• Jill Durnford

Hidden Churches - Day 1

What a wonderful three days we had on the Hidden Churches tour last week.  Day One took us over to the magnificent west coast of Cumbria with our first visit being St Paul's Church at Irton.  The story of Christianity in Cumbria begins here with the 9th century Anglian cross, complete with intricate patterning on all sides.  Originally it would have been brightly painted and served as a focal point for worshippers over a wide area.  It is the only cross of this age in Britain with its cross-head intact!


Inside the church and another hidden gem is revealed in the stained glass windows by Edward Burne-Jones.



This one is of St Agnes, a young Roman girl who displayed such purity and meekness that she was executed before she was 14 years old!  On the right is St Catherine of Alexandria who was executed for being a Christian.  She was tied to a wheel set with razors (hence the Catherine Wheel fireworks) but it broke and she was eventually beheaded.  She is shown with a book to represent her great learning and is the patron saint of teachers.


It was such a sunny day that, despite being a little chilly, we sat on the seafront at St Bees to eat lunch - it almost felt like summer!  St Bees is named after St Bega, a young Irish princess who lived between 600 and 900 AD.  Refusing to marry a Viking prince, she crossed the Irish sea in a coracle and landed in Cumbria.  Legend says that she approached the Lord of Egremont to give her land to establish a nunnery.  He replied that she could have as much land as was covered in snow the next day.  In the tradition of all good tales, snow fell the following day, despite it being Midsummer's Day!

This statue was created by local artist Colin Telfer out of resin and iron ore.


On to the Priory, founded in 1120 and largely saved from Henry VIII's Dissolution due to it also serving as a parish church.


There is so much of historic interest in this church but many are also drawn to the more modern sculptures by renowned artist Josefina de Vasconcellos (1905-2006) who inspired The Sleeping Child Garden in the grounds of the Priory.


The Adoration of the Holy Innocents


We also found out about St Bees Man - a medieval knight discovered during an archaeological dig in 1981.  Wrapped in linen and placed in a lead tomb he was preserved to the extent of still having liquid blood in his chest cavity!  After much research historians have concluded that it is most likely the body of Anthony de Lucy who joined the Crusades in The Adoration of the Holy Innocents and is thought to have died in what is now Lithuania.


Finally we moved on to the last church of the day - St Mary's at Gosforth.  Known for containing one of the best examples of a Viking cross in the country, St Mary's also has some fascinating Viking hogback tombs and a 'fishing stone' which show the story of Christianity overcoming evil whereas the Viking god Thor fails.



As the weather was lovely we continued on to Eskdale Green and over Birker Fell - a lovely scenic route taking in much of the quiet western part of the Lake District.

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©2020 by Jill Durnford