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Bolton Abbey Priory Church, Yorkshire

St Mary and St Cuthbert

Ruins of old abbey and church by Barbara Ballard West tower church entry by Barbara Ballard Bolton Abbey began as a monastery in 1154-55 when a group of Augustinian canons first came to the area to establish it. In 1520 a west tower was begun but never finished because of Henry VIII’s decree to dissolve the monasteries.

Ruined wall carvings by Barbara Ballard Church interior by Barbara Ballard The lead was taken from the roof of the abbey and it was stripped of its valuables. The prior made the nave into the local parish church of St Mary and St Cuthbert in 1539, thus saving it. But the domestic buildings of the abbey were taken down and the 14th century choir, which was closed off, fell into ruin.

In 1867 a major restoration took place under the direction of architect George Street. The pews, font, and sanctuary decoration date from this time. The church was further restored 1982-85.

West tower doorway by Barbara Ballard Old west tower entry by Barbara Ballard The church is entered through the never finished Perpendicular west tower. It was in 1984 that the tower was roofed over to make the entry porch. A bell turret was added at this time. The arched doorway with its 13th century carving is of particular note.

Stained glass windows by Barbara Ballard Stained glass window by Barbara Ballard The nave roof, dating from the 1500s but restored, has golden angels and bosses that make it a special feature. There are six early gothic lancet windows with dog-tooth carving on the south side. The 36 panels of stained glass in them are by A W N Pugin and date from 1853. The windows depict the life of Christ.

Carved screen by Barbara Ballard The east wall, rebuilt in 1877, is painted with Madonna lilies and other plants used as emblems. Part of the sanctuary enclosure has Victorian floor tiles. A stone altar in the north aisle is from the time of the abbey and has medieval tiles surrounding it.

The north arcade is four bayed. Windows from the time of the priory are found here. St Cuthbert is shown in a window above the choir vestry.

Ruined arch by Barbara Ballard The ruined part of the priory consists of a storehouse, cloister, refectory, dormitory, reredorter (latrine block), chapter house, crossing, and choir.

Ruined wall by Barbara Ballard In the cloister can be seen a row of arcaded stone seats and two doorways. The chapter house was once an octagonal room with a conical roof. The crossing had four pillars and a central tower with four bells. There were side chapels and a night stairs to the dormitory. One window of the choir remains with its tracery.

Visitor Information

Bolton Abbey Priory Church
On B6160 (just off the A59) north of Skipton, Yorkshire
Tel. 0 1756 710 238
Open: all year, daily, 8.30am-5pm except until 4pm in winter; services held—see times on website
Part of Bolton Estate with 80 miles of woodland, riverside, and moorland trails; car park; picnic area, café, restaurant in village nearby; church guides available from March-Oct
Web: Bolton Abbey Priory Church

Photos © by Barbara Ballard

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