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Yorkshire York Churches

In the Middle Ages there were dozens of churches in York. Some still survive as churches, others were declared redundant and put to new use. Still more were demolished. This article covers some of the Medieval churches in the centre of York, beginning with the Minster. The rest of the churches are covered in alphabetical order.

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York Minster - the centre of Christianity in the north of England since the C7th

The tall towers of York Minster dominate the historic centre of York. It is one of the largest and perhaps most splendid Gothic buildings in Northern Europe. Built of pale oolitic limestone, it glows in the sunshine.

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There has been a Christian Church here since the C7th, built on the ruins of the Roman basilica. By the time of the Norman conquest there was a splendid Saxon Minster here dedicated to St Peter. The formal title of the Minster is "The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York". The Minster was badly damaged during William the Conqueror’s ‘Harrying of the North’. A new Norman church was constructed to emphasise the power and control of the King.

In the mid C12th the Gothic style of architecture spread across Europe. The Norman church was regarded as old fashioned and work began on building a new Gothic Minster in 1220. Work took nearly 250 years. (a floor plan can be found here.) The north and south transepts were the first to be built and have the tall lancet windows typical of the Early English style of Gothic architecture.

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The central tower followed, but this collapsed in 1407 and had to be rebuilt. The intention was to complete this with a spire but it was realised the foundations would not be strong enough to support the extra weight.

Work began on the nave which was built over the foundations of the Norman church. The chapter house was built in the late C13th and has much larger windows with beautiful tracery.

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This can also be seen in the windows of the tower and the chancel which was built at the end of the C14th.

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The western towers were the last to be built with the massive west window, crocketed pinnacle and empty niches for statues. The carving round the west door tells the story of Genesis.

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There was an arson attack in the quire in the early C19th which destroyed much of the medieval woodwork. The central tower was found to be unsafe and close to collapse in 1967. There was a massive building program to reinforce and strengthen the foundations. This work also uncovered part of the headquarters of the Roman fort and the Norman cathedral. In 1984 a fire thought to be caused by a lightning strike destroyed the south transept roof. Fortunately the rose window survived.

In 2007 another massive restoration project began to replace badly eroded stonework. The east window was completely removed for restoration which was completed in 2018. A new exhibition centre opened in the Undercroft tracing the history of the Minster with the remains of the Roman Forum and foundations of the Norman church.

The Minster was surrounded by a walled precinct entered by four gateways. Only Goodramgate survives. The houses of the Archbishop, Dean, Treasurer and canons were inside the precinct. After the Reformation many of these were pulled down, leaving the large grassy area of Dean’s Park. All that remains of the original Archbishop’s Palace is the chapel, now the library. Richard III’s son was invested here as Prince of Wales in 1483.

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The short section of arcading may have been part of the cloisters. It is now a memorial to the British Army’s Second Infantry Division. The central arch frames the Kohima memorial. In 1944 the Second Division was responsible for stopping the Japanese Army invading India.

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The Treasurer’s House (#15) is now owned by the National Trust.

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St William’s College was the home of the chantry priests and was sold after the Reformation.

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Pre Covid there was free entry to the back of the nave. There is a charge
to visit the rest of the Minster, and at the moment the only entry is by pre booked ticket. There is an additional charge to go up the tower. The ticket is valid for a year.

Website


cont....
 
Last edited:

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
St John’s Church, Micklegate

This is a small redundant church on Micklegate near the bridge across the River Ouse. The church has a nave and north aisle with battlemented roof with crocketted pinnacles above the wall buttresses and a south porch.

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There has been a church here since the C12th. The present building dates from the C14-C15th. The tower collapsed in the mid C16th and has been replaced by a small brick and timber frame tower with a pyramid roof.

The church closed in 1934 and was the York Arts Centre for a while, before becoming a bar and then a night club.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
St Martin’s Church, Coney Street

The C15th church of St Martin was destroyed during a Baedeker raid on York in 1942. Only the tower and part of the south wall survived. The rest was reduced to a smouldering pile of rubble.

