We’re proud to be ‘holier than thou!’

CARVING A NICHE: Dewsbury has been named as one of Britain's holiest places ' thanks to ancient stonework such as this. (d23081142)
CARVING A NICHE: Dewsbury has been named as one of Britain's holiest places ' thanks to ancient stonework such as this. (d23081142)

DEWSBURY has been named as one of the holiest places in Britain.

The accolade comes in a new book on sacred sites and the town’s Minster features strongly – thanks to a wealth of ancient holy treasures.

And staff at the church are using the praise as a springboard to turn Dewsbury from a place known for economic doldrums and tension into one of courage and miracle.

As the Rev Canon Kevin Partington put it: “We are the jewel in the town’s crown.”

He and his staff believe the Minster can help dispel Dewsbury’s ‘bad boy’ reputation.

And the transformation is already under way, with the Minster’s growing reputation as a community hub and plans to recruit more people to drive forward the campaign.

Dewsbury’s holy status is due to artefacts such as what is possibly the country’s oldest known carving of Jesus. This is in the Pilgrimage chapel on the second floor, where it is still used for daily devotion.

There is also the oldest known carving of Mary and Jesus, dating from the Minster’s past as a Saxon mission station.

Only three other churches in south and west Yorkshire are mentioned in the book.

Mr Partington said: “We have a fascinating Christian heritage.”

“We receive this book mention with immense pride and a great sense of responsibility. The gospel has been handed down and entrusted to us. This church has always been a place for training clergy and that missionary focus is still very real to us.”

Newly-appointed curate the Rev Tom Hiney predicts a resurgence of faith. “There have always been highs and lows,” he said. “And we may be in a lull at the moment. Only one to two per cent of the town’s population goes to church.

“If this was a factory it would shut down. But we are different. The ups and downs have been there all the way through and we see a resurgence on the way.”

Mr Partington sees the Minster as a model for regeneration in the town as a whole. “We feel this stable element plays a part in building up our community life and celebrating all the good things for which most people stand, “ he said.

The Minster’s role as a community hub took a boost last year when it was used as a neutral meeting place for resolving a heated dispute on the future of Dewsbury’s landmark Pioneer building.

Cutting edge inter-faith and cohesion programmes and dialogue between communities take place in the church. And those who work there believe its focus as a hub of resilience has only just begun.

“We believe the Minster can drive the transformation of Dewsbury’s bad-boy reputation,” said Mr Partington.

In September, there will be a major focus on the Friends of Dewsbury Minster scheme as the church prepares to celebrate its 500,000th visitor since 1994.

Mr Partington said a high-profile event would launch what was hoped would be a real and fresh sense of ownership of the Minster among townspeople.