Sometimes the Truth is Stranger than Fiction……
In this instance it all started with a Baker from Derby. Improbable as it may seem now he had a dream in which the Virgin Mary told him to go to Depedale (now Dale Abbey) and take up the solitary life of a Hermit, living in solitude and devoting his time to prayer. This was early 1100’s. The Hermit carved out a cave in which to live from the wooded Sandstone cliffs of the Dale.
His solitary life must have been a meagre one but one he endured for many years. Inside the cave you can see the old cross carved in the wall but also sadly much modern graffiti. Even though the world beyond the cave must have beckoned he remained faithful to the commandment of the dream.
All changed when the Lord of the Manor spotted smoke from the Hermits cave, investigated and heard his story. The Hermits commitment so impressed him that he not only allowed the Hermit to remain but bestowed a sum of money upon him to secure a local Mill. The Hermit still remained faithful and built a small Chapel and home just below the cave.
That Chapel is still there. Whilst it and the adjoining house has been rebuilt in various stages over the centuries the original size and shape of the Chapel remain much as it was when built in the early 1200’s.
The Chapel is now known as All Saints, Dale and remains one of the smallest in the U.K. Measuring 25ft x25ft it is crammed with wooden pews, small alter and of course a pulpit (the later only being squeezed in in 1634)…..
The walls appear whitewashed but in recent years a Wall Painting was discovered hiding behind the plaster. For heritage reasons it has mostly been left undisturbed…
The windows have lost most of the coloured decoration they once had but a little survives that provides a clue to its style…
I mentioned that the Chapel was also part of a building that became the Hermits home. Much altered and with an equally colourful story, today at first glance that building does much to hide the existence of the Chapel….
The Chapel is to the left on the lower floor level. The remainder is now a private dwelling but in the past it has been a farm, an Inn “The Blue Bell”, and the upper floor has also been a hospital for the Abbey.
Hard to believe when you visit this little village today, but the Hermits story and achievements attracted a wider religious audience, and a large Abbey was established in the early 1200’s. History tells us that its early years were problematic and at time economically unsustainable. But after the acquisition of much land in the area it succeeded and became an large and important Abbey. The 1539 Act of Dissolution lead to the destruction of this and many other Abbeys in this case ending over 4 centuries of monastic life in Dale.
The only indication to the size of the Abbey is a 40ft high Chancel Window. Some other foundation stones can be found but I guess most of the stones were robbed (as was the practice) to build houses in the area. It does seem rather undignified for such a part of a grand Abbey now to be pressed into service as a field boundary….
The Village of Dale, because of its history, is allowed a good degree of tranquillity now listed as a Historic Conservation Area…
As for All Saints Church…well the Chapel still plays an important community role and continues its history as a place of worship….
All Saints, Dale Abbey, Derbyshire.
(C) David Oakes 2015