St Helen's, Amotherby

The parish of Amotherby has two churches, St Helen's Amotherby and All Saints Appleton-le-Street.

St Helens AmotherbyThe church is dedicated to St Helen and there is no doubt that this was the dedication from very early times. Wills dating from the 14th century refer to the “Chapel of the Blessed Helen of Amotherby.” Helen was the wife of the Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus and their son became Emperor Constantine in 306 A.D. Helen made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in search of relics; she believed she had found the cross on which Christ was crucified.

WindowSt Helen’s has always been a dependent chapel of All Saints, Appleton-le-Street and therefore it is infrequently mentioned in historical records. The first written reference to the church at Amotherby occurs in 1218 in a charter of Pope Honorius III to St. Albans Abbey; the Pope grants the churches of Appleton and Amotherby to the Abbey.

In the porch of St. Helen’s are several Anglo-Viking cross-heads found in the vicinity of the church dating from the ninth to eleventh centuries and pointing to the antiquity of the site.

It is unfortunate that little remains of the earliest building; the present form of the church dates from 1871 when the nave was completely rebuilt and the north aisle added. (Of all the churches along The Street only Appleton escaped the reforming zeal of the Victorians.)

From writings prior to the rebuilding it seems that the church of St. Helen was a very mean establishment in a poor state of repair. At the rebuilding the original font, probably Norman, was removed and now stands outside, adjacent to the porch.

The Tower

This is the oldest part of the present structure, along with the south door. The tower was rebuilt about 1500 using masonry from earlier centuries. It has neither buttress nor string course and the windows are square headed and mullioned.

The west door into the tower has a Norman arch with some later Early English decoration. In Norman times the nave could be entered through the tower, but this door was blocked up during the 19th century reconstruction. The fine Norman arch can be seen from inside the tower.

The tower holds two bells, both mediaeval; one is inscribed I.H.S. and the other, CAMPANA BEATE HELENE (The bell of Blessed Helen.)

The South Door

Is probably the oldest part of the building and is a noteworthy example of late Norman architecture.

The Nave

Chancel The nave and chancel were rebuilt in 1871 in an effort to improve upon the original Norman style - witness the frequent use of dog-tooth ornamentation on the round headed arches.

During the reconstruction several ancient burials were discovered under the church. The most interesting, as reported by the local newspaper, was one of a young woman, lying under a heavy stone slab carved with a human face. (This can be seen in the porch.) “At the head of this grave, and apparently on the same level… was a stone pavement, the stones of which were covered with between two and three inches of burnt matter, with a large quantity of charcoal all around... Among the burnt matter was an iron blade greatly corroded, as if the end of a dirk, the point being gone – in fact such a weapon as would be expected to accompany an Anglo-Saxon burial.”

The pew-ends, pulpit and font were designed and carved by the Revd. C. P. Peach, vicar from 1834-1886

The Chancel and Sanctuary

The tower On the south side of the sanctuary is an effigy of a knight in armour, not in its original position, the figure was discovered under pews and moved here in 1871. The arms on the shield are those of the Bordesden family who lived in the parish at Newsham in the 14th century The effigy is of Sir John de Bordesden; a turbulent character who was ex-communicated briefly in 1303 and died in 1329. Sir John was involved in lengthy dispute with the Prior of Old Malton over grazing rights between 1307 and 1310 and his men were repeatedly skirmishing with those of the Prior. His effigy, dating from approximately 1330, is quite unique in as much as it is one of only seven known showing a knight wearing surcoat with sleeves, most are without sleeves.

The tomb on the north side of the sanctuary was found in the churchyard near the tower in 1871- It bears an inscription in Norman French, the language of the upper classes in England until about 1400: ICI GIT WILLEM DE BORDESDEN PRIZ PUR LA ALME, (Here lies William de Bordesden, pray for his soul.) He was either the brother or nephew of Sir John, and died about 1340. The grave cover displays a fine foliated cross.

The lancets of the east window contain glass designed by the afore-mentioned Revd. C.P. Peach. The altar was presented in memory of the Revd. Canon Harry Ward, vicar from 1893 — 1934.

Experimental reordering of the chancel has taken place in autumn 2005 with the removal of the disused choir pews, the leveling of the resulting area and the transfer of the Lady Chapel altar to serve as a nave altar, bringing priest and people much closer together in the celebration of the Eucharist. These changes will be evaluated and adjusted as necessary over the coming months before applying for a Faculty to make the changes permanent.

The Baptismal Font

St Helen's FontObject: Baptismal font (stone [type unknown]-- cylindrical -- un-mounted)

Location: Parish Church of St. Helen, Amotherby, North Yorkshire (England) -- (in the churchyard)

Date: 11th-12th century(?)

Period/Style: Anglo-Saxon? / Norman?

Notes on font: Listed in Cox & Harvey (1907) as a baptismal font of the Norman period, although this same source suggests that the font "may be Saxon".

Morris (1931) notes: "Outside porch,W. rude [i.e., crude], circular, 12th- cent. font." Bulmer's Directory for this county (1890) informs that "the old Norman font has been relegated to the churchyard", the present "font (Hildenley stone) is supported by a thick central shaft, surrounded by eight smaller ones of marble" and was "designed and carved by the late Rev. C.P.Peach" ca. 1870 [source: Transcription by Colin Hinson copyright 1999, in www.genuki.org.uk]. The basin well has a central drain; the upper rim has holes corresponding to the hardware of an old font cover.

Cover: none

The above information regarding the fonts is reproduced, with permission, 
from BAPTISTERIA SACRA INDEX www.library.utoronto.ca/bsi