All Saints Church

Our liturgical heritage and worship

In 1904 a young priest was instituted to the rectory of All Saints who would have a profound and long-lasting influence on the church and its liturgy. His name was Patrick Shaw.

Shaw had arrived in York in the 1890s and served his title at St Olaves, a church at the fore-front of the Anglo-Catholic revival in the city. In the 1890s St Olave's had adopted the 'English use', a style of Anglo-Catholic worship promoted by Percy Dearmer (pictured below in profile), a young London clergyman and scholar and later vicar of St Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill. Dearmer was a reactionary and a liberal, and in his Parson's Handbook advocated the reintroduction within the framework of the Book of Common prayer, of the ritual of the medieval English 'Sarum use', as a counter to the strong Anglo-Catholic party that imitated Rome.

Percy Dearmer

Shaw was a contemporary and friend of Dearmer, and when he moved to All Saints (which would turn out to be his only incumbency) he immediately put Dearmer's theories into practice. In 1908 Shaw published An Old York Church, All Hallows in North Street. In this remarkable and lavish work, he outlined his liturgical ambitions. In an almost exact paraphrase of part of the Parson's Handbook he expressed a desire to restore 'simplicty, unity, proportion, restraint and richness of colour' to a public worship 'understanded of the people,' i.e Common Prayer.

He achieved this by enhancing the setting of public worship. Almost as soon as he arrived the high altar and side altars where adorned with riddel posts and two candles, and he adopted English medieval vestments: albs, amices and gothic chasubles. In the 1920s he would be further enhance the church by erecting screens that enclosed the chancel and gave the internal arrangements of the church a medieval feel. Liturgically he instituted the Litany in procession, sung from the Sarum processional, as the prelude to the main Sunday mass.


This was not the end of the story. Shaw was rector until 1956 and he continued to develop and alter the liturgy. In the later years of his incumbency, he was increasingly drawn toward the Tridentine rite of the Roman Catholic church. A Roman veneer was added to the English Use, the number of candles increased on the altars, cassocks, cottas, fiddleback chasubles and rites such as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, which were unknown to the medieval English church, were introduced. This change of heart can partly be traced to a cooling of the relationship between Shaw and Dearmer sometime in the early 1930s and the influence of the Anglo-Catholic congresses of the 1920s and 30s.

Today All Saints is a thriving inner city church catering for a congregation who come here from far and wide because they appreciate the liturgy that is offered. It is wrong to assume that the worship at All Saints is as it has 'always been' and that it belongs to one unaltered 'Anglo-catholic' tradition. Today our liturgy is an eclectic mix, a 'hotch-potch' of the English Use and the Tridentine rite. Based around the English Missal (first introduced in the 1930s), Solemn Mass on a Sunday evening is set to Merbecke's Common Prayer Noted, with Kyries from the plainsong setting Missa de Angelis and Gregorian plainsong propers. We mark the major feast days of the Christian year with processions and Benediction.

Although Fortescue's The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described has been the basis for ordering public worship since the later years of Shaw, there are still some traces of the English Use left. For example we mark Lent and Advent by singing Litany in procession from the Prayer Book, just as Dearmer prescribed in the Parson's Handbook. Shaw changed the liturgy in All Saints frequently and allowed it to adapt with circumstance - this tradition of organic growth and adaptation continues today.

All Saints North Street drawing

A procession on a feast day during the 'Sarum' years of Shaw's incumbency. All the servers are wearing albs and amices, and are in the correct Sarum processional order, with the thurifer behind the taperers. The processional cross and thurible used in this picture are still in use today and can be seen in the photographs.

Hight Altar

The high altar of All Saints during the early years of Patrick Shaw's incumbency. The altar is set up in a prayer book Catholic manner, as described in Dearmer's Parson's Handbook. Reflecting medieval English tradition the altar is adorned with two candles only and is surrounded by riddel posts topped with candle prickets and curtains - the so-called 'English altar.' The altar has an elaborately embroidered frontal and frontlet (super-frontal). Permanent standard candles, another 'Sarum' feature, are placed on the pavement. The standards, along with the parclose screens and altar rails, all put in during the incumbency of George Guest, were removed when Shaw's liturgy went more Romeward in the 1930s. The altar itself remained ridelled until the 1950s.

The high altar today, dressed with Shaw's baroque fittings and altar cards. The riddels disappeared and the 'big six' appeared when the high altar was rebuilt in stone in the 1950s.