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St Helen, Bilton in Ainsty, Yorkshire, West Riding

(53°56′44″N, 1°16′29″W)
Bilton in Ainsty
SE 477 502
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
medieval St Helen
now St Helen
  • Rita Wood
20 Nov 1995; 20 Jul 2007

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St Helen is largely a 12thc church with a nave, a chancel, N and S aisles, a S chapel and a N vestry. There is a NW tower with a double bell-cote over the W gable. It was restored 1869-70 by Sir G. Scott. His post-restoration plan is hung in the church near the S door. A view of the church seen from the S, c.1850, is hung near the blocked N door (no details of artist or source). Romanesque sculpture is found on the S entrance to the porch; on the chancel corbel table (most of which is enclosed by later aisles); the chancel arch; and on the capitals of the N and S arcades.

Some plain features survive from the 12thc in the W wall. Beneath the modern bell-cote is a chamfered oculus edged by four irregular large stones (compare Askham Bryan E wall for oculus with windows below) and a tall round-headed window, which is also chamfered. A small window with an arcuated lintel survives at the W end of the S aisle, positioned 1.97 m above the base of the wall. This was reconstructed in 1869/70. At the W end of the N aisle, among some reset stones is a broken arcuated lintel, possibly the remains of a window corresponding to that at the W end of the S aisle. Some facings have been replaced.


In 1086, Osbern de Arches had an estate of 9 carucates, which was only worth a quarter of the value T.R.E. There is no mention of a church.


Exterior Features


Exterior Decoration

Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches






Regarding the lily in the S arcade, on the E and W responds, Patrik Reutersward (1985) considers this a symbol distinct from the Tree of Life, since it appears with that in some cases (e.g. Christian Visigothic sarcophagus; 12thc fonts in Jutland). According to Reutersward, 'Both the tree and the lily served widely as paradisal devices' and both the tree and the lily may 'approach a Christological significance' but 'whereas the tree has a definite Christological connotation (Rev. 22.14), there does not seem to be any scriptural evidence for the lily as a symbol of Christ' (Reuterswärd 1986, essay 5, 148). However, in an earlier essay, Reutersward illustrates a Coptic stele from the 8thc Edful which has 'ankh-signs, the hieroglyph for life' radiating from a large cross. These signs are very similar to the lily at Bilton, having a lens-shaped loop, curling side shapes and the tall outline already described (Reuterswärd 1986, essay 2, 108, fig. 15). During the Romanesque period, Reutersward notes that the emblem eventually developed 'a clearly lily-like shape. Later the lily was frequently also given a Mariological significance' (Reuterswärd 1986, essay 5,148). The present author proposes that the lily is another form of a tree in this period - a three-fold motif of leaves.


Borthwick Institute Faculty Papers 1869/7

W.H. Dixon, 'Notes on some Ainsty churches', Proc. Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Soc., vol. 1, no. 1 (1933).

J. N. L. Myers, Archaeologia, CI, 161-2, pls. xlii, xli

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: West Riding. Harmondsworth, 1959; 101f.

P. Reuterswärd, 'The Forgotten Symbols of God': five essays reprinted from Konsthistorisk Tidskrift. Uppsala 1986.