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St Mary, Westow, Yorkshire, East Riding

(54°5′6″N, 0°50′28″W)
SE 759 661
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, East Riding
now North Yorkshire
medieval York
now York
medieval St Mary
now St Mary
  • Rita Wood
31 July 2007

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The church is a mile and a half E of Kirkham Priory. It stands isolated almost a mile along a track N of the village, with footpaths radiating from it to various farms. Apart from the medieval tower, the building is largely reworked (Pevsner and Neave 1995, 746-7). It has W tower, nave and chancel, porch and vestry. Inside in the NW corner of the nave are two interesting pieces of sculpture: a slab with a Crucifixion scene, and a cylindrical font.


In Domesday Book the count of Mortain held 8 carucates (VCH II, 325). The second ‘foundation charter’ for Kirkham says the whole vill with 7 carcuates was given to the priory, certainly by 1141 but perhaps at the foundation (Burton 1995, 5).

Westow church with one carucate of land would have been retained by the canons under the failed agreement with Rievaulx (Burton 1995, 8).


Interior Features

Interior Decoration





The Slab

There are several unusual features, for example, the flying bird paired with what looks like it might be the shining (not veiled) sun, and the springing leaves at the feet of the standing figures: these features could look ahead to the Resurrection. The bent wrists of the Crucified might suggest a particular iconographical source. Unusually also, the figures of Mary and John have been transposed from their conventional sides of the Cross but Christ’s head is still turned to his right, that is, not towards his mother. This transposition might have been seen as an error which allowed the icon to be reused for a mundane purpose.

The opinion seems to be that the Crucifixion panel was carved for Kirkham Priory, that the cresset on the reverse was also for the canons’ use but is later, and that at the Dissolution the slab was brought to Westow (Pevsner and Neave 1995, 747; Baker 1917; Coatsworth 1979, 82-6; Wood 2003a, 8-9, 58-90).

The sprig of foliage either side of the cross is reminiscent of the Crucifixion slabs at Boroughbridge, not in workmanship but in the symbolic use of foliage. The form of cross might be compared to that on the font at North Grimston, also on a corbel on the N side of the nave at Kirkburn. The posture with the hand held to the cheek and supported by the other hand at the elbow is a standard one indicating sorrow.

The font resembles a little the font at Folkton but that is very much retooled, and the cable is neither so bold nor used so well as here. The fonts with cable pattern as their main ornamentation tend to be located in the western Wolds, so perhaps owing something to Kirkham Priory (Wood 2011, 145-6, fig. 28).


F. Arnold-Forster, Studies in Church Dedications or England’s Patron Saints, London 1899, III, 301.

R. H. Barker, ‘The Westow Cresset’. Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 24 (1917), 217-9.

J. Burton, Kirkham Priory from Foundation to Dissolution. York, 1995.

E. Coatsworth, ‘The Iconography of the Crucifixion in Pre-Conquest Sculpture in England’. Unpublished Ph.D. diss.,University of Durham, 1979.

G. Lawton, Collectio rerum ecclesiasticarum de dioecesi Eboracensi. London, 1842.

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

Victoria County History: Yorkshire. II (General volume, including Domesday Book) 1912, reprinted 1974.

Victoria County History: Yorkshire. III (Ecclesiastical History; Religious Houses; Political History; Social and Economic History) 1913, reprinted 1974.

R. Wood , ‘The Augustinians and the Romanesque Sculpture at Kirkburn Church’. East Yorkshire Historian 4 (2003), 3-59.

R. Wood, ‘The Augustinians and the Romanesque Font from Everingham, East Riding’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 83 (2011), 112-47.