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It is believed that in early times there was a hermatige at Hook. It was a simple home for someone who dedicated his life to the service of God and lived alone (apart from occasional guests) under strict conditions set out by the rule of St. Benedict. So worship of God at Hook probably goes back over a thousand years.
In early times the church is said to have been dedicated to John the Baptist, but by 1560 it was, as is now, dedicated to St. Mary, Jesus’ mother. In 1499 the ‘Chapel Yard’ at Hook was consecrated to be a burial ground for the use of Hook, Airmyn and Goole even though St. Mary’s continued to be in the parish of Snaith. By the 18th century Hook had become a separate parish, Admiral Sotheron having the right to appoint clergy.
In 1844 St. Mary’s was extensively restored. This was reported in the Leeds Intelligencer of May 1844 as follows:
“The small church at Hook, near Goole, has undergone considerable repairs and restorations…. and this little edifice may be pronounced a model of what a parish church should be in a rural district”.
Built as a Chantry Chapel?
Hook was, for all its early history, in the parish of Snaith and under the control of Selby Abbey. In 1224 the Abbot of Selby, Richard de Kellesay (1224-1237), granted a licence to Baron John de Houke for a chantry chapel in the courtyard of his manor house. The building of 1225 (an early English building) forms the basis of St. Mary’s church which stands in the village today.
What is a Chantry Chapel?
In the catholic church of medieval times there was a belief that the soul of those who died in a state of grace (i.e. faith and belief in Jesus and the Church’s teaching) went to Purgatory. This was a place of temporary punishment or half-way house between earth and heaven. How long one spent there depended on how sinful someone had been in this life. Time spent in Purgatory could be reduced by pilgrimages, acts of charity and if Masses (prayers) were said for your soul. So rich families would have a chantry chapel built (either as part of a great church or monastery or as a private chapel) where a priest was employed to say daily Mass for the soul of the dead person. Often this chapel and priest provided other services for the family.
The artist’s impression (right) shows what the church may have looked like c.1400. In those days and for much of the following centuries the church was the only stone building in the village and one would imagine was an amazing and awe-inspiring place to most people who came into it from their small, smoky mud and wattle houses. Most likely the church had elaborate and amazing paintings on the walls and stained glass in all the windows depicting the bible stories and Christian beliefs of the time.
In many places such chapels had in a ‘chancel’ to the east of a ‘rood screen’ a beautiful, highly decorated and elaborate ‘sanctuary’ with many religious symbols and artefacts. This area was kept ‘holy’ and used only for worship and religious purposes – here it could especially have been the place where the chantry prayers were said daily.
The rest of such churches, the Nave, contained only a few pews or benches by the wall. This area was used for larger services of worship. During parts of these larger services, said in Latin, people often wandered around, sometimes using icons or other sculptures to help their worship. They often wandered around to look at them.
When medieval churches were not being used for worship it was common for them to be used for all sorts of secular purposes, from courts to markets and feasts. We don’t know if this happened here at Hook but imagine it may well have done particularly when the church became the village church rather than the de Houks private chapel.
The north wall was rebuilt and other walls repaired. New open seats, a new desk, pulpit and communion rail were installed, windows were moved and the medieval church changed to match the needs of Victorian worship. It looked much as it does today, but quite different from its medieval state. Much of the cost of the restoration was paid by Thomas and Lucy Sotheron who in the same year paid to erect the village school.
During restoration work in 2007 wall paintings were discovered on the east wall and have been kept exposed to view. A painting of an angel is particularly fine with much detail remaining on the face and wings. The stained glass in the east window was added in 1879. It is interesting that at its centre is John the Baptist an echo of the earlier dedication of the church.
There are many interesting memorials inside and outside of the church but of particular note is this wooden memorial board (right) preserved from a burial in 1839. It is amazing to have this here, for there are very few remaining in the country even though 200 years ago they were quite common-place. Back then many people were remembered without memorial, some with a simple oak cross, richer people with a board such as this and only the richest with stone memorials. For most of history once a period of time had passed (50-100 years when the oak cross had rotted and gone, or the memorial board had fallen over and been removed), it was common to dig new graves where old graves had been.
In subsequent years the rest of the windows of St. Mary’s were filled with stained glass which like the medieval glass depicts the stories of the bible, apart from the most notable window in the south east of the chancel which depicts Queen Victoria wearing glasses and in a wheel-chair, one of only two windows in the country which show this. She is shown presenting flowers to the war wounded from the Anglo-Boer war, copied from an illustration from the work of Samuel Begg.
There is no sign of the oldest burials from 1499. The memorials in the churchyard are mostly from the 19th century onwards after stone became more affordable as a material for monuments. The simplest of the stone monuments are the mass grave markers for the 197 people who died from cholera in the epidemics of 1832 and 1848. You can recognise these as they are marked with a small square stone and carved on top is the letter ‘C’, to remind people not to re-bury there.