For this church:
Domesday Book records a village at Rufford in the lands of Gilbert of Ghent. 10 villagers had three ploughs and there was 20 acres of meadow with woodland pasture. Its value after 1066 had fallen from £6 to £2, similar to the nearby village of Wellow. There is no mention of either a priest or church here.
Prior to the foundation of the Cistercian abbey of Rufford in 1146 there was a village settlement (now deserted) which has been positioned approximately 1 km south-east of the present abbey site, close to the southern end of New Park wood.
That a church existed at Rufford is testified by a single documentary reference in the Rufford Charters dated to 1159 where an agreement was made between the abbot of Rufford and Thomas Paulinus, a canon of York, to pay Thomas one mark a year for his life for the tithes of Rufford church; 10 marks were to be paid for the next ten years (Scilicet quod fratres de Rufford' dabunt per singulos annos Thome filio Pauli pro decimis ecclesie de Ruff[ord] i marcam argenti tantum quamdiu Thomas vixerit). This agreement was made 13 years after the foundation of the abbey, thus the church must have been located in a different position to the current monastic remains and presumably continued to serve the local lay community, though it has been argued that the Cistercians cleared the local villages following the foundation. During the period 1161-81, the archbishop of York, Roger de Pont-L'Eveque, wrote to forbid anyone else to exact tithes from Rufford after Thomas Paulinus' death; he also indicated that the tithes were also coming from the nearby village of Cratley (Thome filii Pauli decimas ab eis de Rufford' et de Cratela...).
Although Rufford church evidently ceased to be of importance after the mid-late 12th century, as there are no further documentary references to it, the importance of the former village site, near New Park wood and North Laithes farm, is testified by the fact that in 1323 archbishop William Melton was conducting business at 'les Northlathes juxta Rughford'.
In addition to the former Rufford church, a chapel dedicated to St Bernard was founded by Richard de Lexington in the early 13th century near to the abbey infirmary. About the year 1240 Richard's son Robert made a gift of 100 marks to support three monks in the chapel and says that it was dedicated to St Bernard and St Katherine (...in capella sita juxta infirmitorium predictorum monachorum quam pater meus in honore sancti Bernardi et sancte Katerine...).
Research on both the former church of Rufford and St Bernard's chapel are ongoing.