St. Mary's Parish Church, Thirsk: HistoryThis magnificent medieval church, built in the architectural style known as Perpendicular Gothic, is over 500 years old. Building began in about 1430 and was completed in 1480. It succeeded a Norman Church, traces of which remain in a block of stone at the bottom of the South Aisle and in the walls, and before that there was almost certainly a Saxon Minster. In 1145 Robert de Mowbray gave it to the Augustinian Canons at Newburgh Priory who held the living and provided Vicars to serve the Church. Henry VIII in 1545 granted the living as a perpetual curacy in the gift of his grace, the Archbishop of York. In 1876 ,George Edmund Street, an architect who appreciated the artistic proportions of Gothic Architecture, carried out extensive preservation and restoration.
Parish registers dating back to 1556 are held in the National Records Office in Northallerton but two copies of the register for 1556 to 1721 are kept in church. There may have been earlier records which have not survived.
THE TOWER.The 80 foot tower houses the ringing chamber contaiming eight bells.The oldest bell bears the Latin inscription "ANNO MILLENO QUATER CENTO QUOQUE DEN EST HEC CAMP ANA IESUS" - In the year 1410 was this JESUS bell made”- so it predates the church. Some reliable sources believe it came from Fountains Abbey at the Dissolution of the Monasteries(see below 'THE BELLS OF
THE PIERCED PARAPET adds grace to the imposing outline. The building began with the tower but it wasn't completed until the rest of the church was built. The Tower and the nave form a unit which is extended by the chancel.. Originally the nave was only half its present height.The clerestory and chancel were added together later and then the tower and porch were completed. Alterations to the building can be seen in the internal stonework of the chancel and the tower.
THE PARVISE i.e. the room above the porch- was originally accessible only by a ladder from inside the church but now there is a stone spiral stairway leading up from the porch. Thomas Parkinson, an anchorite, or hermit, lived in the Parvise from 1513 for some years before going to Mount Grace,a Carthusian Priory, where he lived until its Dissolution. He spent years wandering destitute until he married a tinker's widow.THE SOUTH DOOR ,one of the finest of its kind in the country, is the original door. The wicket hinges are dated 1747 so was the wicket constructed then or were just the hinges replaced?
THE NAVE is probably built around the former nave. At the top of the South Aisle is the memorial of Robert of Threske (Threske is an old name for Thirsk) who may be regarded as the Founder of the present Church. Robert of Threske was Henry IV's King's Remembrancer in the Court of the Exchequer. He died in 1419 leaving a fund to build a chantry chapel in the Parish Church which seems to have led to the great rebuilding. His brasses, almost illegible in the floor, originally showed a priest vested and a rhyme.
The Nave's impressive, medieval roof was restored in 1953.
Between the Clerestory windows are fading paintings of the Apostles believed to be 17th century.Old Hatchments (armorial bearings) of local families, especially the Bells, have been placed above the arches. Above the curtained covered North Door are the Royal Arms of George III.
An old print shows the gilded Angel presided over the organ at the West end 150 years ago but both have been relocated.. There are fine screens to the Chantry Chapels. The Font is Victorian but the tall wooden cover with crocketted pinnacles is part 15th century. It was in use until mid 2007 when the suspension cable snapped. Thanks to a generous donor a new cable fitted in February 2010 returned the Font and its cover to use.
PEW ENDS.Two 16th century pew ends carved
devices of families
connected to the church are displayed in the North aisle but the
present pews, some of which are poppy headed, are Victorian - although
some incorporate much earlier woodwork.
Saint Mary's has some beautiful windows.
The East window was designed locally in 1844, as a tablet on
the chancel wall records and the West windows are also
Victorian. The large window in memory of Sir Robert Lister
Chief Constable of the North Riding of Yorkshire 1898 to 1929,
by Douglas Strachan in 1932, on the theme of “The Happy
has fascinating pictorial references to his distinguished army career.
Once there were two Chapels for worship. The South Chapel was originally a chantry of St. Anne but the North Chapel now contains the organ installed by Robert Postill of York in 1877, improved by William Denman in 1884, rebuilt by N P. Mander in 1964 and much repaired and improved in 2007 by Geoffrey Coffin of York.
THE CHANCEL which was repaired in 1844, has its fine original roof but the heraldry is nineteenth century. The form of the window traceries shows that the chancel and the clerestory were later additions to the original building, which must have included a chancel at the end of the present nave. The Sedilia ( stone seats) are noted for their original carving, as is the Piscina ( mediaeval basin). The Altar Table is intricately carved in Flemish style. The painting in the chancel is thought to be a copy by Annibale Carracci of Caravaggio’s “Incredulity of St. Thomas”. The ancient door by the side of the choir organ leads down to the barrel roofed Crypt which J.B. Jefferson's 1821 History of Thirsk states was then in use as a Grammar School.
THE PARISH CHEST in the North aisle received
for the Church. It once belonged to Anthony Bell "Arcanum 1620
Ant Bell" was the original inscription carved on one end of the chest but someone
has added 'e' to Ant and 'um' to Bell so it now reads "Arcanum 1620 Ante Bellum"!
The unseen, but no less familiar guardian of the
hours, our heaviest bell celebrated the six hundredth anniversary of its
casting in 2010. This venerable
artefact therefore pre-dates almost all the fabric of the present Church. It is perhaps a little sobering to reflect
that it was around before the bloodbath at
links the bell (in ringers’ parlance: the “tenor” signifying the heaviest of
the ring) with Fountains Abbey. There
may be something in this but Cistercian rules forbade towers and Abbot Huby’s monster campanile did not
materialise until almost 100 years after the date of casting. It was the handiwork of a well known
2 David A Town do
3 Dot Salmon do
4 Martin J Kirk do
5 Gerry Parsons (SS Peter & Paul, Stokesley)
6 John Limbach (St Oswald, Sowerby)
7 Graham A Blackburn (All Saints, Northallerton)
8 Peter F Town do
This magnificent old church has withstood the ravages of centuries and witnessed generations of faithful service to God. The building is indeed one of the gems of North Yorkshire and often called the 'cathedral of North Yorkshire' because of its beautiful architecture and commanding presence. We hope this short history and description of many of the features of the church are of interest.If you have anything to add please contact the Media Officer who will be delighted to hear from you. However it is not possible for any Officer to undertake research on your behalf.
St.Mary's is not a showpiece or museum but a place of worship and prayer. Those who worship here pray for the community of Thirsk, Christian people everywhere, the needs of all people and peace and justice throughout the world. May the peace of God be with you.