The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Church Of St John The Divine, Holme-In-Cliviger, Lancashire

Church of St John The Divine, Holme-in-Cliviger.

Church of St John the Divine, Holme-in-Cliviger.

    OS Grid Reference: SD 8763 2852. On Burnley road (the A646) at Holme Chapel, Cliviger, also called Holme-in-Cliviger, is the late 18th century church of St John the Divine, or sometimes St John the Evangelist. The building houses two sections of a late medieval cross-head, which may have come from the ruins of Whalley abbey in Lancashire. The present church stands close to the site of a 16th century chantry chapel that had fallen into disrepair and had to be demolished (1788) – the present church being built upon the hill through the benefices of the Whitaker family of Holme, Cliviger, between 1888-1894, in particular Dr T. D. Whitaker, the eminent historian and antiquarian. Also of interest in the church are the beautifully carved 15th century misericord stalls, 19th century font, pulpit and wall tablets. St John’s is located opposite The Ram Inn, Holme Chapel, 2 miles south-east of Burnley and 5 miles north-west of Todmorden

Top Section of Gothic Cross-Head at St John The Divine Church, Holme-in-Cliviger.

Top Section of Gothic Cross-Head at St John’s.

    On display in the chancel of St John’s, at either side of the altar, are two sections of sculptured stonework – two parts that make up an ornate late Medieval cross-head of the 15th century. Originally the two sections were fixed together and stood on the top of a stone gateway at the south side of the church. In recent years the cross-head had become unsafe and so it was brought into the church. It has been described as ‘being in the style of Gothic’ from the late Medieval period. On the front the Sacred Heart with the five wounds of Our Lord’s passion affixed to a cross are depicted; the three cross-arms are intricately carved with crockets – while the lower stem goes down through a narrow arched shape with short, stepped crocketing to the sides of that.

Bottom Section of Cross-Head at St John's, Holme-in-Cliviger.

Bottom Section of Cross-Head at St John’s, Holme-in-Cliviger.

    It would seem that the cross-head was brought to St John’s from the ruins of Whalley Abbey, Lancashire, in the late 18th century by Reverend Dr Thomas Dunham Whitaker (1759-1821), an eminent historian, writer and antiquarian, whose family had lived for hundreds of years at ‘The Holme’ in Cliviger, and who was responsible for building St John’s in c 1790, at a cost of £870, which was “defrayed by the Whitaker family.” It is believed that two members of the Whitaker family had ‘actually’ resided at Whalley Abbey in the 15th century, but whether they were in hiding because of ‘their Roman Catholic faith’, we do not know. The church of St John is a beautiful sandstone building (in the Doric/Classical style) with parapet and a nice little cupola, or bell-turret, on its roof, according to the delightful work ‘All O’er t’Parish, by Peter Pomeroy & The Urban Studies Group of The Burnley Teachers’ Centre, 1983. St John’s was enlarged in 1897. It is a Grade II listed building.

    Also in this church there are two very beautifully carved 15th century oak misericord stalls, which again are thought to have been brought here from Whalley Abbey by Dr T. D. Whitaker. We also learn of Dr Whitaker’s great interest in what turned out to be a Roman ceremonial helmet and mask at Ribchester. This came to light when a child was seen kicking around a strange-shaped object. Whitaker arranged for the object to be taken for examination, and later it was found to be a highly decorated Roman artefact. A replica is on display in Ribchester Roman Museum, while the original is in the British Museum, again according to Peter Pomeroy & The Urban Studies Group, 1983.

    A fine bust of Dr T. D. Whitaker can be seen in St John’s church along with some wall tablets of the Ormerod and Whitaker families, a 19th century alabaster font and a painting of General Scarlett (1799-1871), the heavy brigade hero of Balaclava in the Crimean War, whose grave is in the churchyard. The present pulpet replaces an earlier three-decker pulpet and sound-board, which was apparently purchased in Leeds and was “perhaps” originally brought from the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey; the old pulpet having become dilapidated and unusable due to its age.


Pomeroy, Peter I. & The Urban Studies Group of The Burnley Teachers’ Centre., All O’er t’Parish – A Second Stroll Around Cliviger, Lancashire County Council Library and Leisure Committee, 1983.

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Ancient Crosses At Ilkley by A.W. Morant, F.S.A.

Ilkley Saxon Cross-Shafts used to stand in the churchyard.

Ilkley Saxon Cross-Shafts used to stand in the churchyard.

