St Michael and All Angels

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Don’t be deceived by the simple, almost stark exterior of this Norman church. Inside every surface of the walls is covered with exquisite Pre-Raphaelite style wall paintings. It is a beautiful and jaw dropping experience.

There was a church mentioned in the Domesday Book. In the C12th this was replaced by a larger stone building. Only the tower and south wall survive from this building. in the C19th Sir Tatton Syles I of Sledmere House commissioned JL Pearson to rebuild the chancel in the Norman style on the old foundations . He also rebuilt the north wall of the nave and reconstructed the chancel arch. This has three small ‘Norman’ openings above, like in “Kirkburn Church”: , presumably to reduce the weight of stone on the chancel arch.

Pearson was an inspired choice as he was a great believer in keeping as much of he original fabric as possible and that restoration should be sympathetic to the original design. He has succeeded brilliantly here as the old and the new form a seamless whole. The small doorway in the north wall of the chancel is a case in point.

The tall square Norman tower looks more like a castle keep than a church tower. At the base is a Norman doorway with chevron carving round the arches. Above is a very eroded statue of St Michael.

There is a splendid Norman south door with carved capitals and more chevron carving round the arches.

Sir Tatton Sykes II embarked on a lavish scheme of decoration inside, under the supervision of GE Street. he used Clayton and Bell to produce the wall paintings which cover every surface of the church and also the stained glass. These cost over £3000 and work together to produce a unified scheme telling the Bible stories. The paintings were restored in 1985 and still glow.

Street was also responsible for the glazed Spanish tiles round the base of the walls and the elaborate font cover over a typical C19th style font.

The wall paintings tell the Christian story from the Creation to the Last Judgement, with figures of old testament prophets, apostles and saints. The nave covers the Old Testament; the chancel the New Testament.

On the south wall of the nave are also paintings of the Labours of the Months, a popular Medieval cycle.

Above the chancel arch is the Tree of Jesse with the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child at the top.

On the West wall above the archway into the tower is Christ in Glory. The Norman window has images of John the Baptist and the baptism of Christ.

There is a beautiful carved and painted screen separating nave and chancel.

The stone reredos has a carving of the Crucifixion in the centre. On the left is the Annunciation and the baptism of Christ. On the right is the entombment and the Road to Emmaus, the first appearance of Jesus after he’d risen from the dead.

And finally there is the painted ceiling with green and blue panels with small white flowers with red centres.

This is an amazing church and well worth finding. Try and visit on a sunny day when the paintings glow in the light.

The church is open daily and there is parking on the road outside. The church is built on higher ground and there are steps up to the lych gate.

There are more pictures “here.”:

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