St Mary’s, Stainburn, North Yorks

Who isn’t a sucker for lonely Norman churches with amazing views across Yorkshire?

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It is in fact FAMOUS – having just featured in the TV series Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Strange hangs about outside it for his one true love – who won’t marry him becauase he’s a bit of a waster. (I won’t spoil what happens next.)

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St Mary’s is a CCT church about ten miles from Leeds, but its setting is 100% rural – you wouldn’t even realise a major city was nearby. Stainburn today seems totally remote, but in the Domesday book the village was worth 23 shillings – indicating a large and prosperous parish.

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A quite peruse of finds.org.uk brings up two medieval finds – a purse-mount and a button. (In my imagination there were lost by people heading to church in the 1400s.)  Located in the parish are also a Roman button and spindle whorl, an Iron Age toggle, two worn coins of Elizabeth I and a Victorian toy. This such a lovely snapshot of over two thousand years of people in one place. Well done detectorists!

The church is calming and serene – it always seems a bit paradoxical to me that Normans are well-known for battling and fighting, yet their buildings are so elegant and peaceful. The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture tells us that the church began life as a chapel-of-ease in the parish of Kirkby Overblow (great name) and was then transferred in a donation to Fountains Abbey.

There’s a beautiful chancel arch that seems to sit so well with the proportions of the building.

The Norman porch welcomes you through its graceful arc too and if you look immediately to the left, the arcs are present on a stunning font.

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I got pretty excited about the font and the faces on it – they are in the spandrels along with triquetras and other designs. They absolutely reminded me of early Anglo-Saxon pennies – but Pevsner says Norman (which logically fits everything else). Still I learnt the word spandrel. Spandrel.

Whilst having a poke about #churchpoking (?) I found a lovely fourteenth century grave slab right near the altar.

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I think there might be some paint coming through the whitewash though – I’m guessing these are Victorian? Stainburn is not recorded in having any medieval wall painting (or is that a fragment I see top left of the chancel arch). Please let me know!

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I was also quite excited to find this graffiti A (I think) – thoughts welcome! Again its on the chancel arch.

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At the University of Leeds there’s a brilliant archive of nineteenth century photography by a Leeds industrialist called Godfrey Bingley. He too toured around the country looking at churches and he hit Stainburn!

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Copyright University of Leeds

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Special Collections also has a large number of papers from the Yorkshire Archaeology Society that relate to the parish – I’m sure they are worth a look!

With changes to parish boundaries, Stainburn was left without a use in the 1970s, which is how it became part of the CCT. I always thinks its really important to remember that these restful places were once full of joy – like the wedding of Edith Trotter and Isaac Fawell in 1937!

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I think it’s a church well worth a visit – if only for this glorious view from the east end. Yorkshuh. Yorkshuh. Yorkshuh!

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You can read more here Churches Stainburn pdf.

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