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St Mary, Nun Monkton, Yorkshire, West Riding

(54°0′55″N, 1°13′12″W)
Nun Monkton
SE 512 580
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now North Yorkshire
formerly St Mary
now St Mary
  • Rita Wood
1 April 1996, 17 Nov 2014

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Nun Monkton is a settlement 8 miles N of York. The church is the main survival from the priory founded before 1154, and is approached from the SW on a private road up an avenue leading directly towards the W facade. The five bays of W part of the present church are the only visible remains from the priory. The W facade is 12th-century in the lower stage, with doorway and statuary; the W doorway opens into the tower which is enclosed in the aisleless nave. The E wall is a 19th-century feature; it did not exist in this position at the time of the visit by Sir William Glynne (Butler 2007, 308-10). The E end of the present church was added in 1873, incorporating the remains of the easternmost doorway in the S wall. (See Leach and Pevsner 2009, 610-11).

There are three doorways in the S wall of the nave of which the E is the most elaborate but mostly restored; access to the exterior S wall was restricted in 2014. Plan of church in Poole 1844 shows a straight E wall limiting the early work to five bays; sources of earlier illustrations are given in Bilson 1915, 107; three illustrations of the pre-restoration building are given in Butler 2007, 308-10).

Romanesque sculpture is foound on the E doorway, S wall, and on the W facade.


VCH, Yorkshire (1913) III, 122 says:

'This priory appears from a confirmation by Archbishop Henry Murdac (1147-53) to have been founded in the reign of Stephen by William de Arches and Ivetta his wife, who granted to God and St Mary and to Maud their daughter and the nuns of Monkton six carucates of land in Monkton, and half a carucate in Hammerton, and the churches of 'Torp' (Thorp Arch), Hammerton, 'Escham' (Askham Richard) and 'Kirby juxta Ouseburne'. The latter church Elias de Ho had granted at the counsel of William de Arches. The way in which the name of William and Ivetta's daughter, Maud, is introduced can only mean that she was prioress of the house'.


Exterior Features


Exterior Decoration

String courses





West doorway, including statuary

It is not known who these doorways were used by; the two less important doorways in this wall, this and a western one, were perhaps for lay use. Bilson 1915, 107, describes the west doorway as 'one of the latest examples of the elaboration of the latest Romanesque motives which seem to have spread around York from Archbishop Roger's work in the Minster.' He then footnotes 'chapter-house, St Mary's Abbey, York; west doorways of Selby and Old Malton; south doorway of Askham Bryan, etc'. There is a strong similarity of the full-length figure here with a larger figure from York Minster known as "Sheba". See Comments re figures from York Minster and St Mary's Abbey.

Pevsner states the lowest level was all built before the upper parts (1967, 383-384). For detail, see Bilson 1915, 107-8.

The statues on the Minster seem to necessarily be of late 1170s to 1180s. (Oosterwijk & Norton, 23, 24). The York Minster statues have nothing like the round carvings at their feet, but instead have bases cut in architectural forms. The figure in niche 1 has bare feet so was perhaps an Apostle(?)

The capitals of the W doorway. Despite the contrast in effect - busy and severe - the structure and details used here constantly recall waterleaf capitals; yet there might be three different sculptors working on them. Leach and Pevsner 2009, 611, describe the capitals as 'just pre-stiff-leaf; that is, they have foliage details which are reminiscent of stiff-leaf but the carving is all still close to a solid square core.'

Similar examples of chevron are seen at Askham Bryan, and keeled angle rolls at Long Marston. The R capitals of orders 2 and 3 at Long Marston have similarities to those on orders 1 to 3 at Nun Monkton, but are less elaborate. Holm Cultram Abbey, inside on N near organ, has capitals with overhanging leaves as on W doorway.

Cloister doorway, exterior

At Lanercost Priory on R side of door in S transept, an animal head was tucked in beside a waterleaf capital. It had ears, curls between the ears and on the neck, a grimacing mouth and slanting eyes. Locally, this recalls the R side stop on the nave doorway at Moor Monkton, but perhaps functioned like the little head at the base of the cloister doorway at Nun Monkton.

W facade, string course at niche level

For the sake of symmetry, it is likely that this once continued across the whole facade. There are marks of a lean-to building having been once erected on the north side of the doorway, and this may have contributed to damage. The 1873 restoration probably trimmed the wall face clean.


J. Bilson, 'Nun Monkton', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal (1915), 106-108.

L. A. S. Butler (ed.), 'The Yorkshire Church Notes of Sir Stephen Glynne (1825-1874)' Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record series 159 (Woodbridge, 2007).

B. Heywood (ed.) Romanesque Stone Sculpture from Medieval England (Henry Moore Sculpture Trust,Leeds, 1993).

P. Leach and N. Pevsner, Yorkshire West Riding: Leeds, Bradford and the North (Yale, 2009).

S. Oosterwijk and C. Norton, 'Figure Sculpture from the Twelfth Century Minster', Friends of York Minster Annual Report (1990), pp. 12-30.

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

G. A. Poole, The Churches of Yorkshire (Leeds, 1845).

J.W. Walker, 'The Priory Church of Nun Monkton', British Architects' Conference Handbook (1929), pp. 98-99.