Church Explorers is a network of people who are working to promote the architectural and archaeological importance of church buildings in Yorkshire. Together we aim to encourage members of the public to visit and value these wonderful historic buildings. If you would like to take part and join the network, sign up below.
The Church Explorers Network connects people working in churches to help them promote their building through a programme of networking events, training and skill-sharing. Together we explore the history and archaeology of our church buildings and discover how to make the most of them as a heritage asset for tourism and education.
The network organises and promotes an annual summer-long Church Explorers Festival from June to September every year. The festival celebrates the variety and richness of Yorkshire’s church buildings through a themed programme of website listings, open days, tours, exhibitions and events which are open to the public and encourage visitors to come and explore the buildings for themselves.
If you are a church leader, a volunteer or have an interest in interpreting and promoting the history and archaeology of churches in Yorkshire and would like to keep updated on what we do, please sign up to become a part of our network.
Church Explorers is a partnership initiative led by York Archaeological Trust, Leeds Minster, and The Borthwick Institute for Archives.
York Archaeological Trust and its partners can accept no liability for activities carried out at external venues or by contractors / suppliers engaged by those venues.
Main Street, Salton, York, YO62 6RN
St John’s Church is open for visitors all day, every day.
The stonework of the nave and part of the archway between nave and chancel is pink up to a height of 8 feet. It is believed that the calcined stone was caused by the fire created by the invading Scots during the reign of King David of Scotland at the end of the 12th century. Realising the invaders were on their way the people of Salton took refuge in the church. The invaders ravaged and set fire to the church. The dry thatched roof was soon burnt to ashes, but the stone walls survived with some damage which shows in the pink calcined stones.
Explore St John of Beverley Church
Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd June, 10am-4pm
Enjoy the peace and calm of a Yorkshire Medieval gem at St John of Beverley Church, Salton.
Before you open the door of the nave, look up to the typically Norman archway with its carved double row of beakheads. Close your eyes and take in the atmosphere, casting your mind back to the 12th Century. Imagine the sounds and smells; the roar of invaders, cries of terrified villagers, the crackle of fire and smell of smoke.
Opening your eyes back in the 21st century all is now beautiful and calm; stop and look down the nave, how strange! Why is the stonework pink to a height of eight feet?
To find out more of this dramatic story come and explore the church on June 22nd and 23rd when between 10am and 4pm someone will be there to greet you and tell you more about this dramatic moment in our church’s history.
The Crescent, Selby, YO8 4PU
Selby Abbey is open every day of the year, 9am – 4pm.
Selby Abbey is celebrating the 950th anniversary of its founding this year. In 1069, a monk named Benedict from Auxerre, France, saw a vision of St Germain, who told him to go and build a monastery. He would know the place when he saw three swans swimming on the bend of a river. In 1069, Benedict set sail and founded a monastery in Selby. The wooden church he built was replaced by the stone abbey you can see today.
The church itself has suffered severe loss and damage over the centuries – from the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII, damage suffered from fighting in the Civil War, from its Tower falling in 1609 and from a massive fire which gutted the building in 1906 amongst many others.
Although severely damaged, the Abbey has survived time after time and is now the only remaining abbey in the north of England which still has a roof and is a working church today. Not only that, it was given 5* in Simon Jenkins’ book, England’s Thousand Best Churches. Come and help us celebrate our 950th year!
Norton Lane, Sheffield, S8 8JQ
St James’ Church opens for heritage weekends and Saturday coffee mornings, as well as for services and community use.
Two interesting stones were dug up at the base of the church tower in 2017. One of the stones, now in the churchyard, appears to be the base of a pre-conquest standing cross, and there may be other pieces waiting to be excavated. Behind this stone is a sarcophagus lid of unknown date.
The church’s chantry chapel and various 16th- century monuments, as well as an exquisite Elizabethan altar table and chalice and paten of the same period, show loss and continuity in a turbulent age.
Church Green, Bridlington, YO16 7JX
Bridlington Priory is open for visitors Monday-Friday 10am – 4pm, Saturday 10am – 12noon, and Sunday 12noon – 2pm
A number of pieces of masonry from the cloister arcading of Bridlington Priory before the Dissolution have been found over the years in the churchyard and are now in the church. In the 1960s stone from the cloister arcading was reassembled to build an example of what part of the cloister may have looked like.
There are also inscribed grave stones which may show the names of former priors. Under the present altar is the ancient altar stone set into the floor. This obviously has been broken in two. A display cabinet in the church shows a maquette of Bridlington Priory pre-1537 which gives an idea of the position of the cloister and other buildings.
Church Street, Castleford, WF10 1ES
All Saints’ church is open every Friday and Saturday 10am to 1pm. In addition guided tours will be available during Heritage Open Days weekends on the 14th, 15th, 21st and 22nd September
Castleford Parish Church has the privilege of now displaying three religious figure carvings executed by John Skeaping who studied with Henry Moore in Florence in the 1920’s and was the first husband of Barbara Hepworth from 1926 -32.
The figures were originally completed in 1955 for Kings College Cambridge Chapel and were the last large -scale commission he undertook, subsequently concentrating on his focus as art as a craft. The statues were replaced in the Chapel in the 1960’s by a Rubens’ painting – ‘Adoration of the Magi’. After a brief spell on display in Lincoln Cathedral in the late 1960’s all trace of the statues were lost. The statues were ‘found’ in a derelict barn in Cambridge in 2017 in a state of disrepair.
