The story begins in the middle of the 12th century, when a group of monks from the Abbey of St Mary in York, dissatisfied with the fairly lax way of life of the Benedictines at that time, moved to the more austere Cistercian Abbey at Fountains.
It happened that Henry de Lacy, of Clitheroe Castle, fell ill and swore that if he recovered he would build a monastery to the glory of God in honour of St Mary. True to his word, when he recovered, he sought out a suitable site, and his choice fell upon Bernolfeswic.
According to the old monk, Selo, (who was 92 when he died) de Lacy gave land and resources and in 1147 twelve Cistercian monks and ten lay brothers arrived from Fountains to establish a daughter Church in Barnoldswick on a site which they named St Mary’s Mount. There already was an old church in Barnoldswick, probably a flimsy structure of wood or wattle, but the local people resented the interference of the monks, and during the disputes the monks pulled down the old church in anger. There were other troubles. In the damp Pennine atmosphere, crops would not ripe, and they were troubled by incursions from the Scots.
By 1152 the monks, and probably the locals had had enough, and that year the monks moved to a more amenable site, Kirkstall near Leeds, leaving behind only the name Monk Royd or Monk Rood, St Mary’s Well and the remains of fishponds.
The matter of the destruction of the local church had been referred to the Pope who found in favour of the monks on the grounds that the pulling down of the church would result in the greater advancement of true religion.
Around 1160, the monks returned to build Ghyll Church, replacing the old one. Ghyll Church is in an idyllic setting along a narrow country lane beside a natural ravine, hence the name ‘Ghyll’ Church. The fact that it was built a mile or more from the town is thought to have been some sort of retaliation for the former bad relations with the inhabitants. Or perhaps it was in order to provide a place of worship for the inhabitants of Thornton and Marton as well as the parishioners of Barnoldswick for both these churches (Thornton and Marton) were built a few years later.