CONSERVATION OF THE RIEVALLEN STONE, CHURCH OF ST MARY S, RIEVAULX, NORTH YORKSHIRE

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1 CONSERVATION OF THE RIEVALLEN STONE, CHURCH OF ST MARY S, RIEVAULX, NORTH YORKSHIRE Nigel Copsey for Peter Pace, March 2007

2 St Mary s church, Rievaulx was originally a Gate Chapel for the Abbey below, before falling into dereliction after the Dissolution in Whatever its form and appearance then, its current appearance dates largely from its restoration in 1906/07, after which it was and re-consecrated. Some of the older chapel fabric survives at the west end of the building the lower level of the gable with small square window and relatively narrow lancet-arched doorway, as well as some of the nave wall which returns from this is constructed of local calcareous sandstone and reads as authentic. The upper level of the west gable wall, as well as most of the rest of the building and the tower and spire are constructed of much more siliceous Jurassic sandstone from the North York moors.

3 Although not unsympathetic alongside calcareous sandstone (and much more so than any of the West Yorkshire sandstones), this latter material tends to a much darker orange and, although as vulnerable to salts as the more local stone, it is more durable. Whilst it may be possible that the apparent remnant is simply stone recycled from this, the absence of any other sandstone would suggest not. Although some of the wall exhibits typical decay, much of the stonework is in a very good condition. Calcareous sandstone in the region has suffered severe decay in the last 60 years particularly as a consequence of its vulnerability to vehicle exhaust emissions and to attack from salts, particularly gypsum and road-salts. The rural setting of Rievaulx and the elevated position of the church itself means these factors have not had a significant deleterious impact upon the fabric of the church. Much of the calcarareous sandstone of the abbey itself is in good condition. The Rievallen stone resides in the north-west buttress. This buttress would seem to be part of the earlier chapel. It adjoins earlier masonry of calcareous sandstone and is of the same stone. Its character is the same.

4 It may, of course, have been dismantled and rebedded at the time of the 1906/07 restoration work. The information within the church about the stone does not record its likely time of arrival in the building. The analysis of what it is, of course, points to its having been installed at the beginning of the 20th century, as a curiosity, a keepsake. This may not be the case, however. What is unlikely is that a stone that formed a part of an inscription upon the main gateway will have been recycled at the time of the gateway s destruction or dereliction into another, derelict building. Unless the remnant of the chapel had been put to other more pragmatic - use, which is likely, of course, there would have been no reason to repair the buttress before The Rievallen stone would appear to be authentically medieval in provenance. It is difficult to be absolutely certain of its geology. Whilst it is likely calcareous sandstone, sourced locally, and not from the moors, it seems to have a higher than usual silica content. It will, of course, have been more carefully selected by the quarryman and masons, for fineness of grain and durability, had the intention had been to carve it. The uncial alphabet of its lettering strongly supports a medieval, pre-renaissance date for its creation. It cannot be entirely ruled out that the stone might be a remnant of Roman material, although this would, of course, seem unlikely. Uncial lettering appeared first in the 4th century. What is by no means certain, however, is that it ever said what the information sheet in the church says it did. There is not room on the stone for Rievallens. More to the point, the remnants of the letters that follow the clearly legible R-I-E-V- do not seem consistent with the received interpretation. The following letter is unclear, but may be most likely an uncial A. The following two strokes are perhaps too closely spaced to be a double L and may have been part of a U. Whatever letter followed, part of a vertical stroke and serif survive, inconsistently, therefore, with its being an E. It could have been an L. To the end of the inscription, there is significant lichen growth and this may have filled out the stone. It does not seem indented sufficiently to have eaten away the letters. Abutting the wall, there is an S, forming the ending of a previous word of the inscription, and this cannot, of course, be monastica.

5 It seems more probable, therefore, that the stone read RIEVAULX when carved. All this aside, the stone clearly possess cultural significance and should be appropriately conserved in keeping with this. Such conservation cannot be fetishistic, however. The inscription is currently indistinct in part, but suggestive and alluring. There has been more extensive erosion of the second half of the word because of water running off the buttress coping above at this point. The coping has no projection and is flush with the wall line of the buttress itself. It would be an unjustified change to the form and character of the building to amend this lack. It is perhaps the case that the lichen growth, particularly in this more regularly and extensively wetted zone is accelerating the decay of the immediate surface of the stone. In combination with the moisture, the surface has seemed to expand and may be loose beneath, a bubble of stone, in effect. Consolidation of this might be possible, with a fine grout injected by syringe. It would be unlikely to endure, and the lettering itself is no longer present anyway. The lichen should be carefully brushed and teased away using fine stainless stell brushes and wooden scrapers. The stone as a whole might be cleaned with water and a fine steel brush. Alternatively, no action at all might be taken upon the stone itself. Removal of the current source of moisture would cause the lichen to die away. This might be achieved by the insertion of a lead drip into the joint above the stone, which would prevent water from running down its face from the buttress coping in future. This might be done at the same time as the removal of ordinary portland cement from the joints around the stone and to the buttress (and hopefully, the church) as a whole. Alternatively, it should be possible to form a weathering of lime mortar upon the middle buttress coping, which would fall away from the Rievallen stone. The settlement of the copings now would allow this to be effected quite unobtrusively,

6 tucking up beneath the bird s-mouth edge of the coping above. For me, this would be the option least disruptive of character or authenticity. Such a minimalist approach would allow the stone to retain its patina and to continue upon its current arc of graceful decay. It would only slow this somewhat. The stone itself will remain as legible as it is for very many years yet, whichever course is taken. Restoration or re-cutting of the lettering itself would, of course, be unacceptable. Cost of installing lead drip: 160 Cost of placing mortar weathering to coping above: 160 To clean, if desired: 60 Estate Office Stables, 90, Old Maltongate, Malton, North Yorkshire, YO17 7EG passion and expertise in the care and repair of old buildings