St Robert – patron saint of Yorkshire?

THE names of Saint George, Saint Andrew, Saint David and Saint Patrick will be familiar to most people as patron saints – but what about Saint Robert?

Some will know him from the two churches named in his honour, one in Pannal and one in Harrogate town centre. Anyone with an interest in local history might recognise him as the monk who lived as a hermit in a cave beside the River Nidd in Knaresborough.

But if a Yorkshire clergyman gets his way, the name could soon be familiar to everyone in the county.

The Rev Bob Shaw, vicar of St Peter with St Cuthbert in Hunslet Moor, Leeds, is campaigning to have St Robert recognised as patron saint of Yorkshire after noticing the lack of publicity the once-famous man had in Knaresborough tourist leaflets.

Writing in his parish magazine, Mr Shaw said: “I find it truly astonishing that the patron saint of Yorkshire has been relegated to the small print of the official brochure for the town where he stayed for so long.

“The current tourist information brochure gives only a few lines about St Robert and these are tucked away in the recommended circular walk. It says that St Robert lived in the cave for 32 years and died there in 1218. The entry goes on to claim that St Robert is the patron saint of Yorkshire!”

Mr Shaw added the cave used to be a place of pilgrimage for Christians. St Robert drew visitors from across Europe by teaching a holy way of life, healing people and accepting alms for the poor and the release of prisoners. He even attracted a visit from King John, but refused to be disturbed by the monarch during his prayers.

St Robert, whose full name was Robert Flower, was the son of a Lord Mayor of York. He joined the Cistercian community in Northumberland at an early age and dedicated himself to a humble, secluded life. He died in 1218, aged 58, and a tiny chapel in Abbey Road, Knaresborough, is said to be a memorial to him.

Mr Shaw’s call for the influential monk to be given greater recognition coincided with the celebration of St Robert’s feast day on Monday, September 24.

But if there is to be a patron saint for Yorkshire, the hermit faces stiff competition from potential candidates, including St Wilfrid, a former Bishop of York.

Born in Northumbria, Wilfrid travelled to Rome and returned to England with the intention of replacing Celtic religious traditions with strict Roman practices. He founded a church in Ripon in the seventh century which, after many developments and alterations, is now the site of Ripon cathedral. St Wilfrid is still remembered in the city every year in the St Wilfrid Procession.

Further competition comes from across the county with St Hieu of Tadcaster, St Hilda of Whitby, St Chad of Lastingham in the North York Moors, St John of Bridlington, and St Alkeld of Middleham and Giggleswick.

But Mr Shaw said he felt St Robert was the most deserving of all the potential patrons.

“The truth is that St Robert of Knaresborough was renowned across Europe throughout the Middle Ages and the cave where he lived brought pilgrims in great numbers,” he said.

“I believe that St Robert should be restored to his rightful place as the Patron Saint of Yorkshire and that the cave and the remains of his chapel should once more become a place of pilgrimage for Christian folk in the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds and beyond.”

l Do you support Mr Shaw’s suggestion, or do you have any other proposals for saints who should be made patrons of Yorkshire? Visit our website, and have your say.