St Gregory’s Minster is a delightful small church tucked away in a deep valley of the off the Hodge Beck in Kirkdale. Set off the main A170 road and away from habitation, the only sound is bird song. It is an enchanted place. Surrounded by trees with sheep grazing in the churchyard it has a timeless quality.
There has been a church on this site since 750AD. The present church was built between 1055-65. The tiny square west tower with small pointed top looks as if it ought to be ancient, but isn’t, having been built in 1827. The smooth stone work of the chancel indicated this was rebuilt by the Victorians, and fortunately it retains the lancet windows and Norman style priest’s door with sanctuary knocker.
The highlight of St Gregory’s is the thousand year old Anglo-Saxon sundial above the south door. This is later, dating from the C12th. It is remarkably well preserved as it was covered with plaster for several centuries and was also protected by the porch. The centre portion with the sundial has an inscription which translates as “This is the day’s sun-marker at every hour”. On either side are carved inscriptions in Old English which give information about the foundation of the church telling that it was rebuilt by Orm Gamelson, replacing an earlier church, during the period when Tostig was Earl of Northumbria, 1055-1065.
Propped up in the porch are two grave markers dating from the C9th and probably belonged to someone of great status and prestige.
The nave is basically the C11th church and has a magical atmosphere. On the side walls are the stone benches used by the old and infirm before churches had pews. The nave has a King Post roof.
At the back is the original Saxon doorway into the church. On either side of the arch are painted boards with the Lord’s Prayer, Creed and Ten Commandments. Go through it and look up to admire the pillars and cushion capitals supporting the arch.
The North aisle was added in the C13th and separated from the nave by an arcade of round pillars with low pointed arches. The pillars have wrought iron bands round them holding candles.
At the back of the north aisle is the C19th rood screen, left here when it was removed from the chancel arch in 1967. At the other end is the Royal Coat of Arms. To the left of it is the remains of a C15th statue of Mary and Jesus which had the heads removed, possibly during the Reformation. It was found buried in the churchyard.
In the north aisle are remains of carved masonry with spiral designs, including parts of Saxon crosses. The Archer stone has part of a carved bow, and may have been part of a tombstone of a medieval huntsman. Between the pillars of the arcade are two large tomb markers thought to be C10th Anglo-Scandinavian design.
The furnishings in the chancel are early C20th. Choir stalls have carved ends and poppyheads. They still have the candlesticks on the bookshelves. On the north wall is a large organ with panelled front. The open carved altar rail has quatrefoil designs in the panels.
Beneath the three lancet east windows is a panelled reredos. In the centre is a carving of the three kings presenting gifts to the Christ Child.
When we first visited the church about 15 years ago it was still undiscovered. Now it is signed off the A170 and has a large overflow car park. It is open daily and is very much on the map. It is still as beautiful and timeless as ever. We love this place.
Kirkdale may not be marked on the road atlas, but the grid reference is SE 677857. The church is marked on google maps. Enter the nearest postcode YO62 7HF to find it.
There is a small sign off the A170 just to the east of Nawton. Where the road bends right, continue straight on the unclassified road. Continue straight at the next two road junctions and then bear left at the fork to find the church.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/yorkshire/north_yorkshire/north_yorkshire_two/kirkdale/index.html