Visit Our Ancient ChurchSt Olave’s Church was founded by Siward, Earl of Northumbria, and is where he was buried in 1055. The church is dedicated to St Olaf of Norway.
Visit our ancient church
St Olave’s Church was founded by Siward, Earl of Northumbria, and is where he was buried in 1055. The church is dedicated to St Olaf of Norway.
St Olave’s is the first church in the world to be dedicated to St Olaf, the former warrior King of Norway, who converted Norway to Christianity and died in battle in 1030. Olave is the old English Spelling of Olaf.
The church was given after the Norman Conquest to a group of Benedictine monks who built beside it St Mary’s Abbey, one of the greatest monasteries of medieval England. The ruined nave of the abbey church now forms the boundary to St Olave’s beautiful churchyard.
St Olave’s Church was rebuilt in the fifteenth century but was badly damaged when used as a gun platform during the siege of York in the Civil War (1644). The church was restored in the early eighteenth century. In 1887-9 the east end of the church was extended by the addition of a chancel, and enlarged in 1908. It incorporates the fifteenth century east window.
The church is built of magnesium limestone in the perpendicular style. Some original medieval stone can be found in the tower structure.
The internal monuments and memorials in the church are largely 18th century, some of notable workmanship.
A Tour of the Interior of St Olave’s Church
Our Ancient Church
“St Olave’s is a holy place, the House of God, the Gate of Heaven. Everyday worship is offered here, every Sunday the church is full at the Sung Eucharist. Its holiness comes from a thousand years of worship. Each generation has made a contribution, in prayer and service, in fabric, ornament and memorial.”
Henry Stapleton’s A History of St Olave’s Church York is 20 pages and 2.6MB in size.
Click or tap on the images below to see enlarged images. Use the links in blue to navigate to more information about a topic.
- Stand first at the West end and look at the 18th century NAVE with its arcades, the alternate circular and polygonal columns and the Doric capitals built in the perpendicular style.
- Note the ROOF, renewed in the 19th century and containing old beams that date from the 15th century.
- The PEWS in the NAVE are of Norwegian oak c. 1860; there is a leg rest for a man’s wooden leg in the third pew from the front on the north side!
- Around the NAVE walls is a series of STATIONS OF THE CROSS, presented in 1964.
- If you look on the south side of the church you will see two STAINED GLASS WINDOWS, both from the 20th century by very different in design. On the north side of the church there are three from the Victorian era.
- On the north side of the church there is a WORLD WAR 1 MEMORIAL, remembering 57 young men, including six sets of brothers, who gave their lives for their country and for us during the Great War.
- The distinctive CHURCH LIGHTS dating from 2006 were designed by Martin Stancliffe / David Sheriff and were inspired by lights seen in a church in Sweden.
- As you enter the CHANCEL note the imposing carving of CHRISTUS by Peter Ball (1991) suspended from the CHANCEL ARCH.
- The magnificent five-light medieval EAST WINDOW over the altar is thought to be the work of John Thornton, designer of the great east window in York Minster.
- The HIGH ALTAR REREDOS was carved by Edward Kirby of Liverpool in 1908. The woodwork was guilded and limed in 1962.
- The PAINTING OF ST OLAF in the corner to the right of the high altar is reproduced from the 13th century frontal in Trondheim Cathedral.
- The CHANCEL CORBELS supporting the roof were carved by Charles Gurrey in 2000/2001 on a theme inspired by a passage in the Book of Revelation.
- On the north side is the large 3 manual ORGAN built by Walkers in 1907. Noted for its quality, the organ is based on a larger version in York Minster.
- The MINISTERS’ CHAIRS were made by Adam Jackson to designs by Martin Stancliffe when the SANCTUARY was reordered in 1986. The CRUCIFIX over the 19th century PULPIT dates from the same time.
CHAPEL OF THE TRANSFIGURATION
- Over the arch into the chapel there is a 15th century stone CALVARY.
