Set near the North Sea in East Yorkshire, the Priory Church of St. Mary, Bridlington has been a staple in this village since the 11th century. It is among the many monasteries in England suppressed by Henry VIII, however, the church itself was saved for use as the parish church.
The Priory was founded in 1086 by Walter de Gant, and during medieval times, became one of the largest and richest monasteries of the Augustinian order. This structure, still standing, was a small part of the grand monastery and once housed the Shrine of St. John of Bridlington, who was canon from 1362 until his death of the plague in 1379. He was the last to be made a saint before the Reformation and is best known for performing miracles, healing, and saving lives. Miracles increased after his death, making his grave a place of pilgrimage. Today, there is a carving of St. John standing in the Priory and a ledger stone placed in the approximate position where the Shrine of St. John once stood.
Most of the original monastery was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541, including the roof. Boat builders hastily rebuilt the back wall of the church around the stained glass, and if you look closely, you can see how uneven it is. Then, they took the bottom of a boat to use as part of the roof. Later, joiners took over and finished the roof. When you look up you can see the difference in the ceiling.
King Charles and Queen Camilla visited the Priory in 2013, and in honor of the visit, their faces are carved over one of the doors on the outside of the church.
The Priory Churchyard is a sanctuary for wildlife, with areas not mowed or pruned, so that nature can thrive. There are bat boxes and bird boxes scattered throughout the grounds, and trees and bushes undisturbed to provide shelter and roosts during the night. Native plants, including nettle, cowslip, and ivy, grow to provide vital food and shelter for butterflies, thrushes, blackbirds, and bats.
A labyrinth also sits among the gravestones for reflection and prayer. A bucket at the entrance to the labyrinth holds stones you can take with you. The stone can represent a burden you carry or someone on your mind. You pray and reflect as you carry it to the center, and then leave the stone in the pot as a way of leaving the burden or handing that person over to God’s care.
Today, as part of its Augustinian heritage, the priory offers three great monastic themes: prayer, hospitality, and study. This ancient church reminds us of the rich history of England, as well as, being a lovely place to find peace and a time for reflection.