Church of England Diocese of York Rural Ainsty

A bit about the history of the Church

The church of St Helen stands on the corner of Church Lane and the B1224, 5 miles East of Wetherby. This splendid medieval church commands your attention as you approach Bilton village. It’s Bell-Cote, 17th century mounting block and war memorial from 1920 are complimented by an array of daffodils if you visit in the springtime. We sincerely hope whenever you visit you will feel compelled to linger a while and absorb the peace and tranquillity of our church in these its natural surroundings. Our church provided valuable service as a military hospital on the 2nd July 1644 for casualties at the Battle of Marston Moor.

St Helen’s Church is a Grade 1 listed building from the12th century, with a nave, chancel and north/south aisles. The north/south Chancel aisles were added during the 15th century. The zigzag carving around the chancel arch is typical of the late 12th century, sculptured and intended to provide a framework, directing the eye to the most important area in the church - the Chancel.

The church was built about 1150 by a Family called the Hagets they were responsible for two other churches in our benefice at Wighill and Healaugh. The family went on to build two priories one at Syningthwaite and the other at Healaugh. The advowson of St Helens was given to Synningthwaite Priory when the daughter of Bertram Haget became a nun at the priory around 1160; this arrangement lasted until 1293 when St Helens became a Prebendary of York Minster.

Like most C12 churches it was likely constructed on the two cell principal, rectangular shaped nave with small rounded chancel area at the east end. The side aisles with the impressive Norman pillars, along with the extended square chancel and carved zigzag arch, would have been added circa 1200/50. Behind the Altar is the beautiful stained glass east window donated by a family from Wighill on the death of their child in 1879. St Helens has a number of Saxon features, some windows in the west gable are built in the Saxon style and together with the row of external Heraldic stones, Saxon font and a Saxon cross found within the west wall in 1869, it appears there has been worship on this site for many years pre-conquest.

The Saxon wheel Head Cross, now mounted on the west wall was found embedded in the wall by Sir Gilbert Scott in 1869. It has been dated C10 and is decorated with a representation of the crucified Christ on each of the four arms. Two other stem sections of a cross Anglo Saxon, can be located in the south chancel also found within the west wall and of the C9 and C10. A base section Anglo Danish was found in the graveyard in 1905, which is of the late C10. A mass dial is visible in the south chancel placed on what was once an outside wall. A corbel table exists on the north and south chancel walls with a very impressive selection of carved beasts and mythical carvings; these would also have been external walls at one time. The Romanesque Sculptures website gives more detail about the carvings at St Helens http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/site/800/

The Decalogue board behind the Alter, which dates early C18, was restored in 2015 along with the prayer boards in the south chapel. The current pews are Pine; these replaced the old box pews when the church was restored in 1869. We have one piece of Medieval glass in the vestry with a coat of arms which remains a mystery and currently in need of some conservation work.

Our female effigy is late C13, she is in good condition and beautifully dressed as lady of the manor, she has an unusual hair arrangement and is holding a bird. It is likely she is the Lady Alice Vavasour who died 1295, a descendant of the Hagets, and a benefactor of the local priories. She may have been buried here at Bilton but more likely at Syningthwaite Priory. If indeed she were buried at Syningthwaite and as Patron of Bilton her monument would have been returned to her local church after the dissolution of the priory in 1537. The effigy was moved from the north aisle into the sanctuary in 2015 following conservation treatment to remove extensive Algae. Further information on the church can be sourced from the church history booklet available for purchase in church.

October_2018_magazine, PDF

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