Dating from about 1150 there was a chapel – St Mary’s Chapel on the current site, for many years this was a chapel of ease to All Saints Parish Church at Brompton.
The existing building was built to the designs of John Barry, to accommodate 290 people on the ground floor – with 20 free seats to the side of the altar 117 in the gallery (also free). The laying of the foundation stone was fully reported in the Yorkshire Gazette. The cost of the building was £745; £200 from the Incorporated Society for the repairing, enlarging, and rebuilding of churches and chapels, and the local community “who subscribed handsomely”. (A note on the back of the small painting of the chapel refers to it being a “Parliamentary Church” so maybe there was public money as well).
Whilst the original Chapel was dedicated to St Mary it is not clear when the current dedication of St Stephen’s took place. For example in 1814 an old bell was removed – it was dedicated to St Mary, a small paten (held at York Minster) is inscribed in 1884 to St Mary’s, Snainton; an ordnance survey map (in Snainton reading room) from an 1889 survey (published 1892) marks the Church as St Mary’s. Although the first Parish magazine was published in 1881 the first explicit reference to St Stephen’s was in 1901.
The Norman entrance arch was been incorporated into part of the existing Lych Gate built in 1897 situated next to the A170. Lych is derived from the Old Saxon ‘lich’, meaning corpse. During the Middle Ages, the deceased were taken to the lychgate before being admitted to the church. Seats were provided on either side where villagers guarding the corpse could shelter prior to its admission to the churchyard.
Particularly in Yorkshire, the lych gate features as part of a wedding ceremony. At the end of a wedding service the church gates are closed, and the bride and groom must pay a fee to allow for their exit.
The gate bears the dedication “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of Richard Skelton, a Life Resident in Snainton, who fell asleep October 18th, 1895, aged 76, this lichgate is by his only child Jane Brooke.” It was designed in the traditional style by C. Hodgson Fowler and built by Messrs Leaf of Brompton.
Another relic of the original building is the font inside the Church. The font itself was lost for a long period up to 13 Jan 1893. The vicar had been appealing to the village for money to add to a bequest to buy a font and lo – it turned up having been used as a garden ornament (and earlier as a pig trough).
On the wall alongside the font is an interesting collage of old photographs of the village from bygone days.
The Church owns two sets of communion vessels, the smaller paten is inscribed “St Mary’s 1884”. An earlier chalice dated 1695 is kept in York Minster. There have been many bequests to the church over the years, (many of these acknowledged on information boards in the Church). For example, the pulpit in 1882 gifted by the family of Samuel Beswick, the Altar from Lady Cayley and the Mouseman chair from the Mothers’ Union.