In medieval history it was known as Myddilburga or Middilburga, with many other variations of form. There is an old tradition that a church in honour of St. Hilda was dedicated by St. Cuthbert at Middlesbrough about 686, but the earliest positive reference to Middlesbrough in ecclesiastical history goes to show that in the beginning of the twelfth century it was the site of a church dependent on the Abbey of St. Hilda at Whitby. At that time the church of "St. Hilda at Middlesburc" was given by Robert de Brus of Skelton Castle, founder of Guisborough Priory, to the Black Monks of St. Benedict at Whitby, on condition that there should always be some monks at Middlesbrough serving God and St. Hilda ; and there seems to have been a clause binding the monks to distribute twelve pence per week in alms to the poor of Middlesbrough for the soul of the said Robert de Brus. In the plunder of the religious houses the "Cell of Middlesbrough" was granted by Queen Elizabeth to one Thomas Reeve on 4 February, 1563. From that date there is no evidence to show that Mass was ever celebrated there, until in 1848 a private room in North Street was used for this purpose. A little later a modest chapel was erected and a resident priest placed in charge. Two causes concurred in the formation of a large Catholic congregation, namely, the Irish immigration and the rapid development of the ironworks in the Cleveland region.
In 1872 Rev. Richard Lacy was entrusted with the charge of the Middlesbrough Mission. In August, 1878, St. Mary's church (replacing the original modest chapel ) was opened with great solemnity by Cardinal Manning and Bishop Cornthwaite of Beverley. In December of the same year, St. Mary's became the cathedral of the new Diocese of Middlesbrough. The Diocese of Beverley, conterminous with Yorkshire, was, by Apostolic Letters of Leo XIII, dated 20 December, 1878, divided into the Dioceses of Leeds and Middlesbrough, Bishop Cornthwaite (formerly of Beverley, henceforth of Leeds ) being ad interim named administrator of the new Diocese of Middlesbrough. It was not until 11 December, 1879, that the papal Brief was received notifying the appointment of the new bishop in the person of the Rev. Richard Lacy, whose consecration took place in his own cathedral on 18 December, 1879, at the hands of Cardinal Manning, assisted by Bishop Cornthwaite of Leeds and Bishop O'Reilly of Liverpool. The chapter of the new diocese, consisting of a provost and ten canons, was erected by a decree of Leo XIII on 13 February, 1881. Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is the chief patroness of the diocese and titular of the cathedral Sts. Wilfrid and John of Beverley are its secondary patrons. Besides these there are many others who have shed the lustre of their sanctity on northern Yorkshire: St. Hilda, Abbess of Whitby (scene of the famous Synod of Whitby in 664); St. John of Bridlington; St. William of York; St. Everilda; Blessed John Fisher ; Blessed Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland ; the Venerable Nicholas Postgate , and many others.
Notwithstanding the fact that the ecclesiastical division of Yorkshire met with adverse criticism at the hands of several leading members of both clergy and laity, moved by sentiment rather than a profound knowledge of the needs of religion, the following statistics demonstrate both how groundless were the fears then entertained, and how accurately the situation had been gauged by the ecclesiastical authorities. In 1839 the Catholic population of Yorkshire was 13,000; in 1909 it was 167,027. In 1839 there could hardly be 3000 Catholics in what is now the Diocese of Middlesbrough; in 1909 they numbered 50,344. In 1879 the total number of priests in the Diocese of Middlesbrough was 54; in 1909 they numbered 113 (76 seculars and 37 regulars). In 1879 the churches and chapels were 38; in 1909 they were 67. In 1879 the school-children numbered 3135; in 1909 they numbered 10,060. In 1879 there were 17 elementary schools ; in 1909 there were 43. There are 23 elementary schools and 14 middle-class schools conducted by religious; two orphanages, one for boys under the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul at Hull, and the other for girls under the Poor Sisters of Nazareth at Middlesbrough; one reformatory for boys under the Fathers of Charity at Market Weighton; two pupil teachers' centres, one under the Sisters of Mercy at Hull, and the other under the Faithful Companions of Jesus at Middlesbrough; one training college for teachers, under Sisters of Mercy, at Hull; two colleges for boys, one under the Marist Fathers, at Middlesbrough, the other under Benedictine monks, in connexion with the well-known Abbey of Ampleforth.
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