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St.Gregory’s Minster – and its unique Anglo-Saxon Sundial

On my tours of the North York Moors, I often make a little detour to Kirkdale to show my guests a little hidden gem of a church with a really unusual ancient Anglo Saxon sundial positioned just above the doorway.

But first a bit of background about the church.

We can trace a church back to the site to about 750 AD, making it one of the earliest church sites in North Yorkshire. But the existing church is mainly from slightly later in time and is dated to 1055-65 (at the end of the Anglo Saxon era).

When the first church was built around 750 AD it is believed to have been a daughter house to the monastic community in Lastingham, but was given Minster status as the mother church for the area. The church is dedicated to St. Gregory who was Pope between 590 and 604.

There are some Anglo Saxon preaching crosses believed to date from the 800’s which have been incorporated into the present structure and you can see them built into the wall outside the church.

It is believed that the original church was abandoned and fell into disrepair as a result of the Vikings raiding the area, but the existing church was definitely rebuilt sometime just before the Norman Conquest.

The Anglo Saxon Sundial which makes this church so special was probably donated by a wealthy patron when the church was re-built. That wealthy patron is likely to be Orm Gamalson. It is in 3 sections – the middle section is the actual dial with a semi-circle with a hole for a pointer (known as a gnomon). Hour lines radiate from the gnomon and there is an inscription which says 'This is the day’s sun-marker at every hour'

Just below this another inscription gives the name of the stonemason and the parish priest at the time. 'And Hawaro made me and Brand, priest'

Either side of the sundial there are 2 more panels, which give a bit of further history about the patron and the people in power at the time.

'Orm Gamalson bought St Gregory's Minster when it was all ruined and collapsed and he caused it to be made anew from the ground for Christ and for St Gregory in the days of Edward the King and in the days of Tosti the Earl'.

Edward the King would have been Edward the Confessor, whose death led to the Norman Conquest.

Tosti is a reference to Earl Tostig of Northumbria – his actual name was Tostig Godwinson and he was the Brother of Harold Godwinson, the King (who succeeded Edward the Confessor). He was exiled after a rebellion in Northumbria and joined forces with Norwegian King Harald Hardrada to invade the North of England in 1066. He was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but no sooner had his brother won that battle, he had to march back down south to face William the Conqueror – we know how that ended!

But it is interesting that the inscription does date the church to sometime between 1055 and 1065.

Orm Gamalson is a less well known character. He had Danish origins and his family had settled in York or Jorvik as it was known. He had done well for himself and it is recorded that he was married to Aethelthryth – the daughter of Earl Ealdred.

Records show that he was a major landowner in the area, a man of importance and had a son named Gamel. Interestingly Gamel was sent by King Harold Godwinson on a mission to try and persuade Tostig against his rebellion but Tostig had Gamal executed.

The sundial was hidden for 700 years and only discovered in 1771. It had been covered in plaster which had definitely protected the sundial. The porch was a later addition from around 1800, so before that the sundial would have been open to the elements and at risk or erosion from the rain and wind if it was not covered.

The little church is a treasure trove with so many other historical elements to see inside. These include from the 900’s an Anglo Scandinavia coffin lid.

Other things to look out for include little stone benches at the edges of the nave, where the old or elderly could sit before pews became commonplace.

There is a very narrow original Saxon doorway at the West End of the church with its distinctive round head. This leads to a later tower dating to 1827.

More fragments of Saxon preaching crosses can be seen inside the church. Along with Saxon column capitals and a font dating to 1200’s.

The church is not all pre-Norman Conquest, it was actually extended and widened in the 1200’s and a North Aisle added. Minor additions and restorations happened in the 1800’s and 1900’s.

St.Gregory’s Minster is such a wonderful place to visit, there is plenty of parking and is signposted off the A170, so next time you are in the area go and see this unique, historic church yourself.

1 comentario

01 abr 2023

This is always a delight to visit, just a stones throw from the Hyena caves of Kirkdale too. Thanks to Tim whose captured this remarkable, perhaps oldest and smallest minster in such wonderful script and photos too. A must visit ; my own place of tranquillity & reflection.

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