A Short History of the Church
The church stands on the site of the seventh century Celtic monastery. It has undergone a number of radical changes, nine altogether, as outlined below and numbered in brackets. The existing building dates from 1078, and is famous for its unique apsidal Norman crypt.
Early times Christianity must have existed in this area in the early fourth century, because we know that in 314 ad a Bishop of York attended an ecclesiastical council in Arles (in southern Gaul).
Founding of Lastingham Church, c.654 Little is known about the site itself. Bede speaks of this site as ‘remote’, and of the need for it to be ‘cleansed.’ Near a Romano-British building (i.e. pre-410 ad) at Spaunton, a Roman Road and Cawthorn Camp (see map). A Romano-British 'Cyst Burial' has been found at the present-day boundary between Appleton and Spaunton. Cedd from Lindisfarne founded Lastingham Church as a monastery, in the Columban or ‘Celtic’ tradition. Original building probably of timber (1). To read the account in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, click here.
Synod of Whitby, 664 Cedd attended the Synod of Whitby, where he was an interpreter. The Celtic way met the Roman way. That same year Cedd died of the plague and was buried at Lastingham.
First stone church, c.725, dedicated to Our Lady (2). Cedd buried ‘to the right of the Altar’ (Bede).
Viking invasions, 9th & 10th centuries It is not known how much of the church and monastery buildings were destroyed or, following this, to what extent did Christianity survive here in Lastingham?
Re-founding as a Benedictine Abbey in 1078 by Stephen of Whitby. A substantial church was planned, and the existing two massive eastern columns would have been the eastern supports to the tower (3). The western ones are mostly buried in the masonry of the west wall, but parts can be seen. Stephen first built the Crypt over the place where St Cedd is thought to have been buried. However, for some reason the project lasted for only ten years. Perhaps this was a result of the ‘harrying of the North’ by William the Conqueror, so that there simply weren’t enough people to build. In 1088 Stephen and his monks left for York.
From 1088 the unfinished building was derelict for 140 years.
In 1228 it became a parish church. An arcade of two bays was built into both the north and south wall, and the spaces between the east and west tower pillars were similarly arched. The roof had a good pitch, typical of its time (4) (See a picture which shows its original outline.) Also in the 13th century the North Aisle was built, then the South Aisle in the 14th century (5), and the Perpendicular tower in the 15th (6).
Henry VIII and the Reformation Information on this period is currently being gathered. We know that two Lastingham inhabitants took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536-1537).
In 1559 the church was said to be 'in ruin and decay (Royal Visitation of 1559).'
17th & 18th centuries In 1620 a native of Lastingham, Thomas Ferres, Mayor of Hull, 'new builded the church.' This must have included removing the high-pitched roof (see picture which shows its marks on the east face of the tower) and its replacement with a much lower one (7).
The nineteenth Century
The Revd Richard Easterby, Vicar from 1850 - 1890, refers to parts of ‘the ancient fabric falling into decay’, and it seems that by the 1820s the building was in need of extensive repairs.
The Jackson restoration of 1834 Jackson responded to the general neglect with an alteration that is nowadays much criticised. The east windows of the apse were walled up. (8)
The Pearson restoration of 1879 A radical restoration, in which the building reached its present form, including the wonderful stone vaulted roof which gives the building such good acoustics. (9) The gift of Sydney Ringer, in memory of his daughter Annie, who had died in London on her seventh birthday. (Did this restoration cause resentment from supporters of Jackson, whose work had been completed only 50 years previously and was now destroyed?) See documents page.
Sydney Ringer was a London physician and physiologist who spent some time at his ‘holiday home’ here at Lastingham, St Mary’s. His research first defined ‘Physiological Salines’, the blood-replacement fluids that have saved countless lives and enabled so much medical, surgical and experimental work throughout the world.
THE HOLY WELLS OF LASTINGHAM
St Cedd’s Well Built over in the 19th century with stone taken from the ruins of Rosedale Priory. Now a ‘drinking fountain’ supplied by mains water.
St Chad’s Well Dried up.
St Ovin’s Well Dried up.
St Mary Magdalene’s Well A lovely spot, and the only one of the four wells in which water is still flowing from a spring. There was a medieval chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene at Appleton-le-Moors until the 1860s.
The bell tower at the west end of the church contains a ring of three bells.
The earliest was cast in York in 1663. The casting, by James Smith, is of very high quality, with wonderfully detailed lettering and ornamentation. It weighs nearly 6 hundredweight, has a diameter of 31 inches, and sounds note C. The inscription is: Soli Deo Gloria. Pax Hominibus. 1663.
The tenor, or largest bell, was also cast in York and is believed to be by bell-founder Edward Seller, though no name appears on it. This bell weighs about 8 hundredweight, has a diameter of 34½ inches, and sounds note B flat. It dates from 1735 and is inscribed: Deo Gloria 1735. Luke Smelt, Vicar: I no. (John) Greystock, Ino Hartas, Geo Dobson, Church Wardens.
The smallest, or treble bell, is the most recent, and was cast in 1813 in London by Thomas Mears of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. It weighs a little over 4 hundredweight, has a diameter of 27½ inches, and sounds note D. It is inscribed T Mears of London Fecit 1813 T Frank I Cooper I Hornsey T Pearson G Wilson Ch. Wardens.
THE CURATE WHO PLAYED HIS VIOLIN IN THE BLACKSMITH'S ARMS
In the eighteenth century underpaid curates were often employed by absentee vicars to do the work of the parish as best they could. One such curate was the Revd Jeremiah Carter, who had a wife and thirteen children, and was paid £20 a year by Smelt. Carter supplemented the family diet by fishing, and his wife kept the public house (the Blacksmith’s Arms), where Carter sometimes played his violin to entertain his parishioners.
Replying to the queries of his archdeacon, Carter reminded him that some of his parishioners, coming ten or fifteen miles to church, needed refreshment before returning home. He wrote:
My parishioners enjoy a triple advantage, being instructed, fed and amused all at the same time. Moreover, this method of spending their Sunday is so congenial with their inclinations, that they are imperceptibly led along the paths of piety and morality....