West Riding of Yorkshire

Halifax Minster Church, West Riding of Yorkshire

Cluniac Monks

The early origins of this large church are shrouded in mystery. There is talk of a hermitage dating back to the 7th Century, and it seems very likely that there was a Saxon church here. In 1078 and 1081 gifts were made by Earl de Warenne of rents and dues from the church here to Lewes Priory in Sussex – so there was certainly an established church here then.

It seems that Cluniac Monks subsequently took over this site and they built a church in the 12th Century. There are some very clearly Norman chevron markings incorporated into the later rebuilding work which began around 1274.

Work seems to have continued sporadically throughout the next two hundred years with the great tower being the last thing to be added at the tail end of the 15th Century.

It is not clear when the Cluniacs might have moved on, but by the early 16th Century the church was a church and not a Priory or Monastery. Between 1502 and 1521 the vicar was William Rokeby who baptised Mary Tudor in 1516. Because the Monks had already gone the Reformation only affected the church in a minor way and it escaped the attentions of Henry VIII. The Civil War was less kind to Halifax which was a strong Parliamentarian supporter and was occupied by the Royalists in 1643 and then by Parliament after the nearby Battle of Marston Moor.

During the Puritan period the interior decorations of the church were torn out, leaving a much more sparse interior than might have once existed.

John Wesley preached here frequently in the 1740s and 1750s and the local vicar of St. John’s, Dr George Legh, befriended him and even lent him carriages and servants to allow Wesley to travel to Huddersfield to preach there also.

The church seems to have escaped the worst attentions of the Victorian restorers but has rather been isolated from the town by the post-Railway town planners who have allowed it to sit down a cul-de-sac hidden from the town by the car park of the station from where it can probably be seen at its best. It was recently given Minster status by the Church of England.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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