preservation qf the riverside view is qf paramount importance). Eventually in 1969 a new site, known as Doctor Laithe Field extending to one and a half acres, was found in Threshfield. It was offered by a local farmer Mr. Frank Kitching at a price of £2,250, and happily in July of that year building permission was granted.
Sadly, in that year, Fr. Lehane died, but his successor, the Rt. Rev. Mgr. Canon Thomas Brady kept the building project alive, and eventually in May 1972 building plans were passed by Skipton Rural District Council Planning Committee.
Work actually commenced on site in August 1972 and the Solemn Dedication of the completed Church of St. Margaret Clitherow, Threshfield by the Rt. Rev. W.G. Wheeler D.D.M.A. Bishop of Leeds took place on Tuesday evening, 2 October 1973.
The church is a mixture of tradition and innovation; using traditional materials to blend with its surroundings, but departing from the usual style. At first sight, the church gives one the impression of a pyramid, as the zinc clad buttresses extend from the ground to the apex of the roof - like some structures of ancient times. [The architect's inspiration actually came whilst browsing through sketches of a simple church built by a priest in Africa, using poles, wattle and palm leaves.] On closer examination, one finds that the buttresses reach out to the ground beyond the building, which turns out to be a square upon a square, demonstrating God's order in the universe.
On the Eastern face a most striking feature, rising between the buttresses is the large Celtic Cross, emblazoned on the outer face of the light well over the main altar. This was designed and executed by John Ashworth and John Loker of LA Studios London.
Entering the main body of the church, there is a sense of peace and tranquillity. A feeling of orderliness and security is engendered as we see the exposed beams giving visible support to the roof; which has also been likened to that of a Saxon Hall.
From the roof ones gaze is drawn to the large bas-relief which depicts the risen Christ, flanked by the wheat and grapevines - symbolic of the Eucharist. The proportions of the figure are in accordance with Leonardo de Vinci's findings on figure proportion, although the height was adjusted to compensate for the viewing angle. This fine relief is also the work of John Ashworth and John Loker [LA Studios]. It is interesting to note that John Ashworth, who has received much acclaim for his fine sculpture and carving, had no formal art training.
In keeping with the desire for simplicity, the main and side altars are basic, unadorned stone constructions. The small sepulchre in the main altar contains relics of St. Valerian and St. Felicity, placed there during the dedication ceremony.
The credence table, to the left of the altar, was donated by the Nolan family in memory of Theresa Nolan, who died 21 June 1994 aged ninety six years.
Either side of the main altar are the eye catching, modern stained glass windows, designed by Jane Duff [now Ayers]. The swirling patterns in rich colours are seen to greater advantage in the morning sunlight, but are also very striking when softened by more diffused evening light.
The windows to the left incorporate many symbols in tones of red and yellow. The Blessed Trinity are represented by the large Alpha and Omega, the Dove and the Cross: the Transubstantiation is represented by the Chalice and Host. The wheat and grapes symbolise our offerings of bread and wine in the Holy Mass.
To the right of the altar, the windows concentrate on the theme of Our Lady and the lily is predominant. Blue has long been associated with Mary the Mother of God, and the rich blue swirls may remind one of another of her titles – “Star if the Sea”.
It may be of interest to note that since these windows were created, their design has been replicated in the church of Our Lady and St. Francis of Assisi, Bradford.
The Lady Altar replaces the Lady Chapel traditionally found in larger churches. The statue of Our Lady carved in limewood [as is that of St. Margaret Clitherow] reminds us of the unique motherhood of Mary, and of her special place in our hearts as mediator in our prayers, comforter in our sorrows and sharer in our joys.
The statue of St. Margaret Clitherow shows her dressed as she might have been seen in the Shambles of York.
Votive candles at these altars are lit as symbols of our respect and devotion for Our Lady and our Patron Saint.
The door at the back leads into the vestry where the priest robes and disrobes, and it also doubles up as a confessional.
To the right of the vestry door is the 'Avignon Piete', donated by the late Joan and Ronald Harker. It is thought to be the work of Enguerrand Quarton [or CharentonJ who painted in the Avignon region in the mid fifteenth Century. The original painting hangs in the Louvre.
The French leather screens surmounted by a crucifix, fold back to reveal a room which is used to serve coffee after Sunday Mass and can be used for extra accommodation during the tourist season. More recently, a wood and glass partition has been erected to create an area where our younger parishioners can receive Religious Instruction before and during the early part of the Mass.© John & Margaret Loughlin