St Mary’s Church was opened by the Benedictines of Ampleforth in 1894. A small late-Victorian building set above the neighbouring terraced cottages in High Street, Helmsley. In the early 1890s, Helmsley was still a strongly feudal market town, all of it in the ownership of the first Earl of Feversham who lived at Duncombe Park.
The Prior of Ampleforth (not yet an Abbey) and generous benefactor Austin Ferrers Bateman, proposed building a Catholic church for the small number of Catholics in Helmsley and surrounding villages. However there was furious opposition from the powerful high-Anglican Vicar Gray of Helmsley, who regarded all Dissenters as heretics and “Romans” as the worst of the lot.
Lord Feversham, however, already in his seventies and a powerful figure, gave Ampleforth and Mr Bateman permission to build the first church for Catholics in Helmsley since the Reformation.
There are eight beautiful relief carvings of the Stations of the Cross. The eight designs all express the passion narrative just through hands and feet – a modern interpretation in four pairs carved in 1981 by Oxford sculptor Rosamund Fletcher, who died in 1993 and was the daughter of the English impressionist painter, Blandford Fletcher. The carvings are set in the sanctuary wall around the central crucifix. Each one carries just one expressive word. The illustration here shows the last, depicting the Resurrection.
St Mary’s has always been served from Ampleforth (an Abbey since 1900) and now also in collaboration with St Chad’s in Kirkbymoorside. St Mary’s has a devoted regular congregation at Mass, as well as attracting tourists visiting Helmsley during the summer months.