CASH raised by the congregation of a Craven church will help to create a unique nativity scene with roots going back centuries in the run-up to Christmas.

A very rare medieval panel found in 1859 by workmen in St Wilfrid’s Church, Burnsall, is to take centre stage on its walls - mounted in a museum-standard steel case to protect it.

The alabaster panel, which depicts the ‘Adoration of the Magi’ - the three kings of the Bible’s Christmas story - was discovered by workmen under the floor of the church.

Visitors to the church will next year be able to see the panel - thanks to a fundraising drive by church members and villagers, and a grant from national charity the Allchurches Trust.

Church authorities believe the panel is likely to have been deliberately hidden under the building’s floor during the reign of King Edward VI, around 1550, when many religious objects were being destroyed. It is believed the panel was made in York in about 1430.

St Wilfrid’s churchwarden John Townend said: “The scheme to protect this rare survivor is a tribute to the medieval craftsmen of York who made the panel and to the local workmen of 160 years ago who discovered it and recognised its value.

“A few years ago, our church council was alerted to the historic value of this rare surviving piece of medieval art and urged to protect it for future generations. A great deal of options were considered, including the possibility of placing the panel in York Minster, where it would be in safe hands.

“Expert conservationists were consulted and it was decided that panel should be kept where it belonged in Burnsall Church, but that it should be protected with a museum standard case and its appearance improved by including LED lighting.

“This will enable local people and the many visitors and tourists who visit St Wilfrid’s to continue to enjoy the panel and be able to see it more clearly.

“A booklet describing the story of how it was made and how it came to survive the destruction of such artefacts in the 16th century will also be produced and available for visitors. Thanks to the generosity of local people and a grant from Allchurches Trust, enough money has now been raised to carry out the project.”

St Wilfrid’s is currently being redecorated and is closed except for Sunday services.

The work to protect the panel is due to be completed early in 2019 when visitors will again have access and be able to see the medieval treasure in its new display case.

Allchurches Trust gave £15.6 million to churches, charities and communities last year, with funds coming from its ownership of Ecclesiastical Insurance Group. The charity’s James Laing said: “This is a historically significant panel which links local medieval artists with Victorian workmen and contemporary society via the timeless Christmas story, witnessing the local community’s love and dedication down the centuries.

“We’re delighted to support the local community, who have pulled together to ensure that this medieval gem is protected for future generations.”