- There are several MEDIEVAL COFFIN LIDS on the west wall.
- There are three 20th century STAINED GLASS WINDOWS in the chapel.
- The PEWS in the CHAPEL OF THE TRANSFIGURATION were carved by Robert Thompson of Kilburn in 1936, and feature his trademark carved mice.
- The CHAPEL REREDOS and ALTAR RAILS were designed in 1908 by JF Doyle of Liverpool.
- The wooden MADONNA AND CHILD, acquired by the church in the 1980s, was carved by a nun in Malvern Priory.
- The FONT circa 1860 has a magnificent font cover designed by George G. Pace in 1963.
- The SIX BELLS in the tower were the last complete peal to be cast in the York bell foundry of Dalton in 1789. They were not hung for change ringing at the time, but were finally hung for change ringing for their bicentenary in 1989.
- The NORWEGIAN FLAG replaces one that was presented to the church by the Dean and Chapter of Trondheim in 1939, and was dedicated in 1943.
- The gothic-style BOOK CUPBOARDS were originally used as gun cupboards at York Castle.
- There are two faded 17th century BENEFACTION TABLES set high on the rear walls of the church. The first benefactor (Fabian Farley) dates from 1607. The tables display charitable giving to church and parish over hundreds of years. These were once hidden behind the gallery, whose marks can still be seen where the rafters went into the wall.
The internal monuments, stained glass windows, corbels, memorials and notable burials are described in more detail below.
Early History of the Building
Before the Norman Conquest, the area around St. Olave’s church was known as Galmanho, the site of the Earlsborough, the fortified residence of the Earls of Northumbria. The first church on this site is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1055:
In this year passed away Earl Siward at York, and his body lies within the church at Galmanho, which he himself had built to the glory of God and all His saints.
A carved coffin lid from this period, possibly from St Olave’s, is now in the Yorkshire Museum (across the Museum Gardens) and may have come from Siward’s grave. Siward was the last of the great Viking earls, a Dane who had served the English king Edward the Confessor loyally, and is mentioned by Shakespeare in Macbeth. He revealed his Viking roots, however, in his dedication of his church to St Olaf, the king who converted Norway to Christianity. Olaf had been killed at the battle of Stiklestad (Old Norse: Stiklarstaðir) in 1030, and his cult spread rapidly throughout the Viking world. The English version of his name come from the Latin Olavus, hence St Olave’s.
After the Norman Conquest, with the revival of religious life in the north, St Olave’s was given to a group of Benedictine monks who had come from the new foundation of Whitby via Lastingham, by a new lord and supporter of the Conqueror, Alan the Red of Brittany. As the community grew, grants of more land were confirmed by William Rufus, the Conqueror’s son, and a new abbey church of St Mary was begun.
For the next four hundred years, St Olave’s remained part of the abbey, serving the people of the Bootham and Marygate area. It was originally a small church within the area of the present nave, though a south aisle on the site of the present south aisle was soon built. The monks took over the revenues previously due to St Olave’s as a parish church, which led to years of disputes over status and finance, and neglect of the building.
Restoration and Rebuilding
The Fifteenth Century
Only in the fifteenth century was it agreed that the church should have parochial status and the parishioners were ordered to repair the building. The church was largely rebuilt after 1466, when Archbishop George Neville (brother of ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’) ordered repairs, and the north aisle and wall was extended, which accounts for the asymmetrical placing of the tower. The work was finished by 1471, when the church also had a clerestory in the nave (windows above the level of the aisles). The tower was rebuilt between 1478 and 1487, when money had been left for this purpose, and a rood made when Robert Harting left 6s. 8d. for the purpose.
