Feast Day 24th September

Although never officially canonised Robert is considered as one of the outstanding saints of the early thirteenth century, with churches dedicated to him both at Knaresborough and Pannall, in North Yorkshire. Seven stained-glass panels of his life, originally from Dale Abbey survive at Morley, in Derbyshire.

Born in 1160 at York, the son of an important citizen of that city, Robert, very early in his life became a sub-deacon and a novice at the Cistercian abbey of Newminster, but he only stayed there a few months, before taking up a hermits life in a cave at Knaresborough. At first he had to share his cave with a knight who was hiding from Richard 1, on the death of the king the knight returned home to his family leaving Robert on his own, he continued to live there for some years, until a wealthy widow offered him a cell and chapel at Rudfarlington, near by. He stayed there just a year before his hermitage was destroyed by bandits. Robert dispossessed of his home lived, for a time under the church wall at Spofforth and then he tried living with the monks at Hedley, near Tadcaster, but he found them far too easy going for his style of life. By this time the area had calmed down and he returned to Rudfarlington.

For a time Robert prospered, having four servants and keeping cattle. But he was soon in trouble again this time with William de Stuteville, the constable of Knaresborough castle who accused him of harbouring thieves and outlaws. This may well have been trife for Robert was well known for his charity to the- poor and. destitute. Having his hermitage destroyed for the second time, this time by the forces of law and order under William de Stuteville, Robert returned to the cave at Knaresborough, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

This good and kindly man had many benefactors including King John who, in 1216 gave him forty acres of land, Robert eventually accepted this gift for the poor, so not to pay tithes on it. Even William de Stuteville relented and gave him land and cows. In his declining years Robert had a companion, Yves, who helped him and remained with him until he died in 1218.

Before he died Cistercian monks from Fountains Abbey tried to win him over to their Order so that they could bury him in their church. But on his death-bed Robert refused their pleas and arranged to be buried in the chapel beside his cave. In 1252, after the Trinitarian house at Knaresborough had acquired his hermitage, papal records offered an indulgence for "Building the monastery of St. Robert at Gnaresbur, where that saint's body is buried". This followed his translation and although, as was mentioned at the beginning of this article, official canonisation never took place there was implicit approval given to the cult of this remarkable, holy and generous man.

St. Robert's chapel soon became a place of pilgrimage, where oil was said to flow from his tomb. The site of the chapel can still be seen, overlooking the River Nidd to this day.John hayward


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