Category Archives: Historic Churches in England

To Dacre and its Dark Four Bears


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the Dacre Bear at the NE of the St Andrew’s Church, Dacre, Cumberland

Let us harness our saddle     and ride over High Street,

Carry ourselves to Cumberland    in our searching quest;

For here in the lowlands      before looming Solway

Stand four stately creatures     alert in the grass.

Many pass by this way     more pressured by time

But not us and not now     when we land this far North:

An old castle keeps     these fields and a kirk

In some quaint ancient grasp     of feudal collusion

Where village and villager      valiantly attest

To ways I once knew     when I lived in those times.

And though all the lords     that I lived with are lost,

And all of the ladies     have long stopped their love-talk,

Four fellows still     fondly wait for me here

As they were wont to do     when I rested in winter.

The four bears of Dacre     who knew my forebears

And now stand by St Andrew’s      in quartered display

Are not what they were     and have much worn down

But still they smile yet,     these four standard bearers.

Some people attest     that they each tell a tale

Of battle and victory,     a Christian story;

But I knew them when      they were on a fortress,

Some old Roman palace     now lost long ago;

Not bears but lions     in lordly array,

Proudly on pillars     pawing the air

In Northern England     at the edge of Empire

So vast:

Four beasts soft carved in stone

In days of distant past

Are together, not alone;

May their friendship be locked fast.


More about the Dacre Bears

The Dacre bears stand in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church, Dacre, in Cumberland (modern day Cumbria). Though of unknown date and provenance, it is thought these sculptures came from an early British, or possibly Roman, site in the area. The style of the creatures, now thought to be lions rather than bears, is curious, being neither typically Roman nor British in style; Historic England dates them to the mediaeval period (1066-1484), although this is questionable. They have the appearance of having been decorative features taken from a much larger building now lost to time. Visitors to the church will not be disappointed; the bears alone make the trip worthwhile but the interior of the church, though restored in the nineteenth century, contains many fine features, including some exquisite segments of Viking crosses, one of which features a delightful relief carving of Adam and Eve. High up in the north wall, the eagle-eyed visitor will see preserved one tiny fragment of a Norman chancel arch; this, in addition to the font and the tomb of a knight, attest to the existence of a much earlier church on this site.

General Information on the Church: Click Here

Historic England listing for St Andrew’s Church: Click Here

Historic England listing for one of the Dacre Bears: Click Here


Images of the Dacre Bears, St Andrew’s Church, Dacre, Cumbria

 

 


More about Sir Gawain’s World – and how to have your name printed in the latest book by the author

Image of King Arthur on his Horse

King Arthur from an illustration in Michael Smith’s new telling of King Arthur’s Death, publishing soon from Unbound. This image is available as one of the pledge options

This blog is written in the style of the fourteenth century alliterative poets, by Michael Smith, whose recent translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was published in 2018.

Michael is currently crowdfunding his second book through Unbound, in this case the Alliterative Morte Arthure (King Arthur’s Death), written by an unknown hand in c.1400.

If you would like to pledge for your own limited edition copy, with your own name in the back as a supporter (and also receive other pledge rewards including original linocut prints by the author), please click here.

 

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Filed under British Landscape, Cumberland, Cumbria, English Landscape, Historic Churches in England, Historic places to visit in Britain, King Arthur, Sir Gawain and Le Gringalet

Brentor on Dartmoor by foot and on high


Church of St Michael of the Rock, Brentor

Church of St Michael of the Rock, Brentor, Dartmoor, Devonshire

Up out of Tavistock,      along the straight road,

We come now to Brentor      bold like a stark thumb

As it stands above Dartmoor      alone dark and brooding;

A church there for years,     challenging and cheerless.

Yet climb with me stranger     with stout legs and striding,

Let your boots bound on boulders     till you get to the top,

And there you’ll find solace     with blowing winds blasting

Against the tight granite     which grips God’s home here.

Push that door smartly     for it scrapes the flat stones

Of the entrance to this place     which is dark inside;

Fear not the cold gloom     or your eyesight in gloaming

For warm welcome breath     sweet blows on your face

Of the grace and the glory     of those gone before

Who made this place special     to prick at your soul!

Glass of Saint Michael,     great granite font,

Monuments left      to those lost long ago;

Plain yet so precious     these simple-formed things

Hold you in their grasp     almost weeping in pain

As they tell of their stories     of lives long since spent

And once lived in the cold     before you were alive.

