Chapels on Bridges in England, Mary's Dowry
Did you know that Catholic chapels mostly dedicated to Our Lady, built on or beside bridges throughout England, was a common and devotional practice and way of life in England when it was Catholic?
Very many chapels built in England were constructed on or at the sides of bridges, so that on entering or leaving a town it was the custom to pause in prayer in these little sanctuaries. This was a popular custom throughout England while it was dedicated to Our Lady as her Dowry.
In most of these chapels beside bridges, Masses were said at a very early hour, especially for the benefit of travelers. The chapel on London bridge, dedicated to St Thomas, is one such famous bridge chapel.
Such chapels were erected on bridges in York, Sheffield, Lincoln, Leeds, Wakefield, Durham, Rochester, Salisbury, Rotherham, Droitwich, Bradford, Derby, and other places.
The present Ive Bridge in Bradford may have been originally called 'Ave Bridge', and derived its name from the custom of saluting some statue of the Blessed Virgin, though the chapel itself was dedicated to St Osith or Sitha.
A chapel dedicated to St Mary the Virgin was built together with the bridge at Leeds in 1376. It stood at the North-east end. At the dissolution of the chantries under King Edward VI it was made into a school, and subsequently a warehouse.
Ancient histories tell us that it was often monks and priests who built the bridges in England, or how the exhorted the rich to this good work.
"The bridge at Beford-upon-Turege is a very notable work and has twenty four arches of stone. A poor priest began this bridge, and it is said he was animated to do so by a vision. Then all the country about set their hands unto the performing of it. There stands a fair chapel of Our Lady at the very end of it." - Leland's Itinerary.
In his History of Wiltshire, Sir Richard Hoare gives a very detailed account of the bridge and chapel built over the Avon at Salisbury. Mass was said at dawn every morning. To the chapel a hospital for old people was attached.
The source of revenue by which bridges and chapels and hospitals were maintained was entirely cut off by the Reformation. The very altar stones were taken from the chapels and placed on the bridges to be trodden under the feet of men and cattle. After this, barriers had to be substituted on our bridges in England in the place of open chapels, and forced tolls instead of voluntary offerings.
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