    OS Grid Reference: SE 1163 4782. All Saints parish church is located on Church Street (the A65) in the centre of Ilkley, west Yorkshire, near the River Wharfe, and housed within are three Anglo-Saxon cross-shafts. Originally these ancient crosses had stood at the side of the church in the churchyard, but due to the ever-increasing fears of erosion they had to be brought inside the church. The church site is an ancient one, dating from the 8th century, but the present building is a restoration of 1860; the church here stands on the site of a Roman fort (Olicana) and there are re-used Roman altar stones in the fabric. The crosses are referred to as ‘Paulinus Crosses’, but they are probably of a later date than St Paulinus, perhaps from the 8th-11th centuries, and though many of the carvings are now very eroded, they are still quite magnificent to look at. The following is the work of A. W. Morant – which was published in ‘Stories & Tales Of Old York-shire’, 1993, but which originally appeared in the work ‘Old Yorkshire’, 1882.

    “In Whitaker’s “History of Craven,” we have the following account of these interesting remains of a bygone age:-

    “In different parts of the churchyard are the remains of three very ancient Saxon crosses, wrought in frets, scrolls, knots, &c., which Camden, with that propensity to error, from which the greatest men are not exempt, conjectured to be Roman, only because they were placed within the precincts of a Roman fortress. But they are of the same kind, and probably of the same age, with the three crosses of Paulinus at Whalley, and with three others remaining in Leland’s time at Ripon, which there is great reason to ascribe to Wilfrid. “One thing,” saith that venerable antiquary, “I much noted, that was three crosses standing in rowe at the est ende of the chapel garthe. They were things antiquissimi operis and monuments of some notable men buried there; so that of the old monasterie of Ripon (the work of Wilfrid) and the town I saw no likely tokens after the depopulation of the Danes in the place, but only the waulles of our ladie chapelle and the crossis.” Such is Leland’s conjecture as to the occasion of their being erected; but from the same number, three in every instance, it is reasonable to suppose that they were early objects of religious reverence, alluding to the  mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Ancient Crosses at Ilkley, (Illustration)

Ancient Crosses at Ilkley, (Illustration)

    “The three crosses are now placed on the south side of the churchyard,…..and have been carefully examined and described by the late Mr. Wardell. That in the centre is the most  entire, and is about eight feet in height; the others have been seriously mutilated by having been at one time made use of as gate posts, but are now, it is hoped, placed beyond the reach of further injury. These venerable relics are sepulchral monuments of the Saxon  period, and of the same description as those of which only a few fragments remain at Leeds, Dewsbury, and other places. They are elaborately carved with scroll work and with figures of men, birds, and animals. The centre one, which is 16 inches by 14 inches at the base, tapering to 11 inches square at the top, bears on the north side the symbols of the Evangelists, in oblong compartments, human figures in flowing robes, each with the head of the animal which is his symbol, surrounded by a glory, and holding the book of the gospel. St. John, the uppermost, has the head of an eagle; St. Luke, the next, that of a bull; St. Mark, that of a lion; and St. Matthew, a human figure. The south side contains the figure of our Lord, and there appears to have been an inscription above his head, then a device composed of two animals whose lower extremities are knotted together; and then two other monstrous figures. The remaining sides have scroll-work, with representations of fruit and leaves. (Just to add a note here: the central cross-shaft has had a cross-head fixed to the top. This was apparently recovered from the River Wharfe in 1884 and may, or may not be, the original head).

    “The eastern one is about five feet in height and one foot square at the base, tapering to nine inches at the top, very much defaced and worn—having been used as a gate post; it bears two men facing each other, then two animals, with their lower extremities interlaced, then two others, and lastly two birds. The remaining two sides—for the fourth is mutilated—are composed of scroll-work.

    “The western one is about four feet in height, and much more worn and defaced than the others; it has on one side a scroll and the figure of an ecclesiastic in robes, holding a book; the designs on the other sides are almost obliterated. In this stone the mortice hole for fixing the cross is yet to be seen.

    “In the year 1868 a fragment of another cross of this period…….was found on removing the foundations of some old cottages, nearly opposite the church; it has on the upper portion of one side a human figure, with hands raised in the act of prayer. The other sides bear the usuall scroll-work ornamentation.” 

