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Discover the Origin of the USA Stars and Stripes and Legendary Mice in Surprising Churches in Yorkshire, England

August 27, 2016 Destination Feature, Headline News No Comments Email Email


Andrew Wood explores his home county and discovers quirky secrets such as legendary wood carver, mousy Thompson’s hidden mice sculptures in the choir stalls and the origin of the USA flagHOWDEN MINISTER

The village of Howden is a lovely village close to York in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The Minister’s Tower dominates the local landscape. We were staying with friends who live in the next village at Barmby-on-the-Marsh.

Howden Minster is a listed Church of England church in the Diocese of York. It is one of the largest and most magnificentchurches in the region, dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul.

It’s a beautiful church with lovely stained glass windows and carved mice in various locations which you can search for in the woodwork.


The western end of Howden Minster serves as the parish church for the town of Howden and surrounding villages. It is in use for regular Christian worship and to support the community, education and the arts. The eastern end is ruinous, in the care of English Heritage. Currently, there is no public access inside the ruins.


Of Anglo Saxon descent, after the Norman conquest, the church was granted by William I to Durham Priory. The present church was rebuilt in the latest style in the 13th century. Rebuilding the Norman church in the Early English style seems to have been begun in 1228. It became a Collegiate Church in 1267 served by a college of priests known as canons.


The Minister is packed with years of history. Stylistic detail suggests some of the masons (or their sons) from Notre Dame de Paris, who went on to work on the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey under King Henry III, then came north to build Howden Minster.5

The impressive 135-foot tower was added in the 15th century.

At this time, Thomas Cardinal Langley was the highest-ranking person to reside at Howden. He was Lord Chancellor (chief minster) to three kings including Henry V (of Shakespeare and Agincourt fame). He added a fine new brick gatehouse in the Minster rectory garden, which can still be seen today. The cardinal’s time saw Howden’s greatest splendors, however, Howden’s great days come to an end shortly after in the 16th century.

In 1536, Howden Minster was at the heart of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the most serious Catholic rebellion against Henry VIII. The rebel leader was Robert Aske, a Howdenshire lawyer, who raised an army of over 30,000 men, but the rebellion failed. The Reformation removed the canons and most of the revenues from Howden. The shrine of St. John of Howden, was broken up and the pilgrimage ceased. John of Howden was locally regarded as a saint, and after his death in 1275, his tomb became an important place of pilgrimage. He is remembered here each year on May 2.

The prince bishops withdrew to Durham, abandoning Howden to decay and ruin. The townsfolk continued to use the nave of the minster as their parish church, as they still do today, but the glorious days of cardinals and kings in Howden were done.

After the Reformation, the Minister fell into neglect and parts of the roof collapsed. Much later a disastrous fire in 1929 left part of the building in ruins. After the fire, parts of the Minister were restored.


The famous Yorkshire wood carver, Mousy Thompson of Kilburn, made the fine choir stalls and much of the other Minster furnishings. Children love to hunt for the 30+ Thompson mice hidden around the Minster.

The Minister is only open to visitors on Thursdays from 0930-1500 hours except by prior appointment.



Selby Abbey is an Anglican parish church in the town of Selby, North Yorkshire, England.

It is one of the relatively few surviving abbey churches of the medieval period, and, although not a cathedral, is one of the biggest. It was founded in 1069.8

The tower is Norman. The abbey is a mixture of Norman, Gothic and Victorian styles, and after a major fire in 1906, it has been beautifully restored.


The interior bears some similarity to that of Durham Cathedral on which the design was modelled.



A major feature is the east window, which contains original medieval glass and depicts the Tree of Jesse.

Another notable feature of the abbey is the 15th century Washington Window, featuring the heraldic arms of the ancestors of George Washington, the first president of the United States.


The Washington family coat of arms in 15th century stained glass at Selby Abbey, England


The design featuring three red stars above two red bands on a white shield is said to have been the model for the US flag, and is the model for the flag of the District of Columbia.


Andrew J. Wood

The author, Andrew J. Wood, is a professional hotelier, Skalleague, travel writer, and director of WDA Co. Ltd (tours/travel). He has over 35 years of hospitality and travel experience, and is a graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh (Hospitality Studies.)

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