ONE of the most picturesque churches in the Dales has been restored for future generations

The final phase of a £210,000 restoration programme at the 15th century Church of St Michael the Archangel, Kirkby Malham, was marked by a special service on Sunday.

The Assistant Bishop of Bradford, the Right Reverend Ian Harland, and parish priest Mark I'Anson led 200 parishioners and other benefactors celebrating the successful conclusion of the seven-year programme.

The final phase was replastering work costing £90,000 which was carried out by craftsmen using special materials required for the listed church.

The upper windows were repaired at the same time and the roof timbers received preservation treatment.

There was also a major cleaning up programme at the end as the church was covered in a thick layer of plaster dust.

Sunday's service included a special song by children from Kirkby Malham Primary School, while the church choir and locally-based Caedmon Singers sang an anthem of benediction.

The sermon was given by Bishop Harland who marvelled at the completed work and who toured the church, blessing individual elements of the restoration work.

The local bellringers, led by George Parker, made full use of the eight bells - increased from three during an earlier stage of the restoration programme.

The last major restoration of St Michael the Archangel was in the late 19th century.

"Our beautiful church is now in first class condition, ready to serve the community for at least another 100 years before requiring attention on such a scale again," said Mr I'Anson.

"We are pleased the programme is complete and the outcome is outstanding - a tribute to all of the many people who have played a part.

"Without the generosity of the local community in terms of money and their time, plus many generous grants - not least £35,000 from the Historic Churches Preservation Trust - this brilliant result would not have been possible."

But church treasurer, Ted Ellis, who also chaired the Restoration Committee, warned: "Almost inevitably there remains a shortfall - mercifully quite small - still to be raised to cover additional, unscheduled items."

The collection at Sunday's service raised more than £500 -half of which will help close that gap. The other half is earmarked for the relief efforts in the Gulf States of the USA devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.