Church's gift of light casts a shadow

Candle power: Parishioners are split over bequest to pounds 10,000 prov ide electricity
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The Independent Online

The late Mrs Doris Wilkinson must have read the gospel according to Luke. "To give light to them that sit in darkness..." obviously struck a chord.

For 700 years, generations of worshippers at St Mary's Church in Over Silton, North Yorkshire, have sung evensong by the soft glow of candlelight.

No electricity cables were ever laid near the early Norman church which lies a quarter mile outside the tiny community it served. Its atmospheric lighting remained much as it had done for centuries.

The death of Mrs Wilkinson earlier this year looked set to change that. She left pounds 10,000 "for the provision of electricity" at the church she regularly attended.

But while the parishioners are grateful, the gift has cast something of a shadow. The prospect of seeing the light 20th century-style has prompted unease. Will the harsh glare of the electric bulb ruin the ambience?

Mrs Catherine Lane, the Parochial Church Council (PCC) secretary, fears it will. She is against any change.

"It is difficult to describe the effect of soft candle-light on the old stonework. It's wonderful, inspiring, giving one a feeling of centuries of worship here," she said.

The church is particularly enchanting in spring, everyone agrees, when it is engulfed by daffodils and bluebells. But it is closed in the winter when its isolated position makes it inaccessible. Then the dozen or so regulars go to All Saints in nearby Nether Silton, which also received a pounds 10,000 bequest for a stained glass window.

Nobody knows what prompted Mrs Wilkinson's gesture. The Rev Toddy Hoare said she was a good friend of all the churches in his patch.

In her late 70s when she died, she was a church organist for many years. But she had never mentioned a burning desire for anything other than the flicker of candlelight.

"I think it was just thinking out loud," the Rev Hoare said.