The church was rebuilt in the 1960s on a much smaller scale and when re-hallowed was dedicated to peace and reconciliation, serving as “a shrine to all who died in the two world wars, a chapel of peace and reconciliation between nations and men”. The organ at the back of the church was a gift from the German Government and there is a memorial to all the people who died in the 1942 raids, including German airmen.

The church has been reconstructed from the south aisle. The rest of the building was left as a shell, open to the sky. The double sided clock overhanging the street dating from 1668 survived the raid. On the top is the C18th figure of the ‘Little Admiral’ taking a sighting of the sun with his sextant.

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The restoration work has maintained the fabric of the tower, south porch and south wall with their balustrade and crocketed pinnacles.

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The inside is considered to be one of the most successful post-war restorations in the country, successfully combining C15th and modern design. It is a small church, occupying the area of the original south aisle. An arcade with pointed arches separates a tiny north aisle, with a windowless wall.

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On the 70th Anniversary of the bombing, St Martin’s joined the Community of the Cross of Nails. On one of the pillars is a nail cross, a replica of that made from Medieval nails of the bombed Coventry Cathedral.

At the back of the nave is the Medieval font with its gilded cover dating from 1717.

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At the back of the north wall is the original C15th stained glass window. For safety, this had been removed from the church at the start of the Second World War. It is considered as one of the finest examples of C15th glass in the country. It depicts the story of St Martin de Tours.

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The wood ceiling is painted a vivid blue with gold or green painted ribs and gilded bosses.

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On the walls are monuments from the Medieval church. The splendid alabaster monument is that of Sir William Sheffield who died in 1617 and his wife Elizabeth.

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High on the wall near the altar is the monument to Robert Horsfield, Sheriff of York. Propped up on the floor is a small brass effigy of Christopher Harrington rescued from the floor of the bombed church.

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On the south wall, still in its original position is a monument to John Kendall, with a regilded angel at the bottom.

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The church furniture is modern and specially designed for the church. The reredos is aluminium painted with gold and is a modern interpretation of the Last Supper. It glows when the sunlight catches it. Above is the east window depicting the church burning.

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This is a very different church and almost a surprise on the first visit. It is necessary to understand something of the history of the church to appreciate it fully.

Check current opening times on the website.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate - the Stained Glass Centre

In the Middle Ages, there were dozens of churches in York. Many of them became redundant and a lot have been pulled down. St Gregory’s Church on Barton Lane falls into this category. After the reformation, St Martin’s Church was scheduled for closure but an agreement was made to demolish nearby St Gregory’s church and unite the two parishes. Hence the name St Martin-cum-Gregory.

This church also became surplus to needs and was closed. It became the Stained Glass Centre in 2008. The church contains a lot of medieval stained glass and was an ideal choice to encourage the study and appreciation of stained glass.

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Surrounded by its graveyard, the church is rather an unattractive building with an offset tower. There has been a church on this site since the C11th although most of the building is later. The nave and side aisles are C13/14th and the chancel is C15th. The tower was refaced with brick in the C17th and does look incongruous against the rest of the stone building. There was a major restoration in the C19th when the upper part of the tower was rebuilt.

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Check the website for details of opening hours, lectures and workshops.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
St Mary’s Church, Bishophill Junior

This is probably the oldest church within the city wall but is ignored by the guide books. I found it completely by accident when I saw it signed off Micklegate. The promise of an Anglo-Saxon tower was too good to miss.

The church is tucked away in a non-touristy part of York and is dominated by its study tower.

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The church was built over what used to be the civil quarter of the Roman garrison of Eboricum and pieces of Roman tile work can be seen in the tower. The tower is late Anglo-Saxon with bands of typical Anglo-Saxon herringbone masonry. The double windows in the belfry are also typical of Saxon/Norman work.

The nave and north aisle are C12th. The chancel is C13th and the north chapel and south aisle date from the C14th, when the church was extended. It was substantially restored in the late C19th. The beautiful reredos by Temple Moore was added then.

