An ancient church, which is steeped in history, has received a grant of nearly £95,000 to fund vital repairs to its roof. The custodians of the grade-one listed St Helen’s Church, in the village of Kelloe, near Durham, discovered the work was necessary two years ago during a routine inspection. The repairs will, however, cost £141,000 in total, meaning the parishioners of the 11th century church still have to raise over £45,000. So far they have managed to raise £9,500 through donations, raffles, collections and social events. The grant for £95,000 came from the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund, which is financed by the government.

Glenys King, the church warden of St Helen’s, said, “It’s very urgent. We found out two years ago that it needed doing because the water is coming in and part of the bell tower is crumbling. It’s going to be a completely new roof.”

St Hellen's Church from the front - courtesy of www.geograph.org.uk
St Hellen’s Church from the front – courtesy of www.geograph.org.uk

St Helen’s is of great historical importance for two reasons. Firstly, it was the childhood church of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Born at nearby Coxhoe Hall, Elizabeth was christened in St Helen’s in 1808. A plaque in the church commemorates her and the church puts on a service dedicated to her memory each June. A well-respected poet and the wife of the writer Robert Browning, Elizabeth was even once considered for the post of poet laureate.

Secondly, the church houses a famous artefact called the St Helen’s Cross. St Helen, or Helena, was the mother of Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor. The cross, broken in six pieces, was found in the church’s wall in the 19th century and, in the 1970s, it was restored. Although the cross spent some time in an exhibition in London, it was returned to St Helen’s, where it draws visitors from across the world. The cross shows scenes from a legend in which St Helena was supposed to have discovered the ‘True Cross’, on which Christ was crucified, in Jerusalem. Some people suspect that the St Helen’s Cross might have formed part of a reliquary in which pieces of the ‘True Cross’ were kept, possibly at Durham Cathedral.

St Hellen's Church from the back side - www.geograph.org.uk
St Hellen’s Church from the back side – courtesy of www.geograph.org.uk

“People have said it should be in the Louvre or the Vatican because it’s so priceless,” Mrs King said. “It really is very rare. People come from all over the world to see it.”

The work on the church’s roof is scheduled to start in the spring of 2017. Commenting on the grant, the Lay Chairman of the Parochial Church Council, Keith Pounder said, “Members of the congregation are delighted to have been awarded this grant, which will help ensure the status of the church for future generations.”

Anybody wishing to make a donation can call Mr Pounder on 0191 377 3611 or e-mail him at keith.pounder@hotmail.co.uk


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