Worksop: History of the Priory has played a big part in the town’s heritage

Priory Church Worksop
Priory Church Worksop

The Christian heritage in our area goes back to the earliest battles of the faith but those who funded Worksop Priory may have had mixed motives for which we are grateful.

The Christian heritage of Bassetlaw really starts in the year 627, when King Edwin of Northumbria and Saint Paulinus joined in the baptism of hundreds in the River Trent at Littleborough.

Only six years later, Edwin was killed in the Battle of Hatfield, which some believe took place near Cuckney.

Edwin – later be to be declared a saint – was buried in a hidden spot in the forest from which he was later moved to Whitby, though the name of ‘Edwinstowe’ has survived to commemorate this.

An iron cross in the forest marks the spot where a hermit lived, and therefore possibly where Edwin had been buried until the monk Trimma received a vision telling him to find the body and move it.

When the Normans conquered England they brought a new group of landowners who had grown rich on violence.

As they faced old age, some of these began to hedge their bets by paying for chapels and monasteries so that monks would then pray for their souls.

Worksop Priory was founded in 1103 by William de Lovetot, a Norman baron.

He then made sure he was buried inside the Priory as near to the high altar as possible.

His son Richard gave the town to the Priory, so that it could be funded from market and other revenues.

Eventually the de Lovetot family married into the de Furnival dynasty.

Gerard de Furnival made his name as a knight under King John and became a crusader and set off for Jerusalem, dying in Palestine in 1219.

However, his body did not rest in the Holy Land – it was brought back to be buried in Normandy.

Two of his sons also went to Palestine and Thomas de Furnival died in battle there in 1228.

His younger brother, also called Gerard, had Thomas buried and then returned home.

Their mother, Maud, was very distressed about Thomas being buried in a heathen land and it seems sent her younger son straight back to the Holy Land.

Thomas was dug up and brought back home, where he was buried on the north side of the Priory church at Worksop wearing a helmet ‘richly adorned with gems.’

A tomb was erected, described as ‘a noble carbuncle.’

But Worksop’s greatest contribution to medieval Christian heritage, apart from the Priory building, came when the Prior of Worksop from 1303 - John of Tickhill - commissioned a psalter to be illustrated by numerous artists.

This volume contains 482 illustrations of the story of David and Solomon.

It remained at Worksop until the dissolution in 1539 and was lost to the town.

It eventually turned up in the library of the Marquess of Lothian in the 18th Century.

Sadly it is now far from home – it was bought by the New York Public Library in 1932.

So, if the Greeks are campaigning for the return of their marbles, perhaps Worksop should be asking for its Psalter back?

It would be a fitting way to mark the anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers in 2020.

For more information on the new Pilgrims & Prophets social enterprise group of churches, visit their website at www.prophetsandpilgrims.co.uk