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St Mary, Bridlington, Yorkshire, East Riding

(54°5′40″N, 0°12′6″W)
TA 177 680
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now East Riding of Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
medieval St Mary
now St Mary
  • Rita Wood
15 Jun 2004; 29 Jun 2015

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The church is in the ‘old town’, not the fishing port or seaside resort. It is about one mile from the sea and the harbour. It is a large Gothic building although this is merely ten bays of the nave of the medieval priory church. To the W is the late medieval gatehouse of the priory, now the Bayle museum (Pevsner & Neave 1995, 342-6).

Nothing remains standing of the 12thc church; for the priory at that time see Franklin 1983. However, there are the reconstructed remains of what is almost certainly arcading from the cloister of that period. The reconstruction is in two sections, of two bays and three. See Bilson 1910-12, 1913; Franklin 1983, 45; Thurlby 1983; Harrison 2006, 111-116. Additionally to the cloister arcade, further loose capitals of the same types have been fixed on the plinth or wall between the bays.

The two sections of reconstructed arcading are in the N aisle at the W end. In this report, they are called Arcade A and Arcade B, as in Thurlby 1983. Franklin 1983, 46, points out that the plainer face of the arcades would have been the outside face, facing onto the open centre of the cloister. The view offered to the visitor is that from the cloister walk, but both sides can be seen. The arcades and capitals are described and numbered from L to R, seen from that side.

There is also much loose sculpture probably from the same source, and a well-preserved tomb-slab in Tournai stone.


In the DB, Morcar held Bridlington after 1066, after which the king had it. A church is mentioned here. The king passed the estates to the Gant family; the Mortain estates went to the Paynels. The priory was founded by Walter de Gant between 1109-1114. (VCHER, ii, 44, 72).

The harbour belonged to the priory.


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration


Interior Features

Interior Decoration




Loose Sculpture


Morris 1919, 110 quotes the commissioner at the Dissolution, who was held up by the winter weather but promised to make good of the destruction of that part of the priory’s buildings which were not being used by the parish as its church.

Some buried fragments were found in 1877 and erected c.1912. The arcades are dated to 1170-80 by Thurlby; Franklin suggests extending the period to include the 1160s. Harrison 2006, 111-116, proposes three patterns of arcades are represented by the pieces, and that the arches of the 3-bay arcade should have been pointed; similar to arcading at Norton Priory.

Tomb-slab. The double building can be identifed as the tomb of Christ within the Holy Sepulchre church, Jerusalem. See Wood 2006, 69-71.

Arcades: men's heads in the label. There are two heads in arcade B, that on the L is broken, but that on the R is complete. Neither of these heads is bearded, but all (including the fragmentary head in Arcade A) seem to be of young men. One of the three heads in VI, Loose Sculpture is bearded, but it is not the face of an old man. This might all be chance, or it might support the idea that the heads up in the chevrons (light) and foliage (paradise) are those of men resurrected in heaven, who, Augustine had said, would resemble Christ at the age of his death, that is in the early thirties.

Arcade B: the man holding his penis. Compare a reset corbel at Hayton. On the opposite side of the same capital is a clothed man pulling his forked beard. His arms are hunched up, emphasising the effort of pulling. The best interpretation of this posture, at least in this context where the beard-puller is in opposition to a naked, sexually-active man, suggested by Frans Carlsson, is that the man is restraining himself - he is what Carlsson (1976, 90-5) terms a ‘self-bridler’. Beard-pullers are uncommon in England, but a somewhat similar capital is exhibited in the treasury of Cologne cathedral, dated to c. 1200, where the man’s beard is being pulled by two helpful wyverns. The man’s arms are bulky and hunched in a similar way as he clutches the wyverns. There are occasionally German or Flemish connections indicated by East Riding motifs.


J. Bilson, ‘Fragments of the Cloister Arcade’. Y. A. J. 21 (1910-12), 174-5.

J. Bilson, ‘Bridlington Priory Church: the Cloister Arcade’. Y. A. J. 22 (1913), 238-9.

F. Carlsson, The Iconology of Tectonics in Romanesque Art. Hässleholm 1976.

J. A. Franklin, “Bridlington Priory: an Augustinian Church and Cloister in theTwelfth Century.” In B. A. A. C. T. 1983. Leeds, 1989, 44-61.

S. Harrison, "Benedictine and Augustinian cloister arcades in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in England, Wales and Scotland", JBAA 159 ((2006), 105-130.

J. E. Morris, The East Riding of Yorkshire. 2nd ed. (1906) 1919.

N. Pevsner & D. Neave, Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 2nd. ed. London, 1995.

M. Thurlby, ‘Observations on the Twelfth-Century Sculpture from Bridlington Priory.’ In B. A. A. C. T. 1983. Leeds, 1989, 3-43.

VCH East Riding of Yorkshire, II (Dickering Wapentake). 1974.

R. Wood, ‘The Romanesque Tomb-slab at Bridlington Priory, Y. A. J. 75 (2003), 63-76.