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Inside it is a very attractive and well loved building. Walls are plastered and whitewashed, contrasting with the stone pillars and arches. The unusual ceramic Stations of the Cross are minimalist modern designs.

An arcade of sturdy round Norman pillars with round arches separates the nave and north aisle. The south arcade with its pointed arches is later.

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The lovely round arch leading into the base of the tower is Roman and may have been one of the archways into the Roman city.

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In front of the arch is the medieval font with a Georgian cover which fits round the font rather than resting on the top. By the font are two of the old bells.

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The Memorial to the Dead of the Great War is on the west wall.

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Near this is the base of a carved Saxon cross.

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At the end of the south aisle is a small chapel dedicated to St Mary.

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The pointed chancel arch has a painted frieze with a carved wooden beam above it.

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The chancel is very attractive reflecting the work of Temple Moore. The painted pulpit by the chancel arch is also his work.

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Above the high altar is a beautiful reredos with red and pale green ogee arches picked out in gilt. In the centre is the figure of Christ Crucified with the Virgin Mary and St John on either side. Below this is the host box, covered with a green and gold cloth. A red sanctuary lamp burns above.

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The north chapel is separated from the chancel by a wooden screen and is now the vestry.

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The glass in the windows was put in during the 1960s, replacing the Victorian glass. Four small panels of late C15th century glass survive in the window in the south wall of the chancel. These show the Archangel Michael, the Virgin Mary and two Archbishops.

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This is a delightful church, a real hidden gem. It was a Sunday when I visited and I was lucky as the curate and churchwarden were working in the church and the door was open. It is well worth finding.

Website with contact details
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
St Mary’s Church, Castlegate

York had around forty five parish churches in the Middle Ages. Now only a fraction still survive. As congregations dwindled, some buildings were pulled down as they became unsafe and money was not available to repair them. Others were deconsecrated and used for other things.

St Mary's Church is mainly C13th and has the tallest steeple in York.

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The church is now part of the York Museum’s Trust and has a 360˚ immersive experience of Van Goch.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
St Michael’s Church, Spurriergate

Standing on the corner of Spuriergate and Low Ousebridge, this is no longer used as a church.

This is a low box shaped church with nave and side aisles and a battlemented roof.

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There has been a church here since the C12th and some of the columns date from this church. Most of the building is C14/15th, although the east end was rebuilt in 1821 when part of the church was demolished to widen the road. The mechanism of the painted clock face on the south wall dates from the end of the C19th

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The top of the tower was removed in 1968 as it had become unsafe and the church now has a stumpy tower with a pyramid shaped roof.

Inside the church, arcades of narrow pillars separate the nave from the two side aisles. The royal coat of arms can be seen above the west door.

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At the east end is a splendid reredos with gold fluted pillars and cherub heads with the Ten commandments in the centre flanked by the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed.

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Now called the Spurriergate Centre, the church is a restaurant and cafe serving locally sourced or fair trade food. The centre is run by St Michael’s York Trust with volunteers. As well as food, there are prayer groups, social activities and counselling.

Details on their website.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The Belfrey (St Michael le Belfrey), High Petergate

Dwarfed by York Minster next to it, this is a small church with a tiny lantern tower above the west door. Simon Jenkin’s in “England’s Thousand Best Churches” describes the building as pompous...squat and rather flat”

It is an accurate description, but does rather under sell the church which is the only church to have been built in York in the C16th, replacing an earlier church that was falling down. It was built after Henry VIII’s break with Rome in what is described as Tudor Gothic style. It was, and still is, the largest parish church in the city. It’s other main claim to fame is that Guy Fawkes was baptised here.

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Externally, it is a rather plain building with nave and side aisles. The bell tower dates from 1848 and is a replica of the original bell tower.

