Coming down that lane from Lakeland’s scratching crags
On Gringolet I ride towards the green of coastal plain,
And there alight at Gosforth as it lies in lowering sun
With its memories of raiders who once came this far inland.
A little bland, perhaps, this place it seems – but not on close inspection;
For there within its hedgy bounds a cross soars up to skies
That tells of Vikings and their ways, and what became of them,
When heathen gods were banished by all those that did live here.
From ashen roots of Yggdrasil its round stem turns to square
By which its upper reaches speak the triumph of the Lord
With triquetra carved declaring of the Holy Trinity
While further down our eyes will see Loki, Sigyn and more.
The church seems new compared to this but looks can be deceiving:
Inside more Viking carvings kept by those who came before.
Two hog-backed graves, all humped and whole, found buried in old times
And fine upon the wall we find the Fishing Stone of Thor!
Six hundred years have lapsed since I last walked round here
This church has been much changed
(And with it, ancient lore);
Its stones all rearranged
Yet what joys lie through the door!
St Mary’s Church is to be found in the centre of the village of Gosforth in Cumberland. Although the building gives the initial appearance of being a typical Victorian church (it was rebuilt in the late 19th Century), it still retains many features from its earlier incarnations, with the oldest internal fabric dating from the 12th Century.
Of particular note is the great cross in the churchyard, which stands over fourteen feet tall and is decorated with scenes which have been interpreted as showing different elements of Norse mythology. The churchyard also contains the stump of a second cross.
Inside the church, the visitor is treated to two fine hogback graves with detailed and ornate carving. These were found buried under a 12th Century section of the old church building when the Victorian restoration of the nave took place in 1897, and clearly pre-date the original wall.
The “Fishing Stone”, also in the church, may be a fragment of the second cross outside. It features an image of Thor and Hymir the giant as they fish for Jormungandr, the great serpent which encircles the world.
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Michael Smith’s new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight will be published in July 2018. To pre-order your special collector’s limited first edition – with your name in the back – please click here