The internal doorway to the tower was originally the western (and only) entrance to the Anglo-Saxon church, the tower itself dating back only to 1827. This door is to my eyes remarkable for its ratio of height to width. I wonder if, like so many churches of this era, it might originally have had a western narthex and that this door was thus an inner door rather than an outer one?
The chancel arch that we see today is of c15 but it is reasonably obvious that it was built around an earlier arch, presumably Anglo-Saxon and thus implying that the church has always had a chancel. Excavations have proved that the church originally had a small apsidal chancel but this may have been replaced by a rectangular one which was itself supplanted by the present one.
A south door was added during the Norman period. It is not clear whether it replaced or was additional to the west door. There is no visual evidence that this doorway was ever blocked so it seems to me to be likely that it remained in use. That such a small two cell church should have both two entrances only increases my suspicions that there was a narthex at the west end, but again this is only my own speculation. In around 1200, the north aisle was added. Early English lancet windows in today’s chancel suggest that there was also work on the chancel at the same time but it doesn’t seem clear whether these windows are in their original position because the chancel was completely rebuilt in 1881.
We need, however, to return to the inscription on the sundial. It makes it very clear that Orm Gamalson, the landowner who commissioned this church, was replacing an even earlier one that was in a state of collapse. Today’s church contains two extraordinary tomb slabs that were removed from the walls of Orm’s church in the early c20. Experts believe that these date back to the c8 and c9. Thus, the original church may well date back to as early as AD750. Three Anglo-Saxon cross shafts built into the walls of the present church date from c9 and c10 and thus were also re-used from the original church.
Orm and his father Gamel have Scandinavian names so their forebears were likely to have been amongst the earlier invaders. Orm was a significant figure in Northumbria and he married Aethelthryth, daughter of Earl Ealdred of Northumberland. He had a great deal of land within the Ryedale area. St Gregory’s was a minster church. Nowadays we tend to associate “minster” with the grandest of cathedrals such as Lincoln and York but it denotes a church that is associated with monks. The Anglo-Saxons used the word in this way too, but they also used it to describe a church such as St Gregory’s which was a base for peripatetic monks who took the Word of God to the surrounding villages and communities. Such a church was St Gregory’s.