THE ST. JOHN’S PISCINA
The purpose of the piscina is to dispose of water used sacramentally in the washing of the chalice or purificators during Mass. The basin would usually have a drain going directly into the ground to ensure that any consecrated particles are returned to the earth. They were very rare in England before the Thirteenth Century but became common then and often took the form of a niche or niches in the wall near the altar.
This stone piscina has survived the centuries well. On three sides it carries the arms of three noble families – Nevilles, Warrens and Percys. The fourth side is left blank which suggests that it was placed close to a wall or pillar. The Neville family was part of the pre-Conquest aristocracy – probably in Northumbria – while the Warrens and Percys were part of the Norman invasion under William the Conqueror. All three families had common interests in the north of England post 1066 and intermarried – thus both Henry Percy, first Earl of Northumberland, and Henry Percy, the second Earl, married daughters of the house of Neville.
The Neville Saltire - here with a crescent superimposed and signifying a particular son - the Warren “chequy” shield and the lion rampant of the Percys remain clear. These Percy arms were first carried by Henry de Percy who died in 1318.
The piscina is probably Fifteenth Century in origin. It was discovered in 1881 embedded in the floor of the cellar during excavations of the old Manor House, colloquially the “Priests House”, which was situated in Tadcaster East – around where Costcutter supermarket now stands. Speight’s 1883 History suggests that the piscina may have been associated with a chapel attached to a manor hall of the Percy family which had been on the site. It is possible that the original chapel was destroyed by Scots marauders after the Battle of Bannockburn (1314).
There is also much evidence of a later chantry chapel on or close to the bridge on the east side of the town. Such chapels were common and in the case of Tadcaster would have provided access to devotions for people on the east bank of the Wharfe when it flooded. In 1504, for example, William Vavasour and William Cleveland endowed a chantry to St John the Baptist in which prayers were said four times a week at St Mary’s and three times a week in the chapel of Tadcaster, Town’s end (so called because the Ainsty boundary was the bridge though Tadcaster parish extended east of the river). The necessity for this chapel arose from the fact that “there is a great water between the said parish and the chantry so that when it cresit (sic) with waters, the people there cannot come to the said parish church”. It is possible that the piscina was part of the sacred furniture of this chantry chapel to St John.
The “Priest’s House” was demolished in the 1960s. For many years following the piscina resided at The Ark – one time museum and now the Town Council offices. In 2013 the Town Council, conscious of the piscina’s Catholic origins, offered it to St. Joseph’s Church.