When it was built, the church served a wealthy community of merchant’s and craftsmen. Congregations were so large in the mid C18th, when William Richardson was vicar, that a gallery had to be built. Story has it that his sermons were so popular, the glass was removed from some of the windows so those outside could listen to him preach. In the 1960s, congregations had dwindled and there was talk of closing the church, like many others in the city, and turning it into a museum. It was saved when the gifted preacher Revd. David Watson, from nearby St Cuthbert's Church moved to St Michael le Belfrey. His congregation followed him. The church is now a thriving modern community and is now just known as The Belfrey. I visited between services on a Sunday morning and the church had been packed out.

It is a very elegant church with tall slender pillars separating the nave from the side aisles. There are quatrefoil flowers at the angles of the shallow pillars. Below them are carved figures of angels holding shields, either with the crown of Henry VIII on them or the crossed swords or keys of St Paul and St Peter.The lathe and plaster ceilings are painted blue in the nave and red in the side aisles. The clerestory windows above are plain glass and flood the church with light.

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Across the back of the church is the gallery with the Royal Coat of Arms on the front. The two boards with the Ten Commandments on the back wall of the gallery were originally in the centre of the reredos.

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The walls are covered with memorials and there are two large benefice boards on the north wall.

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The stained glass windows in the side aisles flood the church with coloured light. This is one of the largest collections of C16th stained glass in England. There are images of saints, bishops and angels as well as benefactors of the church.

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The altar and reredos are partially obscured by a large AV screen and there are smaller screens on the pillars. This is a church that adopts a modern approach to worship as can be seen by the small group of young musicians who play in the south aisle.

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The stained glass east window contains C14th glass and may have come from the earlier church on this site. The Baroque reredos has fluted gilded pillars. In the centre is a copy of Zurbaran's "Adoration of the Shepherds" which was placed here in the 1920s. On either side are the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

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At the end of the south aisle is a splendid memorial to Robert Squire who died in 1709, and Priscilla his wife

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And what about the font where Guy Fawkes was Christened? This has disappeared and no-one knows what happened to it. There was a Victorian font but the church now uses a small moveable font for infant baptism and a large pool for adult baptism. In the summer months, this takes place outside the church.

Website
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
St Olave’s Church, Marygate

Named after the Norwegian King Olaf, who converted Norway to Christianity, there has been a church here since 1055.

After the Norman Conquest, the church became the church of the Benedictine monastery of St Mary’s (#4). As the abbey grew in importance, a new abbey church was built in the C13th, and St Olave’s became a parish church.

The church was badly damaged during the Civil War and was rebuilt in the early C18th, using stones from the abbey ruins. The church was extended in the late C19th when the chancel was built. At the beginning of the C20th, the vestry was converted to form the Lady Chapel and a new vestry built. Little remains of the medieval church apart from the font and a worn carved stone crucifix above the arch into the Lady chapel

On Marygate, the church is built along the abbey wall and next to the massive gatehouse leading into what were the Abbey grounds, and is now the museum gardens.

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It is an attractive building with a battlemented and buttressed north aisle with crocketed pinnacles. Above the north door is a statue of St Olaf.

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The church is Anglo-Catholic with modern depictions of the stations of the cross on the walls and a strong sense of incense when we opened the door.

Arcades of pointed arches separate the nave from the side aisles. The wooden ceiling has carved angels at the base of the beams. The carved bosses are either flowers or foliage. The wooden pews are C19th with carved poppyheads. The crucifix hanging from the chancel arch dates from 1990.

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The elaborately carved C15th font is at the back of the nave. The tall wooden cover is modern.

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The chancel ceiling is more ornate with gilded bosses. The panels above the altar are painted blue with gold stars. The beams are picked out in gold. The big modern corbels under the chancel roof are painted with “Holy is God”, “Sovereign Lord”, “Who was and Is” “and to come”. The big corner corbels have modern carvings.

The table altar has three chairs in front of it for the incumbents. Across the east wall is carved panelling. The gilded angles above this are playing musical instruments. The reredos has the Lamb of God in the centre with kneeling angels on either side.

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The east window is C15th stained glass. St Olaf is second from the right at the bottom.

