Decision on plan for Egyptian-style church at Coptic monastery near Scarborough, that parish council feared was 'out of keeping with the area'

Planning members at the North York Moors National Park Authority have made their decision on whether to grant approval for a church to be built at a monastery near Scarborough.

By News Reporter
Monday, 20th January 2020, 11:28 am
Updated Monday, 20th January 2020, 11:29 am

The St Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Monastery, which has been based at Langdale End for the past 16 years, told the park planning committee that it needed a 100-seat church because of the increasing number of visitors.

And now it has been given the go-ahead.

Ena Dent, a member of the planning committee, welcomed the development, and said: "We have seen so many churches and chapel closed and converted into other uses. This scheme by the monastery is very welcome."

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Sign near the entrance to the monastery

Hackness and Harwood Dale Parish Council had opposed the scheme, saying the design of the church was "completely out of keeping with the area".

St Athanasius’ Monastery became the first Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria monastery in Great Britain in 2004.

The Coptic Orthodox church dates to the middle of the 1st century, split from the rest of the Christendom in 451, and now has about 20 million followers worldwide.

With 23 acres of land surrounding the monastery, the monks are able to be self sufficient as they grow their own vegetation and keep a range of animals. They also produce cheese and honey, and the aim of building the church is to make their visiting congregation more comfortable.

A congregation of up to 100 worshippers regularly travel to the monastery in three buses, to join the monks, who lead a strict life of fasting and prayer, following a daily routine which begins with morning prayers at 5am.

The monks said the congregation, which fasts for nine hours and prays before eating as part of the service, would require space to prostrate themselves.

However, the parish council objected to the proposal after residents said the monks’ ambition of building a 38m long church featuring two 8.4m-high domed towers in the style of churches in Egypt would be out of character in the isolated North Yorkshire valley.

A parish council spokesman said: “While councillors can appreciate the monastery’s need for a church, the design is completely out of keeping for the area and will result in a building which looks totally alien in the landscape.”

A report to the park authority’s planning committee stated that while the church would be large, it would use local stone, not be overbearing in terms of scale and height, would be sited on the monastery’s 23-acre plot and screened from wider views by trees.

The officers’ report states: “Whilst this proposal would comprise a new building in the open countryside, it is considered that development would cause no undue harm to planning interests and does in fact represent one of the special qualities of the national park – strong religious past and present – and reflects the monastic traditions found in the North York Moors.”