Sited in a secluded valley in the North York Moors, St Mary's has one of the most attractive settings of any church in Yorkshire. Its remoteness no doubt recommended Lastingham to St Cedd who, according to the Venerable Bede, founded a monastery here in 654. He was succeeded as abbot by his brother St Chad, but nothing is then known of Lastingham until 1078 when Stephen of Whitby restored the monastery as a Benedictine house.
What survives of the early Norman church today is the crypt, the eastern arm and the crossing bay; the western arm was hardly started when the monks decamped to St Mary's Abbey in York in 1086.
The crypt was built as a shrine to St Cedd on his supposed burial site. The original entrance was on the north side (access is now from the west) and it exists as nine vaulted compartments with an eastern apse. The vaults are supported on short robust columns. The capitals are either of the simple 'cushion' form or carved with simple volutes, intersecting arches and primitive leaves.
The church itself has an eastern apse and then two bays; originally one of these was intended to be the chancel and the second the base of the crossing below a tower that was never built. Outside there are flat buttresses typical of Norman work, and a corbel table with heads and grotesques.
The aisles were added in the 13th - 14th century and the west tower in the 15th century.
Pevsner, N., 1966. The Buildings of England, Yorkshire: the North Riding (London, Penguin),224-6