The Church of St. John the Baptist, Adel: The famous Yorkshire church with elaborate stone carvings of Satan, an eagle and a monster swallowing a man

The Church of St. John the Baptist at Adel on the northern fringes of Leeds is nationally famous for the elaborate stone carvings on its porch and chancel arch, although the little Norman church is, from a distance at least, rather plain.

Replacing an earlier timber building, it dates from the middle of the 12th century, around the same time as the remarkably less decorated Cistercian monastery of Kirkstall Abbey was taking shape beside the River Aire three miles away.

The only 12th century church left in the city, St. John the Baptist was described by the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as “one of the best and most complete Norman churches in Yorkshire”.

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The south doorway is considered the finest Norman doorway in England. There are five receding “rainbow” arches with a zigzag design.

The Church of St. John the Baptist, AdelThe Church of St. John the Baptist, Adel
The Church of St. John the Baptist, Adel

Among the images carved above them are Satan, the Cross and the Lamb of God, the sun and the moon, and the Son of Man. Other figures represent the evangelists - an eagle (St. John), a bull (St. Luke), a lion (St. Mark), a human face with an angel’s wings (St. Matthew), and Christ in majesty.

Some of the figures have eroded since a stone porch was removed in 1816 but it is still possible to make out many of the main features.

There are other rich decorations on the arch inside the church itself, including carved capitals showing the baptism of Christ, the crucifixion, a centaur with bow, and a horseman with lance.

Some of the stained glass dates back to the 14th century.

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The octagonal font is thought to be the original, and was found in the churchyard in 1859.

The bronze door knocker, showing a monster swallowing a man and known to have been cast in York in 1200, is a replica. The original was stolen in 2002.

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