Tuesday 6 February. After a morning at University studying for the MA in Public History and Heritage, I went to do some in depth research – a public service in a heritage building. Box ticked! The Bridge Chapel in Derby, or The Chapel of St Mary on the Bridge, stands beside St Mary’s bridge – grid reference SK 353368. I have walked past it regularly – it is a lovely walk from home, down through Darley Park, under St Mary’s bridge, and into town. It is cared for by Derby Cathedral, and is open for regular services, heritage open days and other occasions – according to the Cathedral magazine I’ve just (11 March) read it is open from 2 to 4 pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays from the last Tuesday to April to the last Saturday in September (so now you know). It is a shame the inner ring road is quite so close – and whoever gave permission for the hideous Jury’s Inn?
There are five other bridge chapels still standing in England – Wakefield, Rotherham, St Ives (Cambridgeshire – I remember mum and dad taking me to that one), Rochester and Bradford-on-Avon. Remains of one exist at Cromford – must go and explore. A chapel has existed in Derby since the late C13, although this building is about a century later. Records show that the anchoress, Agnes Waly, withdrew to her cell here on 3 January 1370 – for details of an anchoress, see my post.
In 1488 John Dale was the priest, and by this time the chapel had become enriched by the gifts of many benefactors. It also housed the figure of “The Black Virgin of Derby”, an object of pilgrimage, second only to the shrine of St Alkmund at Duffield. The chapel was closed at the Reformation, and handed back to the burgesses of Derby in 1554. In the C17 it was used as a meeting place by local Presbyterians, then was converted into cottages.
In 1794 the current St Mary’s bridge was built – designed by the architect Thomas Harrison. Born in Lancaster, he is notable for Lancaster and Chester castles, various other bridges, and one or two churches. The new bridge was a few feet upstream, so physically separate from the chapel. It was used as a workshop, then as a Sunday School for St Alkmund’s church, then as a workshop again. By the 1920s it was in a very poor condition.
Now it is beautiful. I walked in, and realised that when they describe it as a “gem”, they are right. I climbed up to the gallery to take a photo, had an explore with the camera, then led the Requiem Eucharist. There were five of us there – myself, a Verger, two regulars and a visitor. I hope they ask me again – a very special place to celebrate. The chapel is also used by the Orthodox Community, so I signed the service register after an “Arch Priest”.
The altar was designed by Ronald Pope, and is made from Derbyshire stone quarried at Birchover. It was installed in 1973. On its base are letters IMMR standing for Jesus Mater Maria Regina, and waves symbolising the Derwent. Pope also made the frame surrounding the medieval figure of Jesus. The wooden statue of Our Lady of Walsingham is by Anton Wagner, and was installed in 1983. The hatchment displays the arms of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria. The question is “Why?”
The East Window was installed in 1973 in memory of Sean Ferguson. It was designed by Mary Dobson. Each panel alludes to some specific aspect of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The octagonal shape of the top two lights represents the enclosed garden on the soul, swallows are harbinger of the summer (Mary the harbinger of the Incarnation), 12 stars which crowned the Woman of the Apocalypse, a unicorn as a symbol of virginity (who knew that?), a gateway, an ivory tower, a cat (there is a legend that a cat gave birth to a litter of kittens in the stable at Bethlehem on the night of the Nativity (who knew that?)), rays of light symbolising the resurrection, and a lily. In the lily you can see a caterpillar and a butterfly – Sean Ferguson’s favourite metaphor of death and resurrection. (We had The Very Hungry Caterpillar read at our Theo’s funeral). In the bottom lights we have the Mystic Rose, the Fountain, the Lily and the Star of the Sea. Beautiful. The window in the south wall dates to 1932, and the glass is the work of Richard John Stubington.
On the wall of the chapel is a memorial to the Padley Martyrs. Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam were arrested at Padley Manor near Hathersage. They were brought to Derby, and executed along with Richard Simpson, on 24 July 1588 – they were hanged, drawn and quartered. The following day their remains were exhibited close to the Chapel. It was the time of the Spanish Armada, feelings were running high, and their fate was sealed. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
Inside the chapel is a memorial to those who ensured the Chapel was repaired and restored. It is also rather nice that they have produced a booklet entitled “From Eyesore to Medieval Gem; the men who saved the Bridge Chapel”. Thank you to them, and to all who care for, donate to, and repair our beautiful churches. I hope and pray that any northernvicar in the 22nd century will be able to look back at the 21st century and find people who continue to care for, donate to, and repair our beautiful churches – and not just see a century where people decided they were surplus to requirements and a drain on our resources.
I walked home – education this morning, spiritual refreshment at lunchtime, an afternoon walk, and choir in the evening. What more can a man ask from life?