The village of Dale Abbey in the southeast of Derbyshire was originally an area known as Depedale. It was renamed after the monastery was founded in the 13th century, but the first religious occupation of this spiritual site was actually by a solitary hermit in the early 1100s.
The hermit in question was a local baker from Derby named Cornelius, who one day had a dream that the Virgin Mary told him to go to Depedale to live a life of solitary prayer. As the story goes, he obeyed the vision despite not even knowing where Depedale was at the time. Upon his arrival, he found nothing but a marshland in the valley bottom with steep sandstone banks on the southern side. There, he excavated a home in one of these sandstone banks and began his worship in seclusion.
The simple cave has openings for a door and windows, and a cross engraved on one wall. On the outside is a large collection of carved graffiti that has accumulated over the centuries. The hermit later built a small chapel at the site; measuring just 26 by 25 feet, it is probably one of the smallest churches in England. Remarkably, it shares a roof with an adjoining farmhouse that was once possibly once used as an infirmary for the abbey. The hermit’s well can also still be seen in the churchyard.
The hermit’s story led Depedale to become a place of religious significance, and around 1200 the Dale Abbey was founded and the Augustinian monks took over the chapel as their own. The abbey was destroyed in Henry VIII Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, but the church house and a magnificent stone arch, part of the former Abbey Cloisters, remain, as well as the storied hermitage in the woods.
Know Before You Go
You can reach Dale Abbey by bus from Derby, service Y3, known as the Ilkeston Flyer.