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Saint Mary the Virgin, Rievaulx

Over 800 years ago the nave of this church formed the 'Gate Chapel' - or Slipper Chapel - of Rievaulx Abbey. During the Dissolution in 1538, the Abbey was surrendered and slighted along with the Chapel which then stood derelict for 368 years. In 1906/7 it was restored and extended as a working church and remains so as part of the Parish of Helmsley. The stone slab roofing was restored, following 'an energetic funding campaign' in 2007/8.


The golden cockerel on the Church spire was made and fixed by local craftsman Bob Leete, for many years the blacksmith and a fireman in Helmsley. The cockerel theme is based on a piece of mediaeval glass now on display in the Abbey Museum.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Earl of Feversham funded the rebuilding and extension of the ruined chapel to provide the Church that we see today. This work involved retrieving and incorporating buried masonry, windows and jambs and was completed in 1907 when the Archbishop of York reconsecrated the church, dedicating it to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the Cistercian tradition. Subsequently, as Colonel of the Yeoman Rifles KRR, the Earl was killed at Flers during the Battle of the Somme. The memorial cross on the bank outside the west door was made from the timbers of a blitzed farmhouse to mark his battlefield grave and was later brought to its present location by his son, the third Earl. The Memorial List in the church shows nineteen local men who gave their lives in the Great War. From a tiny parish of only three dozen households (including the farms), that was a painful price: five Richardsons are remembered here. A further memorial is the stained-glass window in the south wall given by the parents of Revd. Hawdon who was killed in the same war.
The splendid stained glass east window depicting the Nativity is dedicated to the memory of Evelyn, Eleanor and Florence Duncombe, the family name of the Earls of Feversham. Florence stitched the beautiful banner pictured on the north wall of the nave.
Outside, about 12 feet up the north-west corner buttress and facing the tower, there is an ancient stone marked "RIEVALLENS", probably part of the inscription "Monastica Rievallens" from the main gateway into the Abbey. The Church stands between the outer and inner gates to the Abbey. The Outer Gate would have had a wide archway with folding doors and a small lodge over it for the porter. It would have closed off the road at the top entrance to the churchyard.
There are no graves in the churchyard because of the rocky nature of the ground and the hillside springs which provided all the water for the Abbey, the Corn Mill and, until very recently, for the village. There is a tiny old spring-fed trough, almost buried in the wayside, opposite the top cottages in the village. This would have had two functions for visitors approaching the Abbey - drinking and cleaning footwear before entering the Outer Gate and thence via the "Slipper Chapel" where they put on lighter footwear and maybe said a prayer before being admitted through the Inner Gate to the Abbey proper. After travelling over the moors, this first view of the Abbey must have been as stunning as it was welcome.

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