St Michael’s Church

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Things to do


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March, 2014

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We found St Michael’s Church in Barton-le-Street, north Yorkshire completely by accident. We had missed the turning for the Church in Appleton-le-Street and were looking for somewhere to turn round. There wasn’t so we drove on to the next village to turn. We saw the sign outside the church and Michael sent me to read it, see if the church was open and if it was worth getting out. I came back giving him the double thumbs up. It was a marvellous find and I have to ask myself how I’d managed to miss it…

Nicholas Pevsner called the church ‘a sumptuous small Norman church, rebuilt without any restraint’. The original church was built about 1170 and was completely rebuilt in 1871, reusing much of the original Norman carved masonry. Spaces were filled with Victorian copies.

It is a small and simple church from the outside with nave, chancel and small bell cot at the west end. The billet carving round the window frames and on the corbels are the only indications of the glories awaiting discovery.

The north doorway is the most amazing collection of carving I’ve ever seen. Spiral pillars frame the door which has carved door jambs with blocks of foliage, birds, cats, dragons, angels playing instruments, mythical figures. There is a strong Viking influence to be seen in some of the carvings. The round arches above the porch are carved with chevrons and more carved blocks. Above the doorway is a Victorian carving of St Michael killing the devil, represented by a dragon.

On the walls of the porch is a double row of carved corbels with heads.

The door has a series of carved blocks around the top with scrolls and an outer arch with heads and mythical beats. Set in the wall above the door are more carved blocks. The centre stones are part of a set representing the Labours of the Months. The information board in the porch identifies these as March (hedging), July (Mowing). August (reaping) September (vintage, but only the top half).

On either side are carved panels of two scenes from the Nativity. The left panel shows the Virgin lying in bed with the Christ Child. Above are angels swinging censers. The panel on the right shows the three Kings arriving with their gifts, followed by two shepherds with crooks.

The inside of the door is almost plain in comparison; a single arch with a zig zag pattern which the guide book describes as an acanthus leaf panel. At the base are two carved heads, a monkey and a ram.

On a dull day, it was dark in the church and it took a while for our eyes to adjust. Candle holders hang from the ceiling. There were a few wall lights but these produced little light.

The walls are unrendered stone and there is a wood barrel ceiling with a series of stone corbels with demons, monsters, animals and people. The base of the nave walls are covered with panelling with a narrow carved frieze above. On the south wall is a wood triptych which opens to reveal Christ crucified in the centre with names of the dead from the First World War, listed by parish.

The Victorian pews have carved patterns on their ends. The pulpit is most unusual with grimacing heads set under carved arches. Across the back of the west end is a wooden screen, which could have been a rood screen.

Inside the door is the font, a Victorian interpretation of a Norman square font, standing on four legs with a central stem. Scroll panels flank a central panel. On the east side is an angel with a scroll. The south side has a carving of baptism. The west side has the Star of David and the north side has a carving of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

The chancel arch is Victorian but with a strong Norman theme with spirals and billets. The pillars supporting it have Norman carved capitals which must rank among the best the country with scrolls, foliage, heads, bird’s beaks.

The organ on the south wall has a painted and carved front and is set under another Norman arch. It is thought this came from the private chapel at Temple Newsham House.

The windows in the chancel have darker stone pillars on either side with small carved capitals supporting round arches with more billet carvings and chevrons. The east window has images of St Michael, Christ Saviour of the World and Gabriel. Above is a small round window with stained glass Agnus Dei .

There is a small aumbry cupboard, single seat sedilia and a piscina on a recycled Norman carved shaft.

Round the top of the chancel wall is a most unusual double corbel table, with an extra row of carvings set under arches. This was originally on the outside wall of the chancel.

This is a most unusual church and well worth finding. The quality of the Norman carving is outstanding and it is nice to see a Victorian restoration which has kept so much of the original.

The church is open 9-5 and there is parking outside. The map for this review is wrong. To locate the church in google maps use the post code YO17 6PW in google maps. The grid reference is SE721742.

There are more pictures “here.”:

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