                                                                                                   A. W. Morant,  F. S. A. Leeds.


Morant, A.W., Stories & Tales Of Old Yorkshire (orig edt. by William Smith, 1882-3. Selected & edt. by Dawn Robinson-Walsh, 1993, Printwise Publications, Tottington, Bury, Lancs., 1993, [Stories & Tales Of Old Yorkshire selected from the work ‘Old Yorkshire’ 5 vols, 1882-3].                                                                                                   

St Mary’s Nunnery, Island Of Iona, Argyll And Bute, Scotland

Iona Nunnery (photo credit: Thunderchild5

Iona Nunnery (photo credit: Thunderchild5  – Wikipedia)

OS grid Reference: NM 2849 2411. On the holy Island of Iona, Argyll and Bute, in the Inner Hebridees are the evocative and tranquill ruins of a medieval nunnery – one of only two such religious buildings of this type in Scotland. It is located opposite the landing stage – some 95 metres to the west of the shoreline in the village of Baile Mor. St Oran’s chapel and burial ground* is 120 metres to the north, and between that and the nunnery ruin stands the 16th century ‘Mclean’s Cross’. But further to the north stands the even more famous Iona Abbey, a Benedictine foundation dating from c 1200, which was founded on the site of St Columba’s 6th century monastery, and near that St Martin’s Cross and the Cathedral. The ruined nunnery is nowadays famous for its cloister garden, but there are a number of interesting architectural features. The Island of Iona can be reached by ferry, across the narrow Sound of Iona, from Fionphort on the Isle of Mull, but better still maybe take the steamer from Oban!

Today, the nunnery of St Mary is sadly without its roof but ‘nonetheless’ it is an outstandingly beautiful religious ruin. It was founded in 1203, shortly after the Abbey, by King Ragnall (Regnald) Somhairle, Lord of the Islands. Initially it was under the rule of St Benedict, but after a short time it received priory status and its first prioress was one Beatrice (Bethoc), who was probably the sister of King Ragnall . The sisters here took on the mantle of St Augustine of Hippo and were known as canonesses. They seem to have lived austere lives, often begging for alms, indeed the priory itself was a small and poor house – not coming under the auspices of the Catholic church, according to Frank Bottomley ‘The Abbey Explorer’s Guide’.

The nuns on Iona lived a strict life of devotion, contemplation and prayer. In the 13th century, however, there seems to have been an effort to make the building more liveable, with probably a few minor additions to the building. “The last prioress, Anna Mclean, died in 1543 and was buried in St Ronan’s chapel (originally the parish church) adjoining the nave, then in about 1588 the priory was dissolved and left to become a ruin; the Abbey of Iona succumbed to the dissolution a few years after in 1560-61” – (AA illustrated Road Book of Scotland). At the dissolution in 1558 a few of the nuns retired to a cave at Carsaig on the Isle of Mull. St Ronan’s Church (Teampull Ronain) may date from the 8th century and within there are are some medieval gravestones with the names of the nuns who died here.

Plan of St Mary's Nunnery on Iona.

Plan of St Mary’s Nunnery on Iona.

Known as ‘An Eaglais Dhubh’ (the Black Church) after the colour of the nuns habits. The nunnery is 25 metres in length, it walls are made of granite, and it is a three-bay building with a passage-way (aisle) at the N side and chapel at the E – and it is probably ‘the most complete remains of a medieval nunnery’ (still extant) in Britain; the construction of the building is ‘typical Irish style’ of the 12-13th centuries. The chapel (E. side) has a very fine triangular-headed window, while the three ‘complete’ arches running down the rib-vaulted nave – separating cloister and chapter-house – are quite exceptional and have equally exceptional carvings. The S wing is the refectory and kitchen, but sadly the W wing is now buried beneath a road, while the ‘completely’ square-shaped cloister at 14 metres across is now a beautiful, tranquil garden to walk around and “contemplate”. A spiral stairway (NE side) leads up to the upper storey and the nuns sleeping area or dorter (Dormitorium). Restoration work took place on the building in 1923 and 1993.

*And what of St Oran’s Chapel and burial ground (Reilig Odhrain). This we are told: “takes its name from a cousin of St Columba who was buried alive (willingly) in order to consecrate the ground, but was dug-up again and found to be still alive!” says Andrew Jones in his book ‘Every Pilgrim’s Guide To Celtic Britain And Ireland’. Here in this ancient burial ground, according to the legends, up to fifty early Scottish kings were buried.


AA Publication,  Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, London, 1963.

Bottomley, Frank., The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward Ltd., Tadworth, Surrey, 1981.            Photo credited to Thunderchild5 Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Jones, Andrew., Every Pilgrim’s Guide To Celtic Britain And Ireland, Canterbury Press, Norwich, Norfolk, 2002.

