St Mary’s Church

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You won’t find Cowlam marked on the road atlas. A few scattered farms and houses set high on the Yorkshire Wolds are all that is left of the medieval village deserted after the Black Death.

Little is known about the history of the church until it was restored in the C19th to a design by Mary Sykes, daughter of Sir Tatton Sykes of Sledmere House, who was responsible for restoring many of the medieval churches in the area. Unfortunately Mary swept away much of the historic interest of the church.

It is a small building with nave chancel and a small bell cote at the west end. The Sykes coats of arms are carved above the porch.

Inside there are dark wood pews and a small altar below the east window which has boards with the Lord’s Prayer, Creed and ten Commandments on either side.

There would be little to attract the visitors if it wasn’t for the C12th tub font. This is dated 1135 and is covered with detailed carvings, which seem to have a strong Scandinavian influence, particularly their heads. There is a Bishop holding a crozier giving the blessing. Next to him are two men who look to be wrestling although the leaflet in the church says they are Jacob and Esau embracing after their estrangement. Next is a figure of a woman in a long flowing gown who is thought to be St Mary.

This is followed by the Garden of Eden with the serpent tempting Eve with an apple, Both are trying to hide their nakedness.

The next scene shows the Massacre of the Innocents and is one of only two like this in England. Herod is sitting on a stool with a sword in his lap. Next to him is a soldier holding a sword.

The final scene is the Magi bringing gifts to the Christ child, a remarkably large baby sitting on his mother’s lap.

The church isn’t easy to find unless you have 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey Map Sheet 101. The grid reference is 966657. Taking the B1253, travelling north east of Sledmere, at the first cross roads after about two miles, turn right. The road is signed to Cowlam. The church is set at the back of the farmyard by the first group of buildings on your left. Take the second turn into the buildings which has a small sign to the church. There is plenty of parking by the church. If the church is locked, a key can be got from either Manor or Church farm by the church.

There are more pictures “here.”:

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