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St John the Baptist, Healaugh, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°55′32″N, 1°14′35″W)
SE 498 480
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
  • Rita Wood
12 June 1995; 16 Aug 2014

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Healaugh, one of two villages of this name in Yorkshire, is 3 miles NNE of Tadcaster in the Selby district. Nearby are the remains of Healaugh Park Priory (Augustinian, founded 1218). The church of St John the Baptist (originally, St Helen), sited across a hilltop ridge, has a nave with W tower, chancel, north aisle and north chancel aisle. Its plan is still substantially 12thc, however. The E wall and E end of the chancel S wall are later, perhaps partly due to structural weakness developing on this sloping site. The upper parts of the tower are later too, and a crack has been patched over the S doorway.

Sculpture is found on two doorways, an extensive sculptured corbel table to N and S, the chancel arch, and the capitals of the N arcade.


The church guide (1977), p.1 mentions a grant of land made by Alice Haget to the church of S. Helen of Healaugh (ecclesie sancte Elene de Helagh). The dedication was to St Helen in 1556 (Prob. Reg. 15A f.156, Wm. Watson; records in Borthwick Institute, York).

List of incumbents later 12th c. onwards in Borthwick Institute, Add. Ms. 146. A list given in the church guide, 1977, 20, was compiled by Mr C B L Barr of the Minster Library, York. It gives William c. 1150; John c. 1180/95 and c. 1190; Reginald (= Reiner Haget?) in 1206.

For benefactions of the Haget family of Healaugh, see VCH, Yorkshire III as follows: The Priory of Healaugh Park p.216; The Priory of Sinningthwaite p.176; The Priory of Esholt, p.161. The Haget family is discussed in Fletcher (2002), pp. 196-9.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches
Tower/Transept arches



Nave S doorway

The Nave S doorway is one of the most impressive remaining from the mid twelfth century in the York area. It is suggested (Wood 2006, 60-61) that its theme is a Second Coming which brings Judgment - the reward of the elect, and the doom of the wicked: this is shown in the label and central parts of the Third order (vous. 6-14). Subordinate to this, voussoirs 1-5 and 15-20 depict a spiritual conflict, between a few men who look heavenward and evil spirits that outnumber them. The two women on the imposts of the Second order represent the wise and foolish virgins of the parable (Matt.25.1-13). It is possible that voussoirs 7 and 13 of the Third order, together with the Christ on the label, form a Trinity watching over mankind.

'Pine cones' (Nave S doorway, first order, impost) These are elongated ellipsoids, marked with criss-cross lines. Similar forms, with varying decoration, are frequently used (eg) at Autun among symmetrical palmate foliage - perhaps they are dates. Similar forms occur at Birkin.

An arched or cusped pattern occurs on the R impost (Third order, Nave S doorway). The pattern is a series of doubled arches and is close to a decoration used at the Cluniac Priory of St Fortunat at Charlieu (Loire) on the N facade of the narthex. A similar pattern, as single arches, also occurs in Yorkshire at Birkin (WR).

There are Spanish examples for tearing the hair, in a MS. of Beatus, Burgo de Osma, Gerona Cathedral, and on a panel from the tomb of Sancho Saiz de Carillo at Mahamud.

The posture of Christ sitting cross-legged is discussed by C. R. Dodwell in Painting in Europe 800-1200, (1971) p.111, footnote 113, where it is related to Arab/Spanish manuscripts.

The chevron ornament is employed in a singular fashion on the nave doorway. It is used in a context full of meaning, and so may be purely ornamental. This example is important in Wood's understanding of the meaning attributed to the design in this period (Wood 2001, 22-25).

Chancel doorway and N arcade

Later work than the rest as shown by not only the waterleaf capitals, but the great size of stone used; mouldings and finer cutting. (Also great reduction in interesting sculpture).

Chancel arch

Pevsner suggests "a low stone screen must be assumed". (Pevsner, 1967, 257).

The damage to the second order was probably caused by the installation and removal of a rood screen.

The spirals, the interlacing with circles and the fluted upright leaf forms on the chancel arch jambs represent earlier decorative fashions (seen, eg., at Kirkburn, ER; and Sandwich, Kent). The same sculptor worked on the S doorway capitals.

On the S capital to order 2, the pattern with upright leaves in graded series, is like one used at Wighill (S doorway) and Brayton (tower arch).


CN 2 A beakhead. This is relatively unweathered, though broken on one corner; it could be restoration. A similar corbel is on the chancel S wall at Adel, with a mid-century date like the earlier work at Healaugh. The beakhead and roll corbel on the S wall of the chancel, CS 14, was made by someone unfamiliar with the motif.

CN 3. This form, dogtooth, dates later than the building of the original nave, and may be a corbel made at the time of the extension.

CN 4 Worn billet. This sort of limestone, with inclusions and veins, was used, e.g. at Cawood, later in the 12th century.

The corbels at Birkin have vague echoes of these: the human head NS 5, for example, and the turned head of corbel CS 9. The pattern of miniature arches on the capital of the S doorway is also found at Birkin.


Anon., Healaugh church guide (1977).

J. Bilson, 'Proceedings in 1913', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 23 (1915), 109-10.

R. M. Cooke, 'Proceedings of the Society 1913 : Healaugh' Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 23 (1915), 109-110.

J. Evans, Cluniac Art of the Romanesque Period (Cambridge, 1950).

R. Fletcher, Bloodfeud: Murder and Revenge in Anglo-Saxon England (London, 2002).

N. Pevsner, Yorkshire: West Riding. The Buildings of England (Harmondsworth, 1959), 2nd. ed. revised E. Radcliffe (1967).

The Victoria County History of Yorkshire, III, (London, 1913), reprinted 1974.

R. Wood, 'The Romanesque Doorway at Healaugh Church', in Yorkshire Philosophical Society Annual Report for 2005 (York, 2006).

R. Wood, 'The Romanesque Doorways of Yorkshire, with special reference to that at St. Mary's church, Riccall', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 66 (1994), pp. 59-90.

R. Wood, 'Geometric Patterns in English Romanesque Sculpture, Journal of the British Archaeological Association 154 (2001), pp. 1-39.