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Page last updated at 16:25 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 17:25 UK
A Saxon church has been discovered in North Yorkshire

St Peter and St Paul Scrayingham
The tiny windows are characteristic of a Saxon church

An unknown Saxon Church has been discovered in Scrayingham, near Stamford Bridge, York.

This church was thought to be the oldest standing building in the area, but its historical significance had gone unrecognised.

The discovery was made when the Revd Fran Wakefield, the vicar of St Peter and St Paul, Scrayingham, invited Peter Ryder, an independent buildings specialist who has worked on many old churches in the North of England, to inspect the building.

Revd Wakefield said: "Peter is an old friend, and dropped by one evening last June. As I'd just moved into the area, he was eager to visit the lovely churches to which I had recently been licensed. His jaw literally dropped open when he saw the North wall of the church. With its large stones, and characteristic tiny windows, it was so different from the 13th century building he had been led to expect."

St Peter and St Paul Scrayingham
It had always been thought the church was medieval

Further research confirmed Peter's first impressions. St Peter and St Paul Scrayingham, although thought to be a mediaeval building, was actually Saxon in origin.

Peter Ryder said: "The church was originally thought to be a Victorian rebuild of a mediaeval building. It was remodelled and extended in 1853 but parts of its nave show distinctive Anglo-Saxon features.

"Its walls, although thin, are built of massive blocks of gritstone re-used from some nearby Roman building, and two original windows survive. The roof-line of what is called a porticus; a small side-chamber characteristic of Saxon churches, which was fitted around the junction of the nave and chancel, is exactly paralleled in famously early churches at Escomb and Bywell on the River Tyne.

"Further evidence for an early date comes in part from a carved figure, probably of an early-Saxon Christ in Majesty, found by the Victorian restorers and now built into the vestry wall, which looks as if may be of early Saxon date."

Peter added: "The area around Scrayingham is rich in historical possibilities. There were Roman forts and the major Roman road from York to Malton nearby; there is a tradition that King Edwin (the first Christian monarch of Northumbria, baptised by Paulinus at York in 627) had his hall at Aldby Park, just across the river, and the river itself would have formed an important highway.

"Scrayingham, itself perhaps once a monastery, may have been a staging post at which people such as St Cedd stayed on their journeys north towards the early monasteries, such as Lastingham, which were established on the North York Moors."

The church now looks forward to further developments as more about the rich and ancient Christian heritage in the area is uncovered.

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