At this time the church and its tower would bave been continuous with other abbey buildings along this wall. To the east outside, one can see the ruins of the Chapel of St Mary on the Walls, part of the abbey, and now partly underlying 29 Marygate, the only house to survive against the precinct wall. To the west, the tower would have been contiguous with a two storey structure, possibly with a first floor chapel (now vanished apart from some masonry and a ruined stone staircase), the abbey gatehouse, and St Mary’s Lodge, built about 1470 and still standing.
Dissolution and Rebuilding
With the dissolution of the abbey by Henry VIII in 1539, St Olave’s continued as the parish church, in its fifteenth century form, until the Civil War. King Charles I established his headquarters in the Kings Manor to the south east (part of which had been the abbot’s lodging) and in the siege of York the Parliamentary army set up a battery of cannons on the roof of St Olave’s itself. In the bombardments of the siege of the summer of 1644, both the church and the area around Bootham and Gillygate were devastated, and the church needed extensive repairs. It was more completely reconstructed in 1720-21, with stones from the abbey ruins, when the medieval clerestory was removed. You can read more in the booklet by Helen Robb: Eighteenth Century St Olave’s – Restoration and Social Order.
Nineteenth Century to the Present Day
Until 1887, the church ended at the present chancel arch, and the different cross-section of the eastern columns of the nave arcade may represent this. In 1887, however, the present chancel was built, and the fifteenth century glass put in the present east window. The stone corbels and stops in the chancel were left uncarved and unfinished at this time. As part of the late Victorian restorations instigated by Revd William Croser Hey, the 18th century whitewash was removed from the walls and columns, revealing the 1721 stonework once more.
In 1908 a vestry was converted to form the Chapel of the Transfiguration and a new vestry built on the north side of the church. The chancel was also extended. Vicar: Revd Charles Bell
In 1986 the new sanctuary was created at the chancel steps and a nave altar introduced. Vicar: Fr James Alan Heslop
Between September 2000 and January 2001, the corbels and stops in the chancel were carved by York sculptor Charles Gurrey, completing the chancel. Vicar: Fr Anthony Hodge
In 2017 work was initiated to make the church more accessible by installing a permanent stone ramp to the building. A wheelchair-accessible toilet was also installed at the back of the nave. Priest in Charge: Revd Jane Nattrass
Internal Monuments, Memorials and Burials of Note
by Helen Fields
William Thornton (1670-1721)
William Thornton has an elaborate monument on the wall at the rear of the nave. There is also a floor vault to the right of the chancel. William Thornton was a brilliant carpenter and joiner who saved Beverley Minster’s north transept wall from collapse; he also designed and worked on Beningborough Hall and undertook work at Castle Howard and Wentworth Castle. He lived in Marygate and is interred with his son Robert. His wife Ann is also buried here, whereabouts unknown. The MEMORIAL is to a skilful and eminent architect William Thornton who, by an ingenious system of jacks, brought the west front of Beverley Minster back to the vertical. The coat of arms is that of the Joiners Company.
Revd Thomas Cripps (1738-1794)
Revd Thomas Cripps is notable as the great-grandfather of Field Marshall, Earl Herbert Lord Kitchener. A former vicar of Cheadle, he has a monument on the north nave wall.
Alathea Jordan (1741)
Alathea Jordan’s monument is on the south nave wall. It is a beautiful example of work by the sculptors Fishers of York. The Fishers were responsible for many fine marble monuments in York and other churches across the county. The family firm lasted from 1729 until 1884.
Prince Henry Stuart (1594-1612)
Prince Henry Stuart is represented by the Prince of Wales’s coat of arms on the north nave wall to the side of the requiem altar. The stone plaque (circa 17th century) was formerly positioned above the pew reserved for President of the Council of the North. St Olave’s was parish church of the Council (established 1472 by Edward IV). Formal services at St Olave’s were attended by successive presidents when the Council was a powerful body for Government in the North. It is probable that monarchs would have worshipped at St Olave’s when visiting York or staying with the president at the King’s Manor (headquarters of the Council). The dedication of the coat of arms to Prince Henry (older brother of Charles I and son of James I) was probably created as a memorial following Henry’s untimely death of typhoid fever, aged 18, in 1612.
