St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale, North Yorkshire: archaeological investigations and historical context

his Archaeopress volume represents the long-awaited full publication of Philip Rahtz’s 1994-2004 investigations at Kirkdale parish church, where the famed sundial records Orm Gamalson’s c.1060 rebuilding of a ‘broken and fallen’ minster. Rahtz’s work was initiated with a trench dug in response to concerns about the stability of the 19th-century west tower, and later expanded to include small-scale excavations on the north and south sides of the church and in adjacent fields, as well as fabric analysis of the standing building and a topographical survey; all this had the goal of uncovering the development of the church and its environs up to the mid-11th century. While a series of interim reports had been published during the investigations, Rahtz’s widow and collaborator Lorna Watts must be commended for finally bringing together this comprehensive report, the production of which was interrupted by Rahtz’s ill health and death in 2011.

The report comprises the historical background to the site, detailed accounts of the investigations on each section of the church, followed by catalogues and expert reports on the substantial assemblages of human and animal bone, stone sculpture, and small finds, and it concludes with an overview and contextualised interpretation of the findings. This excellent synthetic interpretation takes a welcome longue durée perspective, considering the significance of the Roman use of the site prior to the ecclesiastical foundation, and the Roman materials reused in the Anglo-Saxon church; the place of the original minster in the wider context of lordship, landholding, and Christianity in early medieval North Yorkshire; how the church navigated the transition to Viking settlement and rule, as evidenced in its extensive collection of 9th- and 10th-century grave markers; and, finally, the events and motivations that drove the rebuilding by Orm Gamalson, the powerful lord of nearby Kirkbymoorside. The volume is primarily a traditional, detailed excavation report, so is likely to be of most interest for academic and professional audiences, especially those with expertise in church archaeology and the pre-Conquest period, and those looking to the specialist reports for raw data. Nevertheless, lay readers with an interest in churches and/or early medieval Yorkshire will find much to enjoy here.

Review by Aleksandra McClain.
St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale, North Yorkshire: archaeological investigations and historical context, Philip Rahtz and Lorna Watts, Archaeopress, £48, ISBN 978-1789694826