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities 2015 Up-dated 2022.



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St Helen’s Well, Eshton, North Yorkshire

St Helen's Well, Eshton, North Yorkshire.

St Helen’s Well, Eshton, North Yorkshire.

     SD 9309 5704. St Helen’s holy well stands in a walled and railed-off enclosure beside Eshton Lane, tucked in between the water-works and a wooded area, about halfway between Gargrave and Rylstone – in what is the district of Craven, north Yorkshire. Skipton lies a few miles to the east. The holy well has been a sacred site, not just since the late Roman period, but ‘long’ before that. However, almost certainly it had been ‘a sacred place’ in the so-called Dark Ages when the well/spring was dedicated to St Helen, the wife of Constantius Chlorus and mother of the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire Constantine the Great, who was converted to Christianity in 312 AD. St Helen, also known as Helena, died in 330 AD; she was much honoured in the west where her feast-day was celebrated on 18th August. A number of churches and holy wells were dedicated to her in the north of England and a few in the south and south-west of England.

St Helen's Well at Eshton.

St Helen’s Well at Eshton.

    In the Anglo-Saxon age and later the Medieval period it became a place of pilgrimage and healing; the water of the well having the miraculous ability to cure diseases and ailments of the body.Today the well is still ‘a sight to behold’ with the water gushing forth (often with gusto) into the circular-shaped pool – although the carved stones that apparently lie in the pool are very often well below the mud and water-level! An ancient cross was found opposite the well in the 18th century, but then it went missing, though later pieces of this were deposited in St Andrew’s church at Gargrave.

    The authors John & Phillip Dixon in ‘Journeys Through Brigantia’ (Volume One), say that: “The practice of regarding water, and in particular a well, as having sacred and healing qualities is well attested among the Celtic peoples. Holy wells have their origins in the pre-English period and many occur on a number of Roman sites in West and North Yorkshire. With the coming of Christianity the pagan deities to whom the wells were dedicated were converted and replaced by a Christian saint — St Helen was especially popular in those early times.

    “St Helen was the mother of Constantine the Great and said to be of Northern British origin, an ancestor of Coel Hen Godebog — the post-Roman overlord of Northern Britain who came down in legend as ‘Old King Cole’. After her conversion to Christianity she made an energetic and devout pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and founded several churches in Palestine.

    “Her popularity began to crystallize about seventy years after her death after the story went round that she was privileged to discover the cross of Christ on the site of the Passion. She is usually depicted wearing a crown and holding a long T-cross” (John & Phillip Dixon, 1990).

    It was Geoffrey of Monmouth who ‘claimed’ that St Helena was a British princess and of the family of Old King Cole, but she was, according to David Farmer in his work ‘Oxford Dictionary of Saints’, born at Drepanum (Helenopolis) in Bithynia. Maybe Geoffrey had genuinely mistaken Bithynia for Britain, or that he hoped and wanted her to originate from Britain! Her son Constantine the Great did, however, have strong associations with Britain, particularly the city of York, known as Eboracum to the Romans.

St Helen's Well at Eshton in North Yorkshire.

St Helen’s Well at Eshton in North Yorkshire.

    The water issues from a hole low down in the bank below the railings and flows into a circular shaped pool. At the front and sides of this pool (in a curved formation) there are a number of shaped stones that make up the outer perimeter of the sacred pool. Just in front of the point of entry for the water coming in there are ‘said’ to be two carved stones that resemble Celtic stone heads, but these are often covered by thick mud – and therefore not often visible – unless you feel around for them with your hands! The water goes out into a more modern drain at the side of the wall entrance. In the past devout people used to hang coloured rags on the branches of a tree, though this seems to have ceased now. There are records of a chapel existing in Chapel Field, close to the holy well but this has gone. In the 18th century an Anglo-Saxon cross was discovered opposite the well (John & Phillip Dixon, 1990), but this then to disappeared. It’s thought the carved stones in St Andrew’s church, Gargrave, are from “this” site opposite St Helen’s Well. According to John & Phillip Dixon the cross was very similar to the ones in Whalley churchyard, dating probably from the 11th century.


Dixon, John & Phillip., Journeys Through Brigantia (Volume One) Walks in Craven, Airedale and Wharfedale, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

Farmer, David., Oxford Dictionary Of Saints, Oxford University Press, 2003.