Welcome to the church of St Helen, Hollinfare. You are entering a building on a site where Christians have been worshipping since the days when Christopher Columbus was crossing the Atlantic.
You will have noticed, on approaching our church, that its defining architectural signature is the cupola – the tower which houses the bell.
The bell tower was an integral part of the early 18th century rebuilding programme but it was not until 1778 that the bell was installed. It is inscribed John Wright.
During the past decade, the bell tower had fallen into disrepair and it was feared that it might fall down altogether. Accordingly, the Parochial Church Council, with the support of a new organisation, the Friends of St Helen, mounted a campaign to refurbish it at a quoted cost of £14,000. By the time the work had been completed that figure had somewhat reversed – increasing to £41,000 – but we obtained much appreciated help from various village organisations and individuals.
You can see from the priests’ board fixed to the north wall that a chantry chapel was established on this site by the then Lord of the Manor of Rixton, Hamlet Mascy, in 1497.
A daughter church of St Elphin in Warrington, it was dedicated to St Helen, that church’s original patron saint.
St Helen, Hollinfare, is a grade 2 listed building. Having been extensively rebuilt in the 18th century, our church was restored again in the 1870s (when it became a parish church) and completely refurbished in the 1980s. However, the original beams still support the roof.
One your left is the part of our church that is affectionately known as the Children’s Corner because it is the site of the font. This was presented to the church by the Sunday School.
The Sunday School is one of the longest-established in the country. It has continued at least since 1820 and there are more than 30 on the roll.
Paradoxically, this corner also accommodates the Book of Remembrance.
The icon you see on the south wall is that of St Helen, our patron saint.
Helen was the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Following his conversion and baptism, Helen became a fervent Christian and before her momentous pilgrimage she built or restored many places of worship.
She made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 326 AD where she founded basilicas on the Mount of Olives and in Bethlehem.
While on her pilgrimage she paid for the clearance of a mound that covered the Holy Sepulchre and there discovered the cross on which our Lord was crucified.
For Helen, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount was her principal inspiration. In the latter part of her life she lived its teachings to the full, caring especially for the poor and those in prison.
Helen is prayed for every week in this church and her special feast day in the Anglican Communion is May 21.
The icon, presented to this church by a former vicar, Father Colin Holbrook, shows Helen with the cross and nails. Another picture of Helen looking at the cross can be seen in the sacristy.
The large plaque on the south wall remembers the Freeman family who lived at Crook Hall in the 18th century.
By turning left immediately after entering the porch you may climb the stairs to the balcony.
At the time of building’s second major refurbishment in 1882 there simply was not enough room in the church to accommodate all those who wished to worship.
Accordingly, the balcony was added to enlarge the capacity of the church.
When the church was rebuilt in the 18th century the entrance on the south wall had been replaced by the west door entrance by which you have entered. This, and the windows, each had to be lowered.
The priests’ board lists the clergy who have led the worship in this place since its licensing in the 15th century and also significant dates in our church’s history.
The first priest, Richard Mascy, was a nephew of Hamlet Mascy, who had endowed money to be paid to “an honest chaplain” who would offer masses for his soul and those of his family.
Another of our priests, Henry Atherton, refused to sign and adhere to edicts issued by the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, in the 17th century but remained in post – and therefore he was not ejected along with other men of the cloth on the Restoration.
You will also notice in the list of our clergy in the 18th century the name John Collier. The curate, who was also head of our Church of England school which had been built on the land near the sacristy. John’s youngest son, also John, adopted in adulthood the pen name Tim Bobbin and achieved fame as a Lancashire dialect writer.
The only woman yet to appear on our list is the Rev Pat Gray, our curate from 2003 to 2009
This board is dedicated to the memory of Albert and Bertha Houghton who in the last century moved to the village from Manchester and became faithful parishioners.
Another plaque on the north wall records the bequest of William Cawley in 1886 for £300 for the wardens’ account.
Among those who have preached in this church in recent years are the Most Rev Justin SWelby, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Right Rev David Hope and the Right Rev Stuart Blanch, former Archbishops of York, the Right Rev Lord David Sheppard and the Right Rev James Jones, former Bishops of Liverpool, the Right Rev John Packer, former Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev David Jennings and the Rt Rev Richard Blackburn, Bishops of Warrington.
The prayer desk, along with the lectern now located in the chancel, and the pulpit, were all installed in our church in 1921.
At the same time, the stained glass window you see in the south wall was removed to there from its position above the altar. This was done to accommodate a new altar with a tabernacle. This window was given in memory of the Cawley family in the 19th century.
The altar was installed in memory of our village’s fallen in the First World War. Their names are now complemented by our villagers who gave their lives in the Second World War.
In keeping with new liturgical thinking in 1972 the altar was moved forward and the tabernacle removed.
A superb candelabra was hung over the chancel in 1778 but this was presented to our mother church, St Elphin in Warrington, in 1947. It can still be seen in the Lady Chapel – above the crypt of our founder, Hamlet Mascy.
However, you can see that we do possess three splendid chandeliers, each of which were given in memory of faithful parishioners.
The beautiful sanctuary light was refurbished during the autumn of 2007 thanks to the generosity of the Rainford family and its new pulley was given by Ray and Beryl Shaw to mark their golden wedding anniversary.
The present window in the east wall, depicting the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception, and also the reredos, will become part of our heritage many years from now. They were each obtained from redundant churches in the 1970s.
The pipe organ is a superb example of its type and would cost in excess of a quarter of a million pounds to install today. It has been completely renovated in recent years at a cost of more than £10,000.
If you walk beyond the organ you enter Church House which plays a special part in the history of St Helen’s. We are uncertain when it was built but you can see from the roof timbers that they were rough hewn in the manner of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Over the years, the building has been used as a home – particularly for the chantry priests and the heads of the day school - a shop and a bakery and also as a charnel house.
Its most famous residents however were the Byrom family. John Byrom of that ilk (1692-1763) wrote the words of the famous carol Christians Awake! which is invariably played at our Christmas services.
In time, part of the upper storey was removed to create a larger main hall. The two rooms that remain are used by the Sunday School and our Out of School Club.
In the choir vestry you can see an incised stone bearing the Creed dating from the 18th century.
In the corridor into Church House you can see tithe maps which illustrate the layout of our parish in the 19th century.
Church House has been completely redecorated inside and out during the past year.
The churchyard was closed in 1900 and burials now take place in the public cemetery nearby or in the Garden of Rest.
A feature of the grounds is a noticeboard that tells visitors details of the various walks that can be enjoyed in the village.
Come and visit us soon!