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Rotherham Minster (South Yorkshire)

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Address: Rotherham / South Yorkshire / England

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      18.02.2008 19:45
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      The All Saints Parish Church in Rotherham, is now known as Rotherham Minster

      Rotherhams largest Church is known as the Rotherham Minster and dominates the centre of this South Yorkshire town. Until recently this Church, which is as large as many Cathedrals, was known as All Saints Parish Church. This change in name was to reflect its importance as a Church in the region and also marked the culmination of a major restoration project.

      The town of Rotherham grew up along the banks of where the River Don and the River Rother meet. This land along the rivers bank was flat and ideal for the early settlements, but it was prone to flooding. The Saxons, who built the first Church here, therefore chose a site on top of a mound well away from the floodplains of both the River Don and River Rother. This early Saxon Church was built in the year 937 AD and stood on the same site as the present day Church. Since this original Church was constructed largely of timber, there is however very little of it that remains today.

      By the end of the 11th century it was apparent that a more substantial building was required and so a new Church was built, using local Rotherham Red Rock, which was mined from local quarries. There are still several parts of this stone built Norman Church that can still be seen, including the Norman Font, which was erected in 1190.

      Thomas Rotherham, the Archbishop of York, founded the Chapel of Jesus, built in 1480. This remains more or less unchanged today.

      Ownership of this Church passed between several different organisations and for a short period half of the Church ended up being owned by the Abbey of Rufford and the other half by the Abbey of Clairvaux. To resolve this dilemma the Abbey of Clairvaux finally relinquished its right to the Church for the sum of £20.

      In 1409 work began on building a tower for this Church, but this work would take nearly 200 years to complete. By the end of the 15th century this Church finally had a tower, which was topped with a 50 metre high spire. The final addition to the top of this spire was a gold weather vane.

      In the grounds of the Church there is a graveyard, but by the 19th century this had fell into disrepair and burials were ceased here in 1854. It is said that during Victorian times there were bones and skeletons clearly visible on the surface. Whilst the graveyard still contains several flat slabs which bear inscriptions, the majority of the graves and memorials were moved from here about 50 years ago.

      In the 1870s a complete renovation of the Church took place using Rotherham Red Rock from nearby Canklow Quarry. At this same time all of the existing stones were cleaned and the roof was repaired. The stone font, which had stood outside since the 17th century and had become known locally as the Round Stone was moved inside the Church.

      Fortunately, during this restoration many of the important historical artefacts were left in place. Amongst these items of interest are several wooden carvings. The oldest of these are known as Poppy Heads and depict characters that are associated with the Nativity.

      Walking into Rotherham Minster is like walking into most other Churches. There is always a sense of calm, everything is so quiet that you could hear a pin drop and the atmosphere is very relaxing. I am not a religious person but I can always find solace in a place like this.

      The first that always strikes me is just how high the roof of this Church is and I always find the size of the stained glass windows staggering.

      As the largest and most central Church in Rotherham there are usually quite a few people inside here and unlike other Churches that I have visited I have never been here when it has been completely empty.

      There are several interesting things to look out for inside the Church. One of the most unusual items to be found here is a Saxon coffin lid, which is tucked away in a corner at the back of the building. It is believed to be from the coffin of a prominent Knight, but historians have yet to discover which one. If you look carefully at this lid you can see that it has the outline of a sword drawn on it.

      Rotherham Minster also contains over 30 different carvings known as "Green Men" Carvings similar to these are found in many Norman Churches, but usually there are only one or two. To find over 30 different carvings of this type is very unusual. The true origin of "Green Men" carvings is not entirely clear, but they are believed to have there roots in Pagan, Pre-Christian faiths who worshipped these Wood-Spirits. Their presence in Christian Churches is believed to signify some kind of link between Christianity and these older faiths.

      Another interesting feature of this Church are its tilted seats. These are set at angle, which makes it impossible to sit down on them, so instead the worshippers would simply lean against them. It is said that this design came about to stop the early worshippers nodding off during the services. Anyone who did fall asleep would bring the whole seat crashing down behind them. I guess that this did not only wake the offender up but also brought their actions to attention of everyone else. Thankfully there are now standard pews that have installed but these early seats remain for their historical importance.

      I would definitely recommend a visit to this Church if you are ever in the town. I have visited here several times but so far I have only managed to find about 20 of the "Green Men" carvings.

      In 2004 Rotherham's Parish Church of All Saints was officially designated as a Minster Church and given its new, rather fitting name, Rotherham Minster.

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