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The Lady Chapel is preserved for private prayer and has a wood altar with a small reredos above. In the centre is a host box with a gilded Christ and praying angels round the top. A red light hanging from the ceiling indicates the host is kept here. In the corner is a modern carving of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child and a piscina.

Although close to the attractions of the Historic centre and adjacent to the museum gardens, this church receives few visitors. It is a pleasant church but with little, apart from the east window, to attract the visitors. The church is open during the day.

Website
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
St Sampson’s Church, Church Street - a social centre for the over 60s


St Sampson’s is a redundant church in the centre of York but the Market Place, which is now a social centre for the over 60s.

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The church is the only one in the country dedicated to St Sampson, an archbishop of York who was supposedly installed by King Arthur’s uncle, Ambrosius Aurelianus after repelling a force of Saxon raiders in the C5th. The original church dated from the C14th or C15th but was largely rebuilt in the C19th. It still retains its C15th Wooden door.

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Inside it retains its arcade of octagonal pillars and pointed arches separating the nave from the side aisles. Above is a lovely beamed ceiling with gilded bosses.

With rising costs and a dwindling congregation, the church was declared redundant in 1962. It stood empty until the Archbishop of York felt there should be somewhere warm and dry for the city’s retired people to gather. With the help of the York Civic Trust it became a social centre and meeting place for the over 60s.

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The church is buzzing again serving refreshments. There are tea dances, concerts and jumble sales. Spiritual needs are met by a weekly service in the small chapel. Visitors to York as well as local residents are made very welcome.

Website
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
St Saviour’s Church, St Savioursgate - the home of DIG

This is a splendid C15th building on the site of an C11th church. It has a tall, square battlemented west tower and the nave is flanked by two tall side aisles.

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During the Georgian and Victorian periods, St Savourgate was one of the most desirable and fashionable streets in York and St Saviours was a popular place to worship. However, by the start of the C20th the area had declined and bordered one of the big slum areas in York. Congregations fell and the church was declared redundant in 1954. The medieval glass and finings were dispersed to other churches.

The building was taken over by the York Archaeological Trust and is now a hands on archaeology adventure centre called DIG, getting youngsters interested in finding out more about the history of York.

Website
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
St Wilfrid’s Catholic Church, Duncombe Place

St Wilfrid’s is the splendid brick building next to the Dean Court Hotel. It is a splendid C19th Gothic Revival building, copying C13/14th architecture. When completed at a cost of £10,000, it was considered to be one of the most perfectly finished Catholic Churches in England, rich in sculpture and paintings and stained glass. The tower with its pyramid top can be seen from much of York. The carved tympanum above the west door is some of the best carving in York.

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There was a church dedicated to St Wilfred near from this site before the Roman Conquest. By the end of the C16th, this was disused and demolished.

In 1760, a small Catholic Chapel was built, tucked away behind the street. As the Catholic community grew and it was again acceptable for them to worship publicly, plans were made to build a larger and more impressive church, that could act as the cathedral for the Catholic diocese. Although short-lived as a cathedral, it still remains an impressive church.

Steps lead up into a vestibule and doors open into the body of the church. The inside is splendid with massive pillars with carved capitals and pointed arches.

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The organ is in the gallery across the back of the church.

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The clear glass windows of the clerestory flood the church with light. The brightly coloured stained glass windows in the south aisle provide welcome colour.

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There are statues on the north wall, including St Margaret of Clitheroe and the Virgin and Child.

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At the end of January, the chapel at the back of the south aisle was still decorated with the Nativity Scene.

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At the opposite end is a simple altar set in a small apse.

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The Baptistry with the font is at the back of the north aisle.

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The apse at the east end has stone arcading round the walls with pictures showing the life of Christ from the Annunciation, Nativity, Crucifixion , Rising from the Dead and Ascension to Heaven.

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The high altar is made of white stone with coloured marble insets and columns. There is a huge silver gilt host box.

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At the base is a carved scene of the body of Christ in the tomb with the four Marys, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

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The church isn’t on the tourist route, and there is little information inside the church. It is open daily, although there may be people sitting inside the church for private prayer.

Website
 

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