Dick Reid (1934-2021)
Dick Reid’s memorial on the south nave wall is the newest in the church. It was designed by Dr Donald Buttress LVO OBE, Architect Emeritus of Westminster Abbey, and carved by Kindersley Workshop, Cambridge. Having left school at 15, Dick Reid served a 5 year apprenticeship with Ralph Hedley as an Artistic & Architectural Carver in Wood & Stone in Newcastle before coming to York to do his National Service. He stayed in York opening a small studio in Stonegate, teaching woodwork at Manor School while developing his business to become one of the largest in the UK by the 1990’s. Dick trained many apprentices & assistants, who numbered 16 at one time, working on the restoration of palaces, cathedrals, churches, stately homes and new memorials. His workshop moved on to Grape Lane, finishing in Fishergate. His client list included HM The Queen, York Minster, Kensington Palace, the US Virgin Islands, New York and all over the UK & Ireland. Dick was awarded an OBE, the Duke of Gloucester’s Gold Medal for a lifetime achievement in Stonemasonry and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of York.
Henry Darcy Esq (1605-1662)
Henry Darcy was a Lieutenant Colonel in the English Civil War. He was the younger brother of the 1st Earl of Holderness – Conyers Darcy. The floor vault is close to the Transfiguration Chapel. Henry Darcy is interred with his wife Mary, who bore him 10 children.
Lady Margaret Wentworth (1599-1622)
Lady Margaret Wentworth is buried in a floor vault that was obscured by the Victorian chancel restorations. She was the first wife of Thomas Wentworth, Earl Strafford, who was executed for treason during reign of Charles I. Strafford was president of the Council of the North around 1618-20. Strafford, Lady Margaret and other dignitaries associated with the Council would have worshipped here.
Sarah Eyre (1790 -1825)
Sarah Eyre was the wife of John Lewis Eyre (papal count) and mother of the first post reformation Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow. She is buried in chancel vault (prior to Catholic Emancipation Act). The Eyre family she married into inspired the name of Charlotte Bronte’s second and most famous novel.
Francis Place (1647-1728)
Francis Place is interred in the floor vault front to the left of the nave chancel. A pioneering landscape topographer and multi-talented artist, some of his works are housed in galleries in London and across the world.
Francis Topham (1713-1770)
Francis Topham has a floor vault in the chancel, obscured by Victorian restoration. Topham was an ecclesiastical lawyer, an adversary of Lawrence Sterne. He was lampooned in Sterne’s pamphlet ‘A political romance’.
Thomas Wharton (1713-1775) and Ann Wharton
The Ann Wharton floor vault is in the south aisle of the nave. Thomas Wharton’s vault is in the chancel (obscured by Victorian restoration work). Wharton was Governor and Keeper of York Castle during a period of upheaval including the Jacobite rebellion. He was the Governor who led the notorious and controversial murderer, Eugene Aram, to his death at York’s former Tyburn (on the Knavesmire). Thomas Wharton arranged frequent transportation of prisoners to penal colonies in Jamaica and elsewhere. The Whartons lived in quarters on the ground floor of the debtors’ prison building.
Archdeacon William Hey (1811- 1882) and Revd William Croser Hey (1853-1909)
Father and son, they were successive vicars of St Olave’s. Memorial windows dedicated to both (and Croser Hey’s two sisters) can be found in the chancel. There is a second window memorial to Archdeacon William Hey on the north wall of the nave.
James Hervey Rutherford (1874–1946)
James Hervey Rutherford’s memorial window is on the south wall of the nave. He was the consulting architect at St Olave’s for many years, and a partner in the old established architect firm of Atkinson and Brierley. A Scot, Rutherford was highly skilled and earned a reputation as one of the finest architects in north of England. The memorial window is to his own specification, replacing one damaged in World War 2. The window was designed and executed 1947/8 by Christopher Webb, who also had an illustrious artistic reputation. The coats of arms signify three benefactors to the restoration and repair of the church, two medieval Archbishops and Queen Anne.
