Yorkshire churches contain 231 seven hundred-year-old carved mediaeval effigies from 143 sites, the majority still being where they were originally placed including many fine examples in the Diocese of York.

Interpreting Medieval Effigies: The Evidence from Yorkshire to 1400 by Brian and Moira Gittos is a new book exploring Yorkshire’s medieval effigies in great detail and demonstrating what a rich resource they are.

The book is lavishly illustrated and paints a vivid picture of these little-understood carvings, including what they originally looked like and how they were used. A series of downloadable appendices complement the main text, the first of which is an illustrated catalogue describing every effigy in detail. It provides a considerable resource for anyone with responsibility for or an interest in Yorkshire’s medieval effigies.

The book is an archaeological study, the end product of 40 years research. Brian and Moira painstakingly examined every figure, collecting a wealth of information about what those who created these monuments originally intended, including the costume the figures wear, the way they were carved, how they were originally displayed, their history and whom they commemorate. There are telling insights into the techniques used by the carvers and details of costume and armour which add to current knowledge. A key example is the mail-clad skull-caps clearly worn by some of the knights (such as that at Felixkirk - pictured) but not previously recognised. Even more fragmentary are the flakes of gold leaf still on the knight at Nunnington, showing that his now featureless surcoat was once ablaze with his heraldry. Comparisons with other sculpture in Yorkshire, for example, shows that the sculptor who made some of the finest figures also did carvings for the nave of York Minster.

It’s hoped that this book will help people understand the effigies in Yorkshire’s churches and, by arousing interest, particularly amongst those who have responsibility for them, help to make sure they survive for many more centuries. Successful conservation projects at Escrick, Bilton in Ainsty and Womersley (Diocese of Sheffield) have already built on this work.

  • ISBN978-1-78925-128-9, published by Oxbow Books at £40.
    Available from all good booksellers and at www.oxbowbooks.com.