In a collaboration between Castleford Parish Church and Kings College Cambridge the statues were taken from Cambridge to a specialist conservation company based in York where they were carefully acclimatised and restored to their original glory before being installed in Castleford Parish Church. The statues are carved from Nigerian Opepe wood and depict Christ, Saint Nicholas and the Virgin Mary and are on long term loan to Castleford Parish Church.
2-6 Kirkgate, Leeds LS2 7DJ
Leeds Minster is open Monday – Friday, 11.00am – 2.00pm and Saturday, 10.00am – 12.30pm
The famous Leeds Cross is one of the earliest objects from the city’s past. Parts of it, some of them damaged, were found in the walls of the medieval tower when the former building was demolished in 1838. Although not recognised for what it was, these fragments, together with others from at least another six crosses, were fortunately rescued by the architect, Robert Chantrell. He had new stones carved where pieces were missing, some more accurately than others, and rebuilt the cross in his garden in Headingley. When he retired and left Leeds, the cross went with him, and only returned to the church some years later after a delegation of Parish Wardens demanded their return to the church.
The Leeds crosses, all dating from the 8th to 10th centuries, would have marked the graves of prominent people living and worshipping in the area. Carved crosses were a new fashion introduced by the Saxons and continued by the descendants of the Vikings; the style of decoration changed over time. The Leeds Cross dates from the 10th century and is of a style known as Anglo-Scandinavian. The wheel-head at the top belongs to another cross. The carving includes vine scroll and interlace, as well as figures. One of the bottom panels tells the then well-known story of the pagan hero, Weland the Smith, who having offended his king, escaped in a flying machine, possibly used here as a parallel for Christian stories and beliefs.
Lost and Found : The Leeds Cross In Its Historical Context
26th June, 6pm
Professor Joyce Hill, an international authority on the transmission of Christian culture in early medieval Europe, will give an illustrated talk on one of the city’s greatest treasures, the 10th-century Leeds Cross which stands proudly in Leeds Minster. Professor Hill describes how, ‘It captures a moment in our history when Leeds lay at the heart of that part of England where the Vikings had by then settled and become an accepted part of local society.’
This illustrated lecture shows how the Cross reflects this Anglo-Scandinavian world and sets its production in the larger historical landscape. It also tells the remarkable story of how knowledge of it was lost for 500 years, and how it was then reassembled from the surviving fragments to become the monument that we know today.
For more information and to pre-book your ticket, visit the Leeds Civic Trust website.
North Bar Within, Beverley, HU17 8DL
St Mary’s Church is open Monday – Saturday 11am – 3pm.
St Mary’s is home to over 600 medieval and Tudor roof bosses, one of the finest collections of any parish church in England. They show biblical images and symbols of the saints, mythical creatures such as the unicorn, along with scenes of domestic life. These carvings present a vibrant visual record of the life and times, hopes and fears of the medieval and Tudor world. They represent a form of storytelling without words.
A notable feature of the St Mary’s bosses is the large number of images of medieval musical instruments. Beverley was home to the Northern Guild of Minstrels, and this is reflected in the extensive carvings of instruments, both here and in Beverley Minster. The church has an outstanding collection of bosses in the roof of the nave, dating from the rebuilding of the church in the 1520s. However, by their very nature, many of the bosses are high up in the ceiling and their detail cannot easily be seen with the naked eye. As part of a wider restoration programme, St Mary’s is undertaking to open up this overlooked heritage for visitors to the church.
These are not the only roof decorations of national importance in the church. The ‘Ceiling of Kings’ in the choir is a unique piece of Lancastrian propaganda from the Wars of the Roses, with forty panels depicting the kings of England to confirm the legitimacy of Henry VI.
St Helen’s Church is open daily from 8am to 5pm. On the second Monday of every month from 1pm – 4pm volunteers offer guided tours and refreshments. Guided tours are available at other times by request, and audio tours can be downloaded at www.escrickheritage.org
St Helen’s Church, Escrick, suffered a devastating fire in 1923. While work was being carried out on the roof strong winds caused the flame from a blowlamp to ignite the woodwork. The splendid memorial to Caroline Neville, the 1st Lady Wenlock (1792-1868), was seriously damaged.
The memorial was commissioned by the 2nd Lord Wenlock to his mother and was erected on an ornate marble tomb chest. Carved from Carrera marble in 1876 the memorial is the work of Count Gleichen, accomplished sculptor and cousin to Queen Victoria. As a result of the fire, the effigy split in four places, the plinth was ruined, and Lady Caroline’s nose destroyed by falling masonry. A new plinth was created to commemorate the fire.
As part of our current conservation project this fine sculpture has undergone cleaning and restoration work and now rests on a new plinth. It depicts Lady Caroline in old age and the intricate lacework on her gown and the delicate work on her hands can be fully appreciated. After the fire minor repairs were carried out to the effigy and it was given a new nose, larger and more masculine than the original.
This nose is currently the subject of an interesting debate and we ask visitors:
Hands-On Heritage Day
Saturday 10 August 1pm-4pm
Join us for an afternoon of activities for all the family including guided tours, children’s crafts and heritage trails.
Contact us if you would like to know more about the Church Explorers program: