St John the Baptist, Adel, Yorkshire, West Riding

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Feature Sets (4)


The church has a rectangular nave and chancel, with a bellcote of 1839 above the W gable. There are square, traceried windows on the S side and the E wall has been rebuilt, but otherwise the whole is substantially 12thc. For 19thc. works, including restoration in 1879 by Street, see Draper (1908). The church is built in local sandstone and stands in a large churchyard overlooking suburban Leeds on one side and fields and woodland on the other.

Romanesque sculpture is concentrated in the S doorway, the corbel tables to N and S and on the chancel arch, but there are also decorated window heads and an unusual array of corbel-like heads on the W gable. The remains of a plain font are near the SW gate. The top of a pillar piscina, which had been re-set outside the chancel doorway (see III.4.(i) below), was stolen in 2002.


Roman remains have been found in the area. Draper 1908 thinks there might have been a pre-Conquest stone church. The Domesday Survey does not mention a church at Adel. Adel was held by Alweard in 1066. The manor was granted to Robert, count of Mortain, by William I. It was subinfeudated to Richard de Surdeval. Ralph Paganel or Paynel married one of Richard's daughters, who inherited it. Paynel had Holy Trinity church in York, which he re-established as a cell of Marmoutier, endowing it with the 'church of St John of Adela'. One carucate (of 1½ carucates in the territory of Adel) and the tithes of the desmesne were also granted by Ralph Paynel to Holy Trinity Priory. The present church was dedicated betweem 1152 and 1185 (Zarnecki, 1979). Sometime later, William Mustel gave the advowson of Adel church to Kirkstall. Lancaster thinks this means there must have been two churches at Adel (Lancaster, 1895, 272-73). In 1166 the other half carucate of land at Adel was held by a knight, Robert d'Autrey, from William Paynel of Hooton Pagnell. Before 1204 it was gifted to Kirkstall Abbey (Faull and Moorhouse, 1981).


Exterior Features


Chancel doorway

Plain, jambs continuous with the wall surface and unmarked; voussoirs are flush with the wall.

h. 2.13 m
w. of opening 0.845 m

S doorway, nave

Round-headed, of five orders, set in a gabled projection. The term 'porch' is best not used for this original structure, as there was a rustic porch in place until about 1816. A replica door-pull replaces the 12thc. one which was stolen in 2002 (see Zarnecki 1979, 111-18; Zarnecki 1984, 256 and reversed illustration on back cover).

The doorway has been protected since 1982 by a shallow roof supported on two posts and open at the sides. Metal struts cross the face of the gable. The doorway was limewashed in about 1950 and again in 1970 (traces remain). The entrance is by one step up at the outer order; at the entrance itself is a raised threshold beyond which is a flight of two or three steps down into the nave. Inside, there are slots for a closing bar.

The capitals especially are decayed. A plate in Whitaker, 1816, shows the L capital, fifth order, depicting a lion with a cross marked on its front upper leg; this capital is now illegible. Another plate shows a mask at the apex (now replaced). Whitaker reports that 'on the pediment, besides many fantastic devices, were figures of the several persons of the Holy Trinity, the eyeballs of which are of lead, and on the capitals the names and symbols of the four Evangelists. Beside the Bull the word TAURUS is still very distinct, and near it I faintly trace SCUS LUCAS or Sanctus Lucas. On the opposite side the word JOHANNES is still legible. These characters are decidedly later than the Conquest.'

(according to Bulmer, 1887)
h. to apex of gable 5.64 m
h. to eaves 3.05 m
w. of porch (i.e. gabled projection) 4.42 m
(measured by RW; all measurements are approximate, due to worn condition of the surface)
h. of opening (measured from the raised threshold) 2.53 m
w. of opening 1.265 m
Fifth order

Bases and nook-shafts as fourth order, but on L some original surface survives. Plain plinth, steep base with horizontal grooves at top, and two near bottom. Detached column. Necking and capital on both sides worn to extinction. In the arch on face, centripetal chevron. There are two rows of shallow chevron mouldings on the face, one on the soffit, bordered by incised lines and meeting point-to-point on the angle in the centre of each voussoir. Voussoirs are not of equal size.

First order

Plain and chamfered plinth, very worn. It probably had a groove like the others. Within the first course above the plinth a decorative moulding begins on face and jamb. This is continuous through the arch, and has the effect of angle rolls to N and S, with a plain fillet between them in the reveal; an incised line parallels the roll on the S face.

Fourth order

Plain plinth as before, then square plinth and column base. The base is similar in form to the base described under VI Loose Sculpture. It is fairly steep and has a shallow concave 'collar'. En-delit nook shafts, necking on R has cable pattern; capital on R has symmetrical foliage stems. In the arch, two roll mouldings with two ridges between, set at an angle.


Immediately above this label, and filling the gable, is a sculptural display in which the motifs are separated into panels, though there are joints within the spandrel ornament. In total, including small triangular pieces under the Bull and Lion motifs, there are 17 separate pieces of stone used to make up the display. Presumably these panels are face-bedded, and probably from such strata as would, later, provide the paving stones of the West Riding. Despite extensive erosion, two or three of the eye sockets still seem to have the coloured filling noted by Whitaker, who saw this gable before the removal of the rustic porch. The style is not that of the carvings on the chancel arch, but more rounded. The mask now in place at the apex seems to be a restoration. For the structural relationship of this display to the nave wall, see VIII Comments/Opinions.

All the main characters are surrounded individually by a raised border. At the top of the gable is the haloed Lamb with pennant flying and the cross above it. The Lamb carries a pennant at Barton-le-Street, but it is not all that common a feature. The neatly slabby fleece can still be seen on shoulders and back. Just a little below the level of the Lamb's feet, to L and R, were the Sun and Moon. Christ is seated directly below the Lamb: one part of his throne, like a column with capital and base, can be seen, but the pose of the figure can only be guessed at, or seen in old engravings. The four living creatures are placed two either side. The bull and winged man and eagle have the dark eye colouration perhaps still in place. The eagle is relatively well-preserved. Its feathers are slabby, tile-like on the body (compare with the beakheads on the arch). The lion has a small head.


Chamfered against the fifth order; on the face, plain dentation with the inner points sloped down to the angle with the chamfer. Similar dentation is used on the chancel arch label.

Second order

Simple plinth, as first order. The jamb and arch both have beakheads on a roll, but these are very worn on the lower parts. Capitals seem to have had loose foliage stems (see Bingley Collection slides). Impost not heavy, chamfered and the upright with two grooves, widely spaced. In the arch, the soffit is plain, with 20 beakheads on an angle roll. These are quite well preserved, especially nos. 10-16. They are not quite typical beakheads for Yorkshire, their heads have flat tile or slate-like 'feathers'; their beaks have transverse ridges and so might be seen as tongues, in which case their maker was thinking of masks and not beakheads. The emphasis, however, is on the beak, and the heads are long rather than square in proportion. The transverse ridges might be the development of ridges below the eyes, or even a binding or muzzling strap.

Third order

Simple plinth, as first and second orders. Chevrons in both jamb and arch. Capitals again seem to have had loose foliage stems, perhaps symmetrical with a head as a volute; a similar impost. In the arch on the face, centrifugal chevron moulding with balls in the space at the angle. These balls are criss-crossed and made berry-like, as, for example, at Stillingfleet. Outside that are three rows of stepped dentation. Soffit plain.


Chancel, E wall

The three windows in the E wall of the chancel are Street's, but follow the original as shown by the plan in Poole 1844.


N wall: arcuated heads with dentations.

S wall: one plain window.

W wall: two reused window heads at the lower level, but the window openings are remade or not original. Upper window not original.

Exterior Decoration

String courses

Exterior, E wall,

On all faces of the building, but does not continue over pilasters. It runs above the chancel doorway, and is higher than the impost on the nave doorway. It is steeply chamfered above and below, with two reeded mouldings running horizontally between the chamfers. Most of it has been restored, but original pieces are on the N side of the chancel, near the NE corner.

A short length of stringcourse is also used on the sides of the projection at the south doorway; this is not placed so high as the other, but at about 2.2m. This mismatch may be relevant to Whitaker's observation that the projection is separate from the main S wall of the nave. (See VIII Comments/Opinions.)

Corbel tables, corbels


There are 81 corbels on the N and S walls of the nave and chancel, including nine applied flat onto the W gable. The corbel table is celebrated for its decorative effect (see VIII Comments/Opinions). Corbels with the usual cavetto support an overhanging wall two or three courses high. Between each corbel this cornice is cut into an arch with basically two diagonal straight sides meeting at right angles. Each side has sections of two roll mouldings halfway along it. Thus, by relatively simple means, the face of the wall is adorned with repeating curly lines and their shadows, and by variety in the corbels. The repeating pattern of the cornice continues across pilasters. The decorative effect does not preclude serious content, of course. The run of corbels is fully carved but many are restorations.

Chancel, N wall

There are 13 corbels on this length of wall.

NC1: worn animal head.

NC2: head, probably restoration.

NC3 and 4: restorations.

NC5 and 6: these two box-corbels are interesting in that their decoration is better preserved and also more intricate than the others. As well as the head within the arch on the face, legs can be seen in the downward facing surface of the box, and arches continue on the sides.

NC7: a man's head. This and the next corbel are well preserved.

NC8: Two men's heads, or possibly a man and a woman's heads. See VIII Comments/Opinions.

NC9 - 12: look like restorations.

NC13: too worn to describe.

Chancel, S wall

Thirteen corbels, described L to R:

SC1: a man's head

SC2: a muzzled animal

SC3: a grotesque mask, mouth downwards

SC4: a horned ram

SC5: two beakheads

SC6: a mask, mouth askew

SC7: two heads, perhaps a man and a woman

SC8: a grotesque mask

SC9: (restoration) a human face, mouth askew

SC10: A man playing a stringed instrument.

SC11-13: Figures of men in 'boxes'. Traces of decoration show that the box is to be understood as a building as there are arches, capitals and pillars to the openings, and sometimes on the sides as well. Similar corbels are on the N side of the chancel and one among the S nave corbels.

Nave, N wall

There are 25 corbels on this length of wall.

NN1: a worn grotesque mask.

NN2: another mask, with fringe.

NN3: a man's head.

NN4: man's head, restoration.

NN5 - 12: restorations.

NN13: a box-corbel in the edge of a pilaster. A man's head looks out.

NN14: a restoration.

NN15: a box-corbel with a man looking out. Re-cut.

N16: broken off near wall.

NN17: animal head, restoration.

NN18: box-corbel with face.

NN19: similar to NN18, but re-cut.

NN20: box-corbel, restoration.

NN21 - 25: restorations.

Nave, S wall

There are 21 corbels on the S wall of the nave.

SN1: a man's head with a curious beard. This is probably a restoration.

SN2 - 4: 3 modern heads

SN5: a 'box-corbel', but too worn to describe. (The gable cuts into the cornice here.)

SN6: restoration.

SN7 - 9: restorations.

SN10: a pair of heads, very worn.

SN11 and 12: restorations.

SN13: two heads in proportion like SN10, perhaps re-cut.

SN14: two heads, one bearded.

SN15 and 16: restorations.

SN17: two heads, both bearded.

SN18 - 21: restorations.

Nave, W wall

These corbels have been taken down and re-set, but the format seems to have been original. There may have been some re-cutting. There are nine corbel-type designs, arranged one, three and five. The three and five are set below a plain square stringcourse. They do not project from a cavetto, but the face of the wall. They are usually large-eyed grotesques, apart from one muzzled beast, and a foliate design bottom R.


Font bowl fragment


Plain, cylindrical and shallow; the rim is chamfered and shows the fixing holes for lid and lock. The central drain hole goes down at least 0.15 m.

max. diam. 0.79 m
max. h. visible 0.42 m

Pillar piscina fragment (now lost)

Until it was stolen in September 2002, this fragment was located outside, near the chancel door, re-set on a short pillar to resemble the original item. The broken bowl, ring and part of its stem were integral, and had max. h. 0.39 m. The bowl was like a scallop capital with three shallow scallops on each face and darts between. A four-sided basin sloped straight to the drainage hole in the centre. This hole was angled sideways and reappeared as a short length of lead pipe on the side mounted facing the chancel.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Of three orders to the W (facing the nave) and two to the E (facing the chancel).

Impost as before. In the arch, a series of 37 individual motifs, mostly toothy grotesque masks with objects in their mouths. The motifs are set on a plain roll moulding on the angle, a chamfered field and plain outer band. This profile is common. The style is uniform and could be by the same workman as the capitals. The content seems folksy, but there are one or two motifs which recur in more sophisticated works and some teaching is no doubt intended. There are a similar proportion of masks (elsewhere beakheads) to human heads as at Brayton and Birkin doorways, for example. Comparable motifs are often in corbel tables (Healaugh, Campsall, Kirkburn).

From L to R:

1. A mask with something, possibly human, in its mouth.

2. A mask with the top half of a man hanging out of its mouth. The man's arms hang loosely. He wears a belt of strength (back to front). His tongue is hanging out, that is, it is downwards in relation to his mouth although he is upside down. The tongue on the severed head of St John the Baptist at Riccall is of this form. At Bishop Wilton (East Riding), a man being swallowed has a belt of strength, wears mail and has a weapon in his hand. This seems to be a condemnation of brute force.

3. A mask with round eyes and an open mouth.

4. A mask with ears, round eyes and two men hanging out of a double mouth. These men have their arms and legs folding neatly to the body, their faces gaze down at the viewer like heads of the elect on several of the later doorways. Perhaps they are shown as resurrected.

5. A bearded mask with almond eyes and pointed ears.

6. This has a human face with a fantastic head issuing from the mouth. Like no.5, it fuses human and bestial features.

7. A mask with a circular object in its mouth, the ring is not complete.

8. A human-like mask with a pair of legs in the mouth.

9. A cat-like mask with a small human body in its open jaws. This is more certainly a resurrection motif. Compares to a loose voussoir of two beakheads and a small body at Campsall (West Riding); other carvings at Stillingfleet (East Riding).

10. A human-like mask with a circular object in its mouth, which might be the head of a tiny body; two paws or hands to either side of the 'body'.

11. A cat-like mask with a half-figure hanging out of its teeth, the arms hanging down.

12. A woman's head, gazing upwards. She has hair parted in the centre and showing at the cheekbones, covered by a close headdress like a wimple (compare no. 30). Compare to heads of women at Brayton (West Riding) — not the crowned head, that is restoration. There is no mouth indicated, but this gives a placid expression.

13. A mask with double mouth (like no. 4); two men hanging out of it, heads downwards. Is it snakes or arms that cross their chests?

14. A mask with a fish in its mouth, two fins and a stripy back.

15. A hare. Also in an order of beakheads and other motifs at Brayton (West Riding).

16. A mask with another in its mouth.

17. A woman's head, very like no.12, but this one is smiling.

18. A man sitting with crossed legs on the roll moulding. He is holding in his right hand a long stick and in his left (just near his left cheek) a stringed instrument. It is a stick and not a bow. There has been damage to the N side of the figure, his left knee and the S side of the instrument. The same motif also occurs at Kirkburn (East Riding), on a corbel of the nave N wall, next to the tower. There may have been a head on the bottom of the instrument - compare a harp at Campsall (West Riding).

19. A cat-like mask with a man's body hanging out, he wears a belt of strength. (Compare nos. 1 and 2.)

20. A human-like mask with the front of an animal hanging out. Grinning?

21. A one-eyed (?) mask with a small animal below its teeth, this has cloven hooves and a human-like head.

22. A human-like mask with a small person in its teeth. (Compare no. 9.)

23. A human face wearing a close cap, in its mouth a symmetrical spray of something. I would suppose here that it was foliage (= Life) but at Riccall a double head could be Janus, or something else (second order, voussoir 3).

24. A pair of eared heads each with a creature in its mouths.

25. Pisces. Two fish held together with a short string at the mouth.

26. A human-like face with the small head of a lion in its mouth, as at Barton-le-Street (North Riding). Or, it is the head of a youth with curly hair (compare an interior corbel at Selby, West Riding, SW pier).

27. A human-like face with another face upside down in its mouth. The second face seems to be bearded.

28. A square-headed mask with a ring in its mouth (compare no.7).

29. Three heads of the same form, arranged with two head-to-head and sideways on top of the third in the usual position. They have round eyes, a 'hair-line' and noses with nostrils. Their mouths are underneath the face and ringed with teeth. Corbels at Healaugh (West Riding) have similar snout-like mouths.

30. Also a three-fold arrangement of heads. At the top are two human faced, cheek to cheek. Like the lady in no. 17, they are smiling. They are above (perhaps have 'overcome'?) — a mask below them. The mask has long pointed ears.

31. Another three-fold arrangement. Two men's heads smiling above a mask of the snout-mouth sort, as in no. 29. It has no teeth.

32. A figure naked from the waist hangs upside down.

33. A human-like mask with a small mask in its teeth. This also has teeth.

34. A human-like mask with a pair of legs (or fangs) emerging from its mouth, alongside (Compare no.8.)

35. A human-like face with symmetrical foliage in the mouth. He seems to grin. (Compare no. 23.)

36. Two masks, one in the mouth of the other.

37. A human head, large eyes, grin, tongue and beard. The beard is cut to a uniform length except for four strands which are long enough to be plaited. A plaited beard is seen at Barton-le-Street (North Riding) on a voussoir of the S doorway, but would not relate directly to this motif.

Label to chancel arch. Chamfered to the third order. The outer surface has a dent in which the inner points touch the angle of the chamfer and the outer are cut deeper, as on doorway arch label.

First order, shared

Stands on a deep, plain and chamfered plinth, which has a groove below the angle and a groove on the angle. This plinth is 0.4 m high. On this is a plain block, then a round base. On the N this base is of upright form with a groove in the lower third and a belt in the top two-thirds. On the S side, there is a large belt with a concave profile and the lowest part of the base is plain. Half columns, coursed in with the adjacent jambs, rise to a plain ring and a double-width capital. The S side necking is shallow-waisted into a double ring horizontally.

The capitals are of cushion form and have figurative subjects carved in flat relief and in naive style, but the content is ancient and the sources various.

N capital

This capital shows the Baptism of Christ on its S face. Christ is haloed, visible from the waist up and standing in a heap of stripey water with both arms raised. A bird, the Holy Spirit, is above his head. The Baptist, dressed like a 12thc. man, stands on the R of centre. He seems to be blessing and holding a book. On the L an angel flies in with arms outstretched holding a cloth in the Byzantine manner. Below the angel is a four-legged animal sipping at the water. The animal seems to be a boar. On the far right stands a crowned figure in a skirt (and perhaps no upper clothing) who holds a leafing staff, and perhaps a book. The leafing staff runs into a similar plant which grows from the ring of the capital. The staff can be understood as a shoot from the larger form, which spreads onto the E face of the capital. (See VIII Comments/Opinions.)

The Baptism scene is bounded on the angles by foliage stems, which are stranded to the W, plain to the E. These stems come from the mouths of small heads in the position of volutes. On the SE corner the head seems to be human, and the E face contains an animal which may be a wolf. It has its open mouth to the ear of the man, whose own mouth emits foliage, a long willow-like leafy shoot. On the SW volute the many teeth of the head suggest a bestial mask, and one beaded strand is tangled up with the boar.

N capital

A fight of a centaur with a dragon. The dragon on the S face is breathing fire. It has two horns and an ear, two front legs and a beaded knotted tail ending in a leaf-like flourish. There are perhaps the remains of a small head as a volute. On the W face is a centaur with a bow and arrow aimed at the dragon's head. The rear of the centaur is being attacked from above by a flying dragon. This dragon has two ears, two striped wings, one front leg and a tail that is banded and ends in a leaf-like flourish. (See VIII Comments/Opinions.) Unusually, the carving extends onto the outer part of the block to the N, adding to the vitality of the swooping dragon. Because of its context and activity, and because it is not paired and symmetrical, this dragon (or wyvern) need not be interpreted like the wyverns on the capitals of the second order.

S capital

The subject is the Deposition of Christ from the Cross. The relief is again flat, but even so the heads of Christ and the man with the pincers have been broken off. Christ's head drops to the E and seems to have been crowned. The crown has three square lobes. The cross is rough. To the E of the cross, a bearded man in a cloak supports Christ's right arm. To the E of this man, a woman stands, her hands up in distress. She wears a crown and hood or wimple and cloak. The crown is rather like that of the king on the N capital, but is in better condition, it has three three-lobed finials. On the opposite W end of this face of the capital stands a man. He also has one hand up to his face, the other holds a book. He may have a halo, but otherwise only Christ in the Baptism scene has a halo. At his feet, the head of a creature rising out of the plain necking would seem to have more to do with the scene on the W face of the capital than the Deposition. On the E of his head is a face in a ring, presumably meant for Sun or Moon. (See VIII Comments/Opinions.) The W face of the capital has a head as a volute on the angle. The dragon or wyvern has its head averted from the main scene. Its knotted tail ends in foliage and another head, which touches the back of the goat below. This animal is standing upright looking round the corner in the direction of the evangelist and the cross. From the necking of the capital, a grotesque head with open mouth looks up at the goat. It is reminiscent of the head breaking through the star pattern at Kencott (Oxon). That head is an equivalent for Death or Hell. The composition on the W face may be read as the seeker after higher things escaping Death and Hell, and receiving a new body in heaven, due to the death of Christ. The E face of the capital also has a small head on the corner. This emits two plain stems, which, unlike those on the E face of the N capital, end again quite quickly. On the shield is a boar with tusk and curly tail, a parallel to the wolf on the N capital. In the receding bell is a lion with foliate tail tuft and its face turned to the R, towards the main scene, though from the E the lion is seen alone with the boar. This is the resurrected Christ, and in both the N and S capitals the boar represents the destructive powers of the Devil (Psalm 80:13).

The impost is decorated with two grooves or lines like that on the S doorway. This spacing is unusual, and tends to link the two works, as does the use of dentation on the label in both, and similarities in the bases.

In the arch: on the W face, facing the nave, there is chevron on the angle, with three parallel rows of zigzag on face and soffit. This, again, is similar to patterns on the doorway. The chevron is centripetal on the face. It is unusual in that the zigs and zags are gently curved. On the E face, there is only an angle roll.

S capital

A lion and a mounted horseman. The lion on the N face of the capital is a large-eyed with human-like face and it smiles. This is quite common for Romanesque lions. The horseman on the W face of the capital has his lance in a 'rest' position, held upwards; the lion and he are not in combat. He has a cross on the Norman pointed shield. He rides on a saddle with a cloth under it; he wears spurs, helmet and mail. From the nave, this knight would be seen with the centaur on the opposite capital.

Second order, E

Form of base not noted. Plain jambs with chamferd imposts. On the S side of the arch, at the impost, the first two voussoirs each have a beakhead, thereafter the arch is plain. These are decorated between the ears, on the forehead and on the beak with parallel v-lines and have tear-shaped eyes. They are not particularly like those on the doorway. It is an unusual place to have any sculpture, let alone beakheads. (See VIII Comments/Opinions.)

Second order, W

Bases similar to that of first order, i.e. having belts and grooves variously arranged. En-delit nook-shafts; plain, necking with heavy cable to N and S. Both capitals have confronted beasts, wyverns, which are likely to be more positive than they look at first sight (see Wheatcroft, 1999).

N capital: The carving is scooped out at the top edge. The four animals are similar, with tear-shaped eyes and incised diagonal lines or nested Vs on the body. Their mouths are open, with rows of plain square teeth. They have one front leg, and end in a tail and 2/3 leaves. The tails are bound together in the angle and at the ring: foliage is often bound in this manner.

S capital: These animals are slightly more varied than those on the N capital. Three of them have two front legs; the central pair has differently patterned bodies: one has a cross and the other is striped. The outer pair is diagonally striped as before. The foliage ending their tails is angular, but similarly bound. The animals' mouths are shut but still toothy, the central pair having interlocked pointed teeth.Impost as before. In the arch, in the soffit, plain with an angle roll. On the face, each voussoir has a radial cylindrical moulding in the centre, which runs smoothly in the same plane from the angle roll to a circumferential roll moulding. This has the effect of making what Pevsner describes as 'a chain of box-frames'. In its imaginative use of simple roll mouldings to form patterns, it is characteristic of the work of masons from Normandy (see VIII Comments/Opinions).

Third order, W

Base to S side. Another base with deep belt and a groove. En-delit nook-shafts.

Loose Sculpture

Circular base for a pillar, integral with a square plinth


diam. 0.29 m
h. 0.37 m
w. 0.32 m

'Roman' pillar

Now very weathered, with barely visible scale ornament. This has been traditionally attributed to the Roman period, but is included here since the attribution is uncertain.


Regarding S doorway of the nave Whitaker (1816, 176) says that the porch (that is, the projection containing the S doorway) is separate fabric from the nave wall. He says that though it is not much later, it 'is so applied to the wall as plainly not to constitute part of the original plan; nor is the stone of the same kind.' Lewthwaite disagreed with this opinion. Draper (1908, 22) assumes the projection is the same or approximately the same age as the church, quotes architects and notes the apex cuts into corbel table; its capitals were comparable to those on the chancel arch (his judgment on this last point is not sufficient). It can be seen that the projection is coursed with the nave wall up to, or a little below, its own stringcourse, that is, to about 2.2m above ground level. Above that it is not coursed with the nave wall. This might account for the different opinions expressed as to coursing. The possibility therefore exists that there were two phases in construction of the S entrance in the 12thc. One phase could have provided the doorway of five orders, and a later work could have enlarged and embellished its gable with the apocalyptic subject, necessitating taking down some of the earlier work to key in the new work. These two phases might explain the duplication of evangelist symbols, which Whitaker describes; these are said to have been on capitals as well as the gable. Such duplication (assuming Whitaker identified the carvings correctly) would be unlikely if everything we now see had been built at one time. Two types of stone might well have been used in any case, one for the blocks in the lower parts and another suitable for the flat panels in the gable. The carving of flat panels in sandstone is reminiscent of work at Boroughbridge, found in the walls of the demolished St James' church and now re-set in the vestry of the parish church (see Boroughbridge site report). Frames are used around figures at Barton-le-Street (North Riding) and Healaugh (West Riding). For subject in gable, the Second Coming, compare version at Healaugh, S doorway. There is speculation about the flower-like decorations in the spandrels at Adel - numerous suggestions have been made, but shooting or falling stars would fit the Second Coming quite well. The Jouarre tomb of Bishop Agilbert has very flower-like falling stars in a similar composition. The only support for the plant idea is the base of the left spandrel, where a wavy shape could suggest ground on which a plant could stand, although there are no leaves anywhere, which one might reasonably expect. The wavy shape could represent cloud.

As to the corbel table, the corbel table at Barton-le-Street (North Riding) is more complex even than this one, which itself is unusual. The pattern continues across the pilasters and all are coursed altogether. The corbel table is interrupted by the gable of the projection, as mentioned by Draper, but whether or not this would indicate that the gable was an afterthought I do not know.

Considering corbel NC8, the odd form of the necks can be compared to heads around an arch of the doorway at Salton (North Riding).

The chancel arch moulding on the second order and the strange motifs in many of the voussoirs in the third order are rather like carving that Deborah Kahn sees as the work of Normandy builders. Also with Norman connections is the pattern in the second order. There are similarities in the chevron and label patterns used on the chancel arch and the doorway. However, the style of the sculpture on the chancel arch is somewhat different from that of the doorway (so far as we can judge), certainly from that in the gable. This change of style would not necessarily make the two parts of different date, as doorways seem often to have been made by separate craftsmen from the rest of the building.

Considering chancel arch capitals of the first order: compare N capital (Baptism of Christ), with an ivory casket of the Metz school, 9thc.-10thc., which shows some of the same iconography. A baptism scene on a wooden door in Sant Maria im Kapitol, Cologne, dating from before 1065, shows water pouring itself from a vessel to the right of Christ, whose feet stand on the stream. To the left of his feet, the stream of water becomes a dog-like animal with its head turned upward. It is likely that the figure on the right is King David holding the shoot from the stem of Jesse. Isaiah 11:1,2 is a prophecy that associates the descent of the seven spirits of God (suitable for this baptism) with the shoot out of the root of Jesse, that is, Christ. It is possible that the crowned figure might symbolise the river Jordan, for this compare the mosaic in the dome of the Arian baptistery, Ravenna. In this mosaic, the classical personification of Jordan holds up a leafing branch but has two horns on his head. For the boar, compare an 8thc. slab 'Exaltation of the Cross'. The rough cross in the scene of the Deposition represented on the S capital is unusual.

As to the capitals of the third order, N capital (centaur) - compare Fishlake and Foston (North Riding). The centaur can (in these cases but not always elsewhere) be interpreted as Christ; the Agnus Dei fights a dragon at St Lawrence, York. Here at Adel he fights Death, and is presumably also irritated or tempted by Sin. A nice comparison is with the post-Conquest Tiberius Psalter, B.L. Cotton Tib.C.vi, fol. 14r., the Harrowing of Hell, where there is a little snarling dragon at the feet of Christ.

Musician in the third order of the chancel arch (motif no. 18) is comparable to a corbel at Kirkburn (East Riding) on N side of nave. There are also figures standing within 'boxes' in the corbels at Kirkburn.

With regard to the carving of two beakheads on the E face of the chancel arch, Pevsner 1959, 339, says: 'This detail is a noteworthy proof of the fact that such sculptural decoration was done in situ or apres la pose.' Even if this were the conclusion to be drawn in this instance, it certainly would not have been possible or practical to work like that generally.


  • Victoria County History, Yorkshire, vol. III, reprinted 1974.

  • Victoria County History, Yorkshire, vol. II, reprinted 1974.

  • G. Zarnecki et al., English Romanesque Sculpture 1066-1200, London, 1984.

  • G. B. Bulmer, Architectural Studies in Yorkshire, London and Leeds, 1887.

  • V. Crompton, Adel Church 1160-2000, Leeds, 1999.

  • W. H. Draper, Adel and its Norman Church, Leeds, 1908.

  • G. Lewthwaite, 'Adel church: its Fabric, Restoration and Discovery of Norman Roof', Assoc. Archit. Socs. Reports and Papers, XIX, 1887, 102-120.

  • G. Lewthwaite, 'Adel Church: its Sculptures and their Symbolism', Assoc. Archit. Socs. Reports and Papers, XX, part I, 1889, 63-74.

  • G. Lewthwaite, 'Adel: its Norman Church founded by King Stephen, and other Earlier Antiquities', Assoc. Archit. Socs. Reports and Papers, IX, part ii, 1868, 203-221.

  • G. Zarnecki, 'A Group of English Medieval Doorknockers', in: Studies in Romanesque Sculpture, London, 1979.

  • J. H. Wheatcroft, 'Classical Ideology in the Medieval Bestiary', in: The Mark of the Beast, ed. D. Hassig, New York 1999, 141-59.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: West Riding. Harmondsworth, 1967; 2nd. ed. Revised E. Radcliffe. 1967, 338-9.

  • G. A. Poole, The Churches of Yorkshire, Leeds, 1844 (with five plates).

  • P. Ryder, Medieval Churches of West Yorkshire, Wakefield, 1993.

  • H. T. Simpson, Archaeologia Adelensis or a History of the parish of Adel in the West Riding of Yorkshire, London, 1879 (drawings, 220-238)

  • T. D. Whitaker, Loidis and Elmete, York, 1816.

  • R. Wood, 'The Romanesque Sculpture at Adel church, West Riding - a suggested interpretation', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 85, 2013, 97-130

  • W. T. Lancaster, 'Adel Church', Thoresby Soc. Publications, vol. 4, Leeds, 1895, 259-286.

The church from the SW entrance to the churchyard.
Churchyard, view from SW.
Old path from Otley Road looking E towards site of church in hilltop trees.
Landscape looking N.
Car park on Church Lane.
Housing encroaches from S.
The old path, Church Lane and the SW entrance to the churchyard.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
SE 275 403 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Yorkshire, West Riding
now: West Yorkshire
medieval: York
formerly: Ripon and Leeds
now: West Yorkshire and the Dales
medieval: St John (in reign of Wm. Rufus) and St John the Baptist (1551)
now: St John the Baptist
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Rita Wood 
Visit Date
27 Jul 1999, 24 Aug 1999, 20 May 2014