St Michael the Archangel Kirkby Malham

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Clergy: Revd Sue McWhinney

Kirkby Malham, BD23 4BS


The main pillars of the nave have the unusual feature of containing a series of seven niches, in full view of the congregation. Prior to the Reformation and the wholesale destruction of ornaments during Edward VI's reign, these would originally have held statues. The churches at Bracewell and Broughton, also endowed by the Tempest family, exhibit similar features, so it is quite likely that the family had some influence in determining the design.


Prior to the Reformation the nave would have been an impressive and colourful sight, with a Rood screen segregating the Nave and the Chancel; the roof timbers picked out in colours, traces of which are still evident; painted walls, traces of which were found in the 1880 refurbishment; and each of the seven niches containing painted statues of the Saints.


The names of only five of these figures are known - Our Lord, easily found in the North aisle, surmounted by the crown and sacred IHC monogram; Our Lady; St Syth (Osyth or Zita); St Sonday (St Dominic) and St Nicholas .



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The first pillar as you enter the church from the porch has two niches, with the one facing you surmounted by a small cross. Their prominent position suggests they may have contained the statues of Our Lady and St Syth. The slightly lopsided shaped niche facing west may have been fashioned to accomodate a figure of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus.


St Nicholas (Santa Claus), the Patron Saint of children, probably occupied the niche where the entrance stood to the Chantry of the Rood which was used for the school. It can be identified further up the South aisle, with its side panels resting on two carved heads. Children entering the Chantry for their lessons would pass this figure of their patron Saint daily. The very minute T cross at the foot of the niche, may be a reminder of St Nicholas' pilgrimage to Jerusalem to pay reverence to the True Cross discovered by St Helena. The commissioners of Edward VI in their report on the Kirkby Chantries recommended "that the Chantry of the Rood at Kirkby Malhamdale, with the Grammar School there, be continued."


William Stephens, of Newe House, upon Mallome More, in his will of 1545 asks 'to be buried in the Churche of Sancte Michaell Tharcangell of Mallomedale as nere Sancte Nycholas as the grounde will suffer.'



The close connection between this parish and East Anglia suggests that St Syth is most likely to refer to St Osyth, the wife of Suthred, King of the East Saxons, who was beheaded by the Danes in 653AD. In Vicar Dytton's Compotus, we can read that in the year 1454 offerings found in the box of St Mary amounted to just 6d, whilst offerings in St Syth's box amounted to 4s 2d,  suggesting that the East Anglian Vicar could not resist the temptation of promoting his own local Saint to the detriment of the Virgin Mary. Perhaps he was saving to build the present church.





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