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Ridley Abbey

The failures of Protestantism

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of life in Wygarth is its religious roots. Like many parts of Northern England, Catholicism has remained firmly embedded here even after the Protestant Reformation of the 1530s. Throughout the centuries since then, there is clear evidence of a rejection of Protestant values and a slow return to the historic links with Rome. Initially, this was difficult, and the continuation of mass services at Ridley Abbey were conducted at night and on strange days of the week to avoid suspicion.

By the mid-17th century, thanks to the influence of local landowners such the Ridley and Peck families, Catholics were not subjected to the same levels of persecution as in other parts of the British Isles. In a tradition that continues to this day, Guy Fawkes Night is not celebrated in Wygarth, and instead residents say prayers early and retire to their houses.

In his 1996 work Recusants, Martyrs and Memorials: Roman Catholicism in the Wygarth Area, church historian Francis Urquhart states that 'Even in the 19th century, the town of Wygarth was nicknamed “Maryland” for its Catholic dominance, a not-so-subtle reference to the disastrous reign of Queen Mary, who briefly returned England back to Rome.'Today, while Ridley Abbey is a picturesque ruin, it is still used for baptisms, marriages and funerals, weather permitting.