St Joseph's Catholic Church

Bishop Thornton, Harrogate


In St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Bishop Thornton, quite close to the altar, a large table of stone is prominently displayed. The surface is rough and damaged. It has been broken into several pieces and is now bound together by straps of iron. In spite of its condition one can quite clearly discern five crosses chiselled into its surface. These mark the five places where the stone was anointed with Holy Oil when it was consecrated. It is in fact an altar stone and according to tradition it formed part of the altar in the first chapel to be built in Bishop Thornton.


The ancient altar stone rescued from the site of the original chapel

This broken stone might be seen as a symbol of the story of the Catholic community that we now know as St. Joseph’s Parish, Bishop Thornton. It is a community which had its origins in that group of people who, more than five hundred and fifty years ago, gathered in front of this altar to take part in the Mass. That community suffered violence and was torn apart. Although, like the stone, it was damaged and broken it survived, clinging doggedly to its beliefs. After many years of trial the people of a later community were able to gather in a new home around another altar, and there celebrate the same sacrifice of the Mass.

Many histories have been written of many Catholic parishes, but few can enjoy the special distinction of being able to claim a genuine continuity with medieval origins. We aim to tell the story of one such community, a family bound together by a common faith and common worship. It is a community which survived and in due course re-established itself in spite of much adversity. Limitations of space preclude a detailed account of its history but what follows is based, wherever possible, on original research into primary sources, the documents left to us by the people of the time.

This history of their parish is now offered to the people of St. Joseph’s, Bishop Thornton, with affection and in happy remembrance of time spent among them. May it remind them of whence they are come and how precious is the inheritance of which they now have custody.

The locations of special interest in this history, based on a 17th century map of the West Riding of Yorkshire (courtesy of Mr. Paul McTague)

  1. Bishop Thornton
  2. Raventofts Hall
  3. Markenfield Hall
  4. Harewell Hall
  5. Markington Hall
  6. Mulwith
  7. Ripley
  8. Dole Bank