Holystone Church : Architectural Description And Analysis By P F Ryder
The church of St Mary the Virgin (19th-century dedication; the original is unknown) is a fairly humble building, just a low three-bay aisleless nave and a chancel with a north vestry. The nave in fact represents the much-altered chancel of a larger medieval church which had a nave with at least a south aisle. This was the church of the medieval Augustinian nunnery, which may have had parochial functions as well; it is not clear which part belonged to the parish and which to the nuns. Honeyman (NCH XV (1940), 456) suggests that the nave formed the nunnery church (as at Marrick in North Yorkshire), which would explain its destruction.
The only visible evidence for the lost nave is in the eastern respond of its south arcade, at the south-west corner of the present building; its moulded capital is now only c 1 m above the ground, showing how much the ground level must have risen in this area, and perhaps boding well for the preservation of sub-surface remains. Above the respond, which is partly concealed by the churchyard wall that joins this corner of the church, ae post-medieval angle quoins.
The west end of the nave has a central shoulder-arched doorway, and a round-headed window with a simple hood above, all of 19th century date, as is the round-arched bell-cote that caps the gable. The wall has a rough chamfered plinth that extends for c 1 m northward from the medieval respond at its south end, then reappears again c 2 m short of the north-west angle.
The south wall of the present nave is of coursed squared stone, the masonry of its upper parts rather less regular than that below. It contains three chamfered round-arched windows, all of 19th-century date, with the sill of an earlier two-light window visible beneath each; there is also a possible straight joint, perhaps the jamb of an earlier doorway, just toi the west of the central window, and another, rather clearer, c 0.40 m to the east of the eastern window..
The north wall of the nave has the same chamfered plinth as is seen on the west wall, extending as far as a straight joint 0.36 m from the west wall of the vestry that overlaps its east end. Above are three round-arched 19th-century windows, clearly inserted in older walling. A little to the west of the central window are the lower jambs of a blocked doorway. The east gables of nave and chancel have slab coping, moulded kneelers, and ring-cross finials.
The south wall of the short chancel has a pair of 19th-century round-arched windows near its centre; built into the wall c 1.5 m above ground level are three sections of medieval cross-slab grave covers, two at the west end and one at the east. The east end has big stepped clasping buttresses at each angle, and a stepped triplet of round-arched lights, with a linked hoodmould. The north wall of the chancel is partly covered by the vestry, gabled east-west and with a round-arched window in each end; a stack caps the east gable. East of the vestry is a lower pent-roofed outbuilding with a square-headed doorway in its north wall.
The interior of the church is plastered, the only exposed dressings being those of the chancel arch; no pre-19th-century features are visible. The nave has a round-headed rear arch top its west door, with a big chamfered set-back above running the full width of the gable. The chancel arch is semicircular; the chamfered order is carried on responds of the same section, with imposts that are grooved and chamfered on their lower angle; the square outer order is continued unbroken to the ground. At the west end of the north wall of the chancel is a shoulder-arched doorway to the vestry, chamfered round; the re is a square-section band below the sills of the triplet of windows on the east. Both nave and chancel have 19th-century collar-beam roofs with arch braces carried on moulded ashlar corbels.
The ground level of the churchyard, on the north of the building, has obviously risen considerably over the years; a drainage trench c 1 m deep has been dug alongside the north wall of the church. On the north side of the rather wider section of this trench alongside the chancel is a chamfered course a little over 2 m long, with rough walling above it. At first this looks like the chamfered plinth of an adjacent building, but it would seem more likely to represent the chamfered edge of some sort of monument, perhaps a medieval cross slab.
A cross slab at approximately this level was found in 2003 when a grave was being dug, c 10 m north of the north-east angle of the vestry. It was broken into two, just below the head; the upper section was lifted and currently lies in the grass a new metres away, on the east side of the churchyard.