In the 1990s, in the context of an increasing interest in shrines and pilgrimages, several local people sought to improve the site. This led to a contact with the Sacred Land Project, a national enterprise for the restoration and the creation of religious sites, founded by the International Consultancy for Religion, Education and Culture. This organisation was sponsored by the World Wide Fund for Nature and was launched by the Duke of Edinburgh and the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1997. The Sacred Land Project was promoted on BBC Radio 4's Sunday worship broadcasts, the first of which was recorded here in Knaresborough.
Being part of the Sacred Land Project resulted in the shrine receiving a millennium grant from the Arts and Sacred Places organisation. The group chose to use this funding for a new statue, as the 1919 statue was not a good fit for the niche in the chapel and its decorative colouring did not resonate with the hardness of the rock. The 2000 statue was an altogether more robust image of the Madonna and Child, carved from Derbyshire gritstone by the Yorkshire sculptor Ian Judd, and weighing about half a ton. It was placed in the chapel with considerable effort and care at the direction of the sculptor!
The new statue was dedicated during a special Mass by the Abbot of Ampleforth. This took place along with a display of artwork and public readings of specially-commissioned poetry, all of which was funded by the Arts and Sacred Places organisation.
2008 was an important year for the chapel, being the 600th anniversary of its foundation. The group organised events to celebrate this and to raise money for the ongoing maintenance and improvement of the site. Around this time the local council agreed to place better signage to help visitors find the chapel, and a blue plaque was placed on the boundary wall.
Also in the mid-2000s, Peter and Viv Thornes planted the award-winning garden which is there today, with the upper part including plants associated with healing, the lower with plants associated with the Virgin Mary and Saints from medieval times. The path leading up to the chapel was improved and handrails provided for ease of climbing up from the road.
In July 2016, one hundred years after the chapel was endowed to the Catholic community, Ampleforth Abbey decided that it could no longer fulfil the requirements and responsibilities associated with the chapel and its land. It was therefore decided that the chapel site would be sold to the existing volunteer committee, which would be constituted as an independent Charitable Incorporated Organisation, the site to be held and maintained both as a heritage site, and a shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the 6th March 2017, the group were formally constituted as 'The Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag Trust', charity number 1171904. We can collect funds (including Gift Aid) which we will use for maintaining and enhancing the chapel and its grounds within the guidelines established by English Heritage.
The story continues...
See the page on Conservation History for work carried out before and after the foundation of the Trust in 2017. More recently, this includes the clearing of the site and a new garden and statue behind the altar (see the picture below). This will enable visitors to find a space for prayer when the chapel itself is not open.
In 1916, the land was bequeathed to Ampleforth Abbey, and so returned to Catholic hands. The Benedictines of Ampleforth have a link with Knaresborough that goes back to the 17th century. Ampleforth Abbey continues to provide the parish priest to serve the Catholic parish of St Mary's. In the early 20th century 'restoration work' was carried out in the chapel and three carved heads on the right-hand wall were removed to make way for the plaque. With today's laws protecting heritage sites this work would not have been possible. The three heads can be seen in old pictures. In 1919 a new statue of our Lady of the Crag was obtained for the Chapel, which can now be seen in the parish garden of St Mary's Church, Bond End.
In 1952, the Chapel was designated a Grade 1 listed building, as a site of special historical or architectural interest.