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Church Explorers – Looking Back at 2019

This content was originally sent to Church Explorers network partners as our Church Explorers December 2019 Newsletter. To get updates and news on the Church Explorers network delivered to your inbox sign up to be part of the network.

Christmas greetings from the Church Explorers team!

2019 has been a very full and varied year for Church Explorers, and we look forward to announcing details for our network and programme early in the new year. This December newsletter contains some information on the most recent activity by the team; if you would like to let us know about your 2019 events or any plans that you have for summer 2020  (what went well, what could be improved in future, suggestions for future Church Explorers workshops in 2020), please email us at the usual address.

In the meantime, enjoy these images of St Nicholas, patron saint of children, sailors, and Christmastime gift-giving! They come from the church of St Nicholas, North Grimston, East Yorkshire, and depict him in his bishop’s robes. One is of the early 13th century and is above the west window: the other is carved into the 12th-century font, and shows the saint raising his right hand in blessing.

We wish you and yours all the very best for Christmas and the New Year, and thank you for your support in 2019.

St Nicholas above the west window at North Grimston

St Nicholas on the font at North Grimston


Researcher Crystal Hollis came to DIG to give a talk on graffiti in churches on the evening of Thursday 12th September. You can read more about her work on her blog: Crystal’s talk was characteristically lively, funny and informative, and dealt with some of the commonest sorts of graffiti to be found in and around churches, techniques for finding them, and some suggestions as to their possible meanings.

She took the opportunity of her visit to DIG, housed in the redundant church of St Saviour, York, to have a look for any unnoticed examples of graffiti in its stonework. Within minutes of beginning to explore the tower she had spotted a ‘daisy wheel’ design carved into the centre column of its spiral staircase. This shape and its many variants were formerly identified by historians as ‘masons’ marks’, and can be produced using a compass or, as the graffiti expert Matthew Champion has observed, with the small shears commonly carried by working medieval women and used for a range of domestic and farming jobs.

The ideas that underpinned the use of these patterns were not recorded. It has been suggested that the complex, never-ending patterns in the designs were thought to trap and negate evil forces. In this way, they express widespread, popular belief, and a way of thinking about the universe that was not at odds with Church teaching or formal worship. The example at DIG is quite small, but we are grateful for Crystal and her clever use of raking light in finding it!

Our exploration of the tower, which is the oldest part of the church still standing, yielded another surprise too, as Chris spotted a fragment of a medieval grave cover incorporated into the staircase structure. We will continue to research these pieces and report more as and when we bring new details to light.

Crystal takes a closer look at the stonework in the arcading at DIG

Party time!

December is party season, and we’ve been delving into the YAT archive to bring you these images of a party thrown in 1980 at Old St Oswald, Fulford, during its renovation and conversion to a private house. We’re not sure exactly what was going on (!), but there are YAT staff members in costume, and a performance by a group of medieval musicians, probably the York Waits. St Oswald’s new owner was a keen medievalist, and in the years that followed it hosted a number of performances and events on historical themes. YAT had carried out an excavation inside the building, photography of the interior walls, and conservation of the church bell, and the archive holds a wealth of images relating to this work, plus images of the interior prior to the conversion.


Our archives session held at the Borthwick in June 2019 generated such a level of interest amongst our network members that we are looking at ways in which the YAT archive might provide a similar workshop in 2020, with a focus on YAT’s church-based projects over the years.

The waits playing medieval music on the gallery

A view of the new screen, with gallery above it, across the end of the nave at Old St Oswald, Fulford, York

A bear and a bush