Old Midsummer Day service at “hidden church” of Ninekirks

Date: Friday 9th July 2010

ON Sunday, Old Midsummer Day, the parish of Clifton with Brougham celebrated the 350th anniversary of Lady Anne Clifford’s rebuilding of Ninekirks, the ancient parish church of Brougham.

It was rebuilt on the traditional spot where St. Ninian worked as a missionary in the 5th Century.

His headquarters were in Whithorn over Solway. St. Ninian was a Scot and perhaps this was why Ninekirks in Medieval times became St. Wilfrid’s, St. Wilfrid being English, a Northumbrian.

By 1393 Brougham Chapel had been created for the then nearby village of Brougham. An agreement in that year fixed which services would be held at Ninekirks and which at the chapel. At Easter all went to Ninekirks, at Christmas they went first to the chapel and in the afternoon to Ninekirks. The village of Brougham was cleared away around 1700 by Mr. Bird, the hall’s then owner, and its site added to his park.

By 1659, Ninekirks was derelict. The puritans of Cromwell’s era disapproved of the Church of England. Lady Anne, then at Skipton Castle, had it taken down and rebuilt from May to August, 1659. The next summer the inside was plastered and the pews and pulpit put in and Lady Anne had “A.P. 1660” put into the plaster inside on the east end.

“A.P.” stands for Anne, Countess Dowager of Pembroke, which she was. The font was given in 1662 and the poor box in 1663. These and the pews are still there. Lady Anne’s pew is the eastward one on the north side of the church.

Sunday’s rain gave way to sun and a strong breeze. The church was full and the singing hearty, and the congregation included six dogs!

Most members of the congregation had walked from the main road along the grassy track to the church. Its churchyard had been nearly cleared of undergrowth. The service was led by the Rev. Anton Muller, formerly of Dacre, who is helping with the present vacancy in the parish.

A large choir sat in Lady Anne’s pew and the pews behind it. The Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Rev. James Newcome, sent a message of the future aims for the parish and this was printed on the order of service.

The service was that of Evensong in the Book of Common Prayer. The canticles were sung by the choir, accompanied by keyboard. The anthem was Keep You in Peace, by Sarah Morgan. In his sermon, Mr. Muller said that Ninekirks points to God at work, past, present and future. It brings trust, thankfulness, hope and life, through those who visit it as modern pilgrims.

The collection was for the Eden Valley Hospice. Refreshments, served at the back of the church, followed the service.