Mariana Percy Belcombe (1821-1901)
Mariana Percy Belcombe has a memorial window on the south wall of the nave. She was the goddaughter of Anne Lister and niece of Lister’s lover, Mariana Lawton (nee Belcombe). Her father and grandfather were eminent doctors in York. Mariana Percy Belcombe lived most of her adult life with her companion Elizabeth Hopkinson, who dedicated the window. Both are buried close to one another in York Cemetery.
Professor John Phillips (1800-1874)
Professor John Phillips has a memorial window insert on the south wall of the nave. Window inserts also memorialise his friends, William Hey and William Etty RA. Phillips was a pioneering first Professor of Geology at Oxford. He held other prominent posts at Dublin, Cambridge and King’s College London. He was previously first keeper of the Yorkshire Museum and member of the York Philosophical Society. His major achievement was the publication of the first geological time scale, still used by geologists today. Phillips undertook the earliest geological survey of Mount Vesuvius. He lived for a time in the converted gatehouse of St Mary’s Abbey and worshipped regularly at St Olave’s. His funeral was held in the church and was conducted by Archdeacon William Hey.
World War 1 Memorial
On 11 November 1918, people celebrated the end of hostilities and remembered those they had lost. In England alone at least 700,000 men were killed in the Great War. Those who came home were affected for the rest of their lives by the mental and/or physical consequences of their injuries and experiences.
Erected in 1920, by public subscription, the Great War Memorial is situated on the north wall of the nave, close to the requiem altar. Fifty-seven men with associations to St Olave’s parish died in the war, including six sets of brothers. One of the brothers, Pte Harold Hick, aged 18, perished with Lord Kitchener on board HMS Hampshire in 1917, when the ship hit a German mine off the Orkneys.
Until recently, our congregation and visitors had little knowledge of the lives of the men on our memorial. Thanks to Colin Carbert’s painstaking research over several months, and the work of a group of volunteers from our congregation, we now have a lasting record. Thanks are due to Colin and all those who made this record possible. We hope you will contemplate what it represents and say a quiet prayer in solemn remembrance.
Click or tap on the button below to download the booklet about the 57 young men who gave their lives for their country, and for us, during World War 1. The booklet, published in 2018, is an abridged version of a full record. Please email email@example.com if you wish to see the full record.
The booklet is 50 pages long and 3.1MB in size.
Read about the monuments of St Olave’s Church in this booklet written and researched by Helen Fields
History Rediscovered 2nd Edition is 288 pages long and 19.7MB in size.
Copies of the booklets can usually be purchased from the back of St Olave’s Church.
THE SCULPTURES OF CHARLES GURREY
The Chancel Carvings
Round the throne itself were four living creatures, covered with eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, the second like an ox, the third had a human face, and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. Each of the four living creatures had six wings, and eyes all round and inside them. Day and night unceasingly they sing:”Holy, holy, holy is God the sovereign Lord of all, who was, and is, and is to come!”.REVELATION 4.6b-8
In 1887-9 the east end of St Olave’s Church was extended by the addition of a chancel, incorporating the fifteenth century east window. The chancel was enlarged in 1908. The corbels were left uncarved to be finished later. Between September 2000 and January 2001, York sculptor Charles Gurrey carved the stone corbels and stops in the chancel of St Olave’s Church on a theme inspired by a passage in the Book of Revelation, in what has been described as probably the best millennial project at any church in the York diocese.
Corbels are stone blocks supporting the roof on the inside. There are four pairs, one in each corner and two sloping faced ones on each side. Based on a description of heaven in chapter 4 of the Book of Revelation, the corner blocks are carved in the form of a winged lion, ox, human and eagle, with those in between inscribed with words from their hymn of praise. To complement this, the label stops at the bottom of the hood moulds over the windows are carved in the form of eyes.
