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Adel Church - Adel, Leeds, West Yorkshire (Pvt)

Adel Church is built in the Norman style, c.1150, on the foundations of an earlier Saxon church. Before that, it seems to have been a place of pagan worship. It has typical Norman round arches, small narrow windows set above a stringcourse, and solid walls built of well squared local millstone grit, which has no doubt made the present state of preservation possible.

A corbel frieze decorated with 78 heads of grotesques and animals runs along the exterior of the north, west and south walls. The two square headed 3-light windows on the south wall, one is in detail below, were inserted either side of the original Norman slit in the16th century.

The chief glories of this ancient church are the south porch and chancel arch, seen below. These intricately carved examples of Norman decoration are on a par with any we have seen so far on our travels. Added between 1160 and 1180, they remain powerful evidence of the artistic and religious traditions of the time. The south porch was protected from the elements until 1816, when the plain stone outer porch was removed. Some damage was then inevitable, but a new protective covering has more recently been added. Drawings from around 1820 do give us a clearer idea of the original scheme above the doorway - at the apex, the Lamb of God with a Cross and Banner; directly below that, Christ in Majesty. Either side is the Sun and Moon at the top, then the four Evangelists, represented by their symbolic animals; St. Luke (an ox), St. Matthew (a winged man), St. John (an eagle) and St. Mark (a lion). In the bottom corners of the tympanum, snakes with heads slither around, while above the whole piece, the Devil's head warns of ever present danger. In concentric arches above the actual door are the instantly recognisable Norman patterns of zig-zag carving, chevrons, dog-tooth and beaks. Attached to the nineteenth century copy of the much older oak door, is a magnificent Sanctuary Ring. It dates from around 1200 and was made in York. 


Once inside the church, the simple un-aisled form allows all the attention at first to be drawn to the chancel arch and thus behind it, where the service is said and Mass was once celebrated. The arch is decorated with the same Norman carved concentric arches as the doorway, but here of course, protected through the centuries from the weather, the condition of the stonework is excellent. In the photographs below, a selection of the carving is shown, with Biblical scenes on the capitals facing into the arch and fantastic animals on the other capitals. 

Looking at the arch as a whole, there is a simply outstanding demonstration of the stonemason's skill and imagination in the 37 Beakheads facing the congregation. These faces echo the corbels on the outside of the church and include various devils eating things, rabbits, cats and green men. It is well worthwhile lingering here and getting neck-ache while you study these heads.

Through the centuries there were alterations to the roof and several windows as well as the church furniture, such as box pews and a pulpit. At present there is a charming tapestry kneeler at the altar rail, showing scenes from the Life of John the Baptist (to whom the church is dedicated).

Outside the church too, there are numerous reminders of the long and changing history of this site. Several stone coffins, millstones and a broken medieval font lie by the entrance gate and there is quite a collection of Victorian grave markers, some simple, some more exotic.  


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This information has been researched and published here by:

Jonathan & Clare
Microart 1998-2004