Shap Abbey was originally founded in about 1191 by Thomas who was the son of Gospatric at a place called Preston Patrick. For some reason that history does not provide the site was unsuitable for the White Canons who came to dwell there. Perhaps the Kendale Valley wasn’t remote enough for them. In any event the Premonstratensians relocated in about 1200 to the remote and wild land beside the River Lowther at a place called “Hepp’ or ‘Heap’ so called because of a pile of nearby megaliths. Shap Abbey was duly dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene.
The Premonstratensians were founded by St Norbert in Germany. The Premonstratensians lived frugal lives in isolated places following the example of the early desert fathers. As regular canons they were all ordained priests who lived together in a monastic community.
During the thirteenth century, according to Butler & Given-Wilson, there were twenty canons there and, as with every other monastic community, Shap was dependent upon the generosity of its patrons and benefactors. For instance Shap manor was previously held by the Curwens of Workington and then subsequently by Shap Abbey. Curwen records that Thomas de Workington gave to the canons land, pasture and the Rectory of Shap as well as the church of Bampton; Johanna de Veteripont gave them nine acres while other members of the de Veteripont family gave the vill of Reagill where they had a grange and chapel the Hospital of St. Nicholas near Appleby to maintain three lepers, also a parcel of land in Knock Shalcock. Another benefactor was Robert Clifford, First Lord Clifford of Westmorland. Summerson notes that Clifford, who was buried at Shap following his death at Bannockburn in 1314, had founded a chantry at Shap for his parents. Roger Clifford had died in 1282 in Wales whilst Isabella Vieuxpont – from whom Robert inherited many of his northern territories- died in 1291 and was buried at Shap (H Clifford, The House of Clifford (Andover, 1987), pp 51–2). Shap was to become the burial place for many generations of the Clifford family including the Shepherd Lord (the 10th Lord Clifford) who died in 1523.
A chantry was usually a chapel within a church dedicated to a particular benefactor or benefactor’s family. It is where prayers and masses for the benefactors’ souls were said to help them get out of Purgatory faster than might otherwise be expected. There is no indication in the archeology, as it has currently been explored, as to the location of the Clifford Chantry. Equally there is no mention made of the chantry in the documents relating to the dissolution of the abbey. Having said that Keld Chapel which is thought to have been a separate chantry chapel belonging to Shap Abbey also goes unmentioned in the documents of the time.
John F Curwen, ‘Parishes (West Ward): St Michael, Shap’, in The Later Records Relating To North Westmorland Or the Barony of Appleby (Kendal, 1932), pp. 358-376 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/n-westmorland-records/vol8/pp358-376 [accessed 1 January 2015].