An arson attack on a 900 year-old Ryedale church has resulted in historic features being damaged, and shocked villagers.
The damage was caused to St Peter’s Church, Wintringham, near Malton which is opened daily despite being officially closed for main services.
Police are hunting the culprit who set fire to Jacobean pews after lighting paper which had been placed over them to protect them from bat droppings. In addition kneelers were damaged and the vestry had been used as a toilet. Police said two other fires had been started in the churchyard.
An angry Hugh Cholmley, landowner and farmer in the picture-postcard village, said: “I am disgusted. It is abhorent that someone could do such a thing. It has upset the village especially after a considerable amount of money has been spent in the past five years on the building.”
St Peter’s is now under the care of the Church Conservation Trust because it had to close for regular Sunday services due to the declining congregation numbers. However, said Mr Cholmley, who is chairman of the Malton East Community and Police Group, it is still available for funerals, weddings and Christenings. “It is a lovely building – a prominent landmark in the area,” he said.
St Peter’s is rated as one of the 1000 best kept historic churches in England, said Mr Cholmley. It has been visited by the television presenter, Lloyd Grossman, as chairman of the Historic Churches Trust. “He was impressed with the church. You can even see where soldiers sharpened their swords in the day’s of Oliver Cromwell.”
It also has two tunnels leading from the church to nearby farms, which were used as an escape route for monks in the medieval times, but which have since been closed up.
“I do urge anyone with any information to contact the police on 101.”
The damage was a particular blow to the Rev Joe Kinsella who took over the Benefice of Buckrose Carrs, which includes St Peter’s less than a month ago.
“It is very sad and something of a shock to have happened, especially when I have only been in the parish for such a short time. But these things do happen to churches from time to time and it will not affect Wintringham’s commitment to the church. It is a place where people go to find peace.”
But he was especially concerned for the culprit themselves. “It is obviously someone who needs help and I hope they can get it. We can repair the damage
but it is the person responsible who needs help. The fire was awful but it could have been so much worse.”