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The symbolism behind the stunning mural on Bolton Priory’s East Wall

At the heart of the Bolton Abbey Estate lies Bolton Priory (often referred to incorrectly as Bolton Abbey). It was originally the home of a community of Augustinian monks after the land was gifted by Alice de Rumilly (or de Romille depending upon who you believe) in 1154.

As with all Monastic buildings it suffered under the reign of Henry VIII ad the dissolution of the monasteries where he stripped the assets from the church and its wider community, essentially pensioning off the monks.

But Bolton Priory is a rare example of where part of the church building was saved and still exists for worship today. This was all down to Prior Moon who negotiated with Thomas Cromwell who had been tasked with carrying out the dissolution. He explained that there was no local parish church in the locality and gained approval from Cromwell to secure the Nave of the priory church as a place of worship for the local community. This area of the church continues to attract visitors and thrive today with a large congregation.

In 1539 after the dissolution, the lead and timber was stripped from north and south transepts and the east end of the Priory and the building fell into disrepair. But a wall was built at the crossing to separate the west end (the nave) of the church so it operated as a separate building and church in its own right.

This wall was rebuilt in 1877 and mirrored the tracery of existing stonework.

One of the most impressive things you see now when you enter the church is a stunning mural with a number of panels showing various plants.

The artwork was created by a local artist called Thomas Bottomley from Crosshills near Shipton.

The mural is symbolic with every alternate panel depicting a lily. This was done as a reminder that the church is dedicated to St. Mary (as well as St. Cuthbert). The white lily was meant to symbolise purity, innocence and fertility and now is often referred to as the “Madonna Lily”.

The other symbols include barley (I am the bread of life), olives (Jesus went from the Mount of Olives to his Passion), vine (I am the vine you are the branches) , The passion flower, wild rose (symbol of the crown of thorns) and the palm (crowds strewed palms before Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem). These plants all symbolise events of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, as told in the Gospel according to St. John.

There is further symbolism at the foot of each panel which includes:

The Priory Cross

An Angel – the symbol of St. Matthew

The Chi Rho – the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ

A Lion - the symbol of St. Mark

The Keys – a symbol of St. Peter

The Lamb and Flag – the symbol of Jesus

The Star of David

The Ox – the symbol of St. Luke

HIS – the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus

An Eagle – the symbol of St. John

Alpha and Omega – the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet

It is a marvellous mural. Apparently a former Duchess of Devonshire took a dislike to it and commissioned a huge curtain which hung there for a number of years, I’m glad it's on show now and the whole Priory complex makes a great stop on my Real Yorkshire Tours.


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