Historic Buildings: All Saints North Street, York, England

Interior of All Saints North Street

York has an amazing history when it comes to its churches. The first church buildings sprung up during the Roman occupation. In 312 AD Constantine – who was, incidentally, proclaimed Emperor six years earlier – declared religious tolerance throughout the Roman Empire. By 1428 there were 39 churches in the city, 8 monasteries and friaries, and numerous chapels and chantries. Nineteen of those still stand, so during my recent trip I attempted to visit many of them.

This is All Saints North Street, named as such because there is more than one church in the city named All Saints. Considered one of York’s finest of York’s medieval churches, most of the present building dates to the 14th and 15th centuries.

Although the stained-glass windows are the main reason for the above description, I was taken by the oak-carved angels. These are from the 15th century. While the majority are somber figures, there to assist with worship, others are more playful (See bottom images). The half-singed oak angel is known for supposedly stopping a fire in 1997.

Something I also found fascinating was the hole in the wall at the west end of the church. It’s called a squint and is connected to the small wood-framed building behind. It’s a 20th century reconstruction of an anchorhold, which was the home of a female hermit known as an “anchoress.” Dame Emma Raughton was sealed in here in the early 15th century so she could devote herself to prayer and worship. This was not an uncommon situation in medieval times and Emma was not the only person to occupy this building. In fact, a man by the name of Brother Walter occupied it for a time during the 20th century. Her only contact with the outside world would be through two of these squints. One, now bricked up, was so she could receive the gifts of food on which she was totally dependent. The other was so she could see and hear mass taking place.

I visited during Holy Week, the time between Palm Sunday and Easter. All Saints North Street is considered “high” Church of England, and worship is in the Catholic tradition. It’s for this reason the many statues of Jesus were covered over.

All Saints North Street can be found on the south side of the River Ouse on, appropriately enough, North Street. It’s usually open daily, from 10 am to at least 2 pm.

All Saints North Street website

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