To find out more, we need to go back to the Danish invasion of 866-7 and forward from there to the 14th century. We know nothing of Alkelda from contemporary sources because the Danes not only burnt down all the churches, monasteries, and convents throughout the eastern region of Northumbria, they slaughtered the monks, nuns, and anyone of note in the community who could read and write. The Danes themselves were illiterate. The city of York, famous for its church, great library and monastic school was razed to the ground. The devastation lasted a few years, in some places, more than others. There are near contemporary accounts of the sheer destruction and horror that took place around York and further north, under the Scandinavian Vikings who destroyed Lindisfarne. Simeon of Durham wrote that every village between Durham and York was laid waste and its people killed. Eventually, the Danes were accepted, became Christians and were integrated.
For barely 200 years, after the Danish-Viking invasion there was a period of relative calm. The peace was not to last; it was cruelly broken by the Harrying of the North from 1069-71, William the Conqueror’s punishment for rebellion in Yorkshire. No churches are recorded in the 1089 Domesday Book for Giggleswick and Middleham, both settlements described as “vasta” (devastated). The king and his soldiers not only killed the people and their animals, they burnt their houses and churches, and set fire to their crops, so that those who survived were left to starve the following winter. It has been estimated that 10,000 people died. The western Dales suffered too but more selectively. That meant that St Alkelda, the Anglo-Saxon saint, would have no-one to record the place of her burial. Her life, her Christian witness and her martyrdom were kept alive in folk memory.
The Normans replaced the Northumbrian aristocracy with their own and were not interested in the traditions of the people they had conquered. French was the language of the court, and Latin of education and the Church. From the 12th century, even The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were written in Latin. Because they were left on their own, the Northumbrians and Anglo-Saxon population elsewhere developed underground their own vibrant, popular culture, traditions and language, all of which was passed on orally. The St Alkelda story too was part of a similar movement in two localities . There was a real change in the 14th century, after the Scottish attacks in the North and the Black Death everywhere, which was no respecter of persons. The Black Death effectively put an end to the Norman feudal system and the serfdom of the English peasantry.
Then, amazingly, people began to write in English – John Wyclif, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland, Julian of Norwich, the first woman to write in English, then emerging from its late Middle English stage. Anglo-Saxon saints were brought out into the open again. In 1389, just 22 years after Middleham was linked with Giggleswick Church in the Finchale Priory financial transaction, there comes the first written mention of St Alkelda’s long association with Middleham in a grant from King Richard II for the people of Middleham to hold a Fair on St Alkild’s (Alkelda’s) feast day. This annual event was finally discontinued in 1926.
For a fuller account, please see the Guide book St Alkelda’s Way.