Church of St Mary and St Alkelda
Dating from 1280, this is one of only two churches dedicated to St Alkeda (Alkelda,Athilda, Alcelda) (the other being in Giggleswick) and is said to be her final resting place. St Alkeda was a chaste Saxon maiden, sometimes described as a princess and a nun. On 28th March 800AD, somewhere close to the site of the church, she was strangled to death for her faith by two Danish women involved in a Viking raid. It has been suggested that they killed her by twisting a napkin around her neck. This scene was recreated in a stain glass window in the church in the 15th century, fragments of which can be seen in the North aisle west window. When the church was renovated in 1878 a stone coffin was discovered that contained the remains of a woman, who is thought to be the martyred St Alkelda. A plaque near the location reads “Near this pillar, on the spot indicated by tradition, were found, during the work of restoration, the remains of St. Alkelda, patron saint of this church, Anno Domini 1878. F. Barker, rector; T. E. Swale and S. Croft, churchwardens.”
According to Edmund Bogg in “From Eden Vale to the plains of York or A Thousand Miles in the Valleys of the Nidd and Yore” (1894) ’Certain fee farm rents in Middleham were required to be paid upon St. Alkeda’s tomb, and these were laid on a stone table or altar in the middle of the nave, as were also some annual doles of bread.’
William Grainge who wrote in the 1800’s suggested her name could have been linked to a holy woman connected to a holy spring. Keld is the Old English name for well or spring and haeligkeld is holy well. St al-kelda could have been saint of the holy well.
St Alkelda’s feast day is 28th March which is the anniversary of her death. In 1388 King Richard II gave permission for a fair to held on the Feast of St Alkelda.
The church displays a replica of what is known as the Middleham Jewel. This 15th century reliquary is a diamond-shaped pendant with a long oblong sapphire. It is engraved with the Trinity on the front and of the Nativity on the reverse. The jewel was found in a field close to Middleham Castle in 1985.