English Churches - North Yorkshire

All Saintsí Church, Helmsley


Victorian murals place Helmsley firmly at the centre of the universe


There has been a church here since before the Norman Conquest. St Aidan is supposed to have preached here in the C7th. Little is known about the history of the church. The present building is a C19th rebuild, although it still has the Norman south doorway and chancel arch. It is a big church and the murals painted by the Victorians show a triumphalist view of Christian history with Helmsley at the centre.

Set to the north of the Market Place it is surrounded by trees and almost impossible to photograph. The Victorians kept the style of a 13thC church with very tall square tower with corner turrets at the west end, nave, north aisle, transepts and chancel. It is built with ashlar blocks and there are neat corbels round the top of the walls.

All Saints' Church, Helmsley

Entry is through the south porch which still has the original Norman round arch with chevron carvings. The pillars on either side have carved capitals.

All Saints' Church, Helmsley

Inside it has a wood barrel ceiling and complex pillars with pointed arches separating the nave and north aisle. At first sight it is a fairly plain church with Victorian bench pews.

All Saints' Church, Helmsley

Our eyes went to the walls of the north aisle, which are covered with murals depicting the spread of Christianity in the area. These are shown by a series of Ďtreesí.

All Saints' Church, Helmsley

The Helmsley Tree has branches to the other local parishes. The York tree shows the different dioceses with the date of their foundation and attempts to show the success for St Aidanís mission. St Cuthbertís cross hangs from the bottom left branch. He was possibly the most famous of the Celtic saints.

The Rievalux tree shows nearby Rievaulx Abbey with its daughter abbeys at the ends of the branches. The windows in the north aisle depict the life of LíEspec a friend of Henry I who was handed the estate.

The panelled roof of the north aisle is painted with red IHC monograms, black and white patterned ribs  and painted shield bosses.

There are more murals in the south transept. At the top is St George killing the dragon, which represent God driving Satan from the Kingdom of Anglia. Along the top of the dragon are the names of Norse gods, Woden, Friga, Thor...  The rest of the paintings tell the story of St Aidan and St Oswald bringing Christianity to the north east. This story is continued in the stained glass windows.

All Saints' Church, Helmsley

As well as the mural, the south transept contains a splendid reredos above the altar. This is set under a blue canopy with gold stars. In the centre set in a scarlet and gold frame is a painted carving of the Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and St John on either side of the cross. Above the altar is a row of brightly coloured shields.

All Saints' Church, Helmsley

The organ occupies part of the north transept. Behind is a small chapel with an altar made of Frosterley marble which is full of fossils. On the wall is a double piscina with a painted statue of Mary and the baby Jesus, with a lit candle.

There is  a glorious Norman chancel arch with heads carved round the outer arch and chevron and beaded patterns on the inner arches. The capitals have beak head, scrolls and ramís horns. Above is a round window with flower tracery.

All Saints' Church, Helmsley

The altar, reredos and altar rails were made by Robert Thompson of Kilburn and have his mouse trade mark. It is a very simple altar with a narrow quatrefoil frieze along the top and a panel of flowered silk in the reredos. Doors on either side lead to the sacristy.

Encaustic tiles on the choir floor have an image of a pelican pecking her breast to feed her young.

Panelling on the walls is the war memorial to the 22nd Dragoons who were stationed at Duncombe Park during the Second World War. Their banner hangs from the wall.

The font is under the tower. The guide book mentions the tombstone of Lord Ross of Hamlake which contains the only brass in the church. Donít get excited. This is small and very worn. Hanging on the walls are the yoke of a liberated slave and medieval pikes. There is also a letter written by Dr Livingstone to Mrs Gray, wife of the Bishop of Cape Town, thanking her for the mosquito net she sent him. 

The guide book to the church is full of detail about history, but is confusing and doesnít give a clear description of the church and what to look for. The description on the web site is much better.

The church is open 9-5 and there is parking in the market place. The nearest post code is YO62 5AQ and the grid reference is
SE 611838.

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