Church History: St Alkelda
There is locally, widespread disbelief in her existence. The origin of this refusal to accept that she could have lived, lies almost entirely at the door of Thomas Brayshaw who wrote of his belief in her non-existence in several of his local booklets and Papers. His views have been followed uncritically by most local historians from the late 19th century until almost the present day. The remarks about her in A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick are more circumspect. The statement regarding her existence on p. 229, that the “safest verdict is ‘not proven’ ”, was probably the comment of Ralph Robinson, Brayshaw’s co-author and editor.
Recent scholarship offers strong circumstantial evidence that St Alkelda was “probably” a historical person. See the North Craven Heritage website.
Thomas Brayshaw was a “broad church” Anglican who preferred to opt immediately for what appeared the most “rational” rather than an open, investigative approach, which examines all possible sources and reasons for omissions . He never appears to have visited Middleham, allegedly St Alkelda’s birthplace, to examine the physical evidence of her tomb, or to study the church records. Neither did he consult any of their authorities. Brayshaw was only interested in exploring the possible existence of St Alkelda as she appeared in Giggleswick records, where the first reference to her was as late as 1528. For most of the Middle Ages, the living of Giggleswick Church was held by Finchale Priory of Durham. Brayshaw’s supporting argument was that the Finchale Priory’s financial records have no mention of St Alkelda at all . However, Brayshaw must have noticed the entry of 1376-7, “Expenses connected with the churches of Giggleswick and Middleham amounted to £5.4s.10d.” He mistakenly drew the conclusion, stated in several of his Papers, that the living of the Middleham church was also held by Finchale Priory. The truth is that Middleham Church never had any connection at all with Finchale Priory. That leaves us with the question regarding why 2 churches, 33 miles apart, were linked together in this entry. St Alkelda is an obvious reason.
Acknowledgement- photos from Middleham – Revd Jeff Payne