A VANDALISED medieval church which was taken apart brick by brick and lovingly rebuilt 40 miles away from its original home has been officially reopened.

St Helen's Church in Eston, Middlesbrough, was dismantled after it suffered years of vandalism and was painstakingly rebuilt at Beamish Museum in County Durham.

The decision to transport the church followed years of vandalism, including a fire which destroyed its roofs.

The vestry was illegally demolished while stonework and furnishings, such as the font and medieval cross, were stolen. The Tudor stained glass was smashed out and in the mid 19th century a cast iron chancel window was taken for scrap.

By 1987 St Helen's was in a serious state of disrepair and in 1998 Durham County Council and English Heritage gave permission for the grade II listed

building to be de-constructed and rebuilt by Beamish.

Each individual brick of the church, which is about 900-years-old, was removed from the building and numbered in 1998.

At the time historians declared an 'amnesty' in an attempt to have returned as much of the original stone as possible, a lot of which had been stolen.

It took four labourers a month to dismantle the church and transport it to a site near Georgian Pockerley Manor, owned by the museum.

The blocks were stored on palettes, whilst the remaining rubble of the church was taken by skip.

The bricks were kept in a field while Beamish Museum, which funded the project, waited for enough money to become available to complete the move.

But until now, it had not been opened to the public due to a lack of money.

However tonight (Thursday, November 12) the church was officially opened by the Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham.

He said: "I was delighted to be invited to open this historical church. Beamish plays a really important part in allowing everyone to discover something of the heritage of the region and to step back into history to experience life as it was more than a hundred years ago.

"I always enjoy visiting Beamish, but today is particularly special. I hope that St Helen’s can again become a centrepiece of the community as it once was."

The celebrations will continue this weekend, involving the church's former congregation and surrounding community, who have been involved in the project.

Richard Evans, Beamish's director, said: "After years of painstaking restoration led by Beamish's own building team we are truly proud to be officially opening St Helen’s Church, from Eston this week. I can’t think of a better way to mark the start of our Christmas at Beamish season.

"As a rule Beamish never collects important listed buildings such as this – we only acted to save St Helen’s Church after it became terribly vandalised and permission was granted for it to be demolished.

"For more than ten years the church lay in storage at Beamish – waiting for the day it would be brought back to life in the museum.

"To see it today, nestling in our 1820s area of the museum, is just incredible.

It has literally risen out of the ashes."

Jim Rees, Beamish’s Assistant Director Development, has been involved in the project from the start.

He said: "This is the oldest and most complex building ever moved by Beamish.

"It's a beautiful building and it's been an enjoyable project. One of the things I'm really proud about is that because it’s been so accurately moved, we’ve moved the building's history with it."