In his initial description of the design, Charles Gurrey wrote:
The scheme invokes an image from the second vision of St John the Divine in Revelation (God the Omnipotent and the Lamb with the Book of Life).
This image complements that on the reredos, as the following chapter in the Book of Revelation describes the Lamb who alone is worthy to open and read the sealed book from the right hand of ‘him that sat on the throne’. The splendid reredos develops the preceding vision of beasts giving glory and thanks. And the words are ‘sung without pause’ (NEB version). I was hoping that such an acknowledgement of music-making, of singing with praise – so important at St Olave’s – could be made within the corbel scheme.
This is the chancel of the church and as such an intensification of feeling and purpose is appropriate. I did not want a narrative scheme for the stones – not some walk around the chancel. I wanted a scheme for the blocks which would give one a sense of being focussed by the corbels as one stands in the middle of the chancel.
The Pulpit Crucifix and Bronze Sign
Over the 19th century pulpit hangs a crucifix in memory of architect Peter Ferrey. The 1986 crucifix was a collaborative design between Martin Stancliffe and Charles Gurrey: the steel cross was designed by Martin Stancliffe and the figure of Christ made by Charles Gurrey and cast in aluminium using the lost wax process.
Charles Gurrey’s bronze St Olave’s Church sign is situated to the left of the main entrance to St Olave’s Church and greets all who enter the building. The bronze sign was created in 2005 and has darkened through natural oxidation over time.
Other works by Charles Gurrey in St Olave’s Church include the Memorial to Ronald Dove at the foot of the church tower.
As a member of the St Olave’s congregation, Charles Gurrey knew both Peter Ferrey and Ronald Dove, whose memorials he created.
The images of the sculptures are © Charles Gurrey.
Stained Glass Windows
Artistry from the 15th, 19th and 20th Centuries
Stained glass images by Ben Pugh – tap or click on the images to expand them
The glory of the chancel is the 15th centry stained glass in the east window. The five canopied figures depict saints but it is only possible to identify three: the second from the north is St Dunstan with his pincers, next a bishop and the fourth, St Olave. In the upper four windows of the central light is the Annunciation; the Archangel Gabriel in the top left and Our Lady, bottom right. It was restored in 1908 by Shrigley and Hunt and one face is by James W. Knowles.
The Chapel of the Transfiguration
The stained glass in the east window is The Transfiguration by Shrigley and Hunt; the eastern in the south wall The Presentation by Whitefriars (1936) and the western The Annunciation by Harry J Stammers (1957), who with his wife Grace regularly worshipped in this church.
The South Wall of the Church
If you look on the south side of the church you will see two stained glass windows, both from the 20th century but very different in design:
South Wall – Western Window
The James Hervey Rutherford memorial window is shown in the section about stained glass memorials above. James Hervey Rutherford was Consulting Architect at St Olave’s for many years pre World War 2 and worshipped here. The window, by Christopher Webb (1947), contains the coats of arms of three benefactors of the church: Archbishop Tomas Arundel, Archbishop George Neville and Queen Anne.
South Wall – Eastern Window
The images shown here are of the eastern window in the south wall of the church. The window features Tabitha, Christus Consolator and St Luke, and is by Shrigley and Hunt (1902) and artist E Holmes Jewitt.
The North Wall of the Church
On the north wall of the church there are three stained glass windows:
North Wall – Western Window
This window by Shrigley and Hunt (1883) depicts St Peter, St John and St James, and commemorates distinguished artist William Etty (1787-1849), Archdeacon William Hey (1811-1882) and eminent York Geologist John Phillips (1800-1874).
North Wall – Central Window
This window depicts St Andrew, Gabriel and John the Baptist, and is by Shrigley and Hunt (1902).