I Pray now in penitence     for sport I have made

In blissful unknowing     of blood shed and blown

In the tors of old Dartmoor     tight-lipped and unspoken

But placed on these walls     that speak now to me and

Don’t hide.

Brentor upon its rock

Is for miles like a guide

Helping travellers to unlock

That wind-blown countryside.


The church of St Michael of the Rock (St Michael de Rupe) at Brentor, Devonshire, stands 1100 feet above sea level on an extinct volcanic cone, the prominence of which has long attracted people to the site. The base of the main rock is surrounded by the remains of an Iron Age hill fort.

The church itself, diminutive by any standard and most likely some form of chantry chapel, was established by Robert Giffard in the 12th Century although much of this has long since disappeared, being enlarged and rebuilt over the centuries. Much of what we see today dates from the 13th and 15th centuries although with considerable restoration in the nineteenth century which has obscured a great deal of the early work at the site.

Elements of the original building survive in the form of the font, of plain type, which dates from the fifteenth century and the tower. The exterior also includes an unusual sun dial on the southern face of the tower; curiously the church, despite its diminutive size, retains a door on its northern and southern sides.

For more details, please see the Historic England listing here

Coming soon by the Author:

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 – different to those which will appear in the bookshops – please click here

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The Viking Stones at Gosforth


Image of Gosforth Cross.

Almost like Yggdrasil itself, the Gosforth cross rises from the tree of life to be crowned with a cross.

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

in awe:

This church has been much changed

(And with it, ancient lore);

Its stones all rearranged

Yet what joys lie through the door!


History

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.

Listing Details to be found here

New Book by the Author:

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

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Sir Gawain and Gringolet go to St Neot in Cornwall


Image showing detail of mediaeval glass at St Anietus Church, St Neot Cornwall

Gruesome hanging shown in mediaeval window, St Anietus Church, St Neot Cornwall. Notice the counterweight.

In travelling all across the land I say

There are few gems more jewelled than just this place:

St Neot sitting in soft vales beside the Bodmin moor

Has much to marvel at, and more to see

Than in any place I know or I have seen these several years!

When I first wound with Gringolet in this world

In every church choice lights in chancels you would you see

But now our land has been levelled of such luxury

And empty now are many of the colours they once cast.

Not so St Neot calm above the winding road

For in its walls are wonders which bewitch

The eye, the soul, the senses and much more:

Glass from my own time, magnificent still methinks!

Look here, see Noah sailing in his ark

And there sweet ladies pray in soft calm thoughts;

Biblical stories beautiful in glass abound

In each and every light that lifts the soul.

Donors who once gave to this rich place

Are also shown, their arms as if caparisons

On this most holy church like cloth of gold in glass!

Fellow traveller, do not come this way without

a turn:

All who see St Neot sweet

Will gasp at what they learn.

They’ll never such another meet

Nor rich beauty will discern.

 

The church of St Anietus at St Neot has ancient origins stretching back to Saxon times. Since its rebuilding in the fifteenth century, the church has become famous for its remarkable collection of original mediaeval stained glass. These astonishing survivals include windows show the Creation, the story of Noah and of St Neot; each window is a joy to behold and well repays the journey to see. The interior also includes a wealth of monuments from different periods, in addition to a fabulous fifteenth century waggon roof. Even the churchyard contains much of interest, in particular a collection of ancient mediaeval wayside crosses. For more details of the church, please refer to this listing.

New Book by the Author: 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

 

 

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Sir Gawain goes to Bygrave, an ancient settlement in aged fields


Image of St Margaret of Antioch, Bygrave, Hertfordshire

The delightful church of St Margaret of Antioch, Bygrave, Hertfordshire, which has Saxon origins.

The rains relented overnight revealing sun to bless the day

And so on Gringolet I ride the rolling road below the ridge

Where ancient men lie buried still in mounds majestic overhead;

And on to this shire’s soft edge I go and down to see Bygrave below.

This place has history as betrayed by boundaries of its bold fields

Which have the centuries survived as Saxon relics still and true

When others all around did under evil threat so ease to be enclosed;

A market place it once was but now more music do we hear

From roaming red kites high above than any padding in this street.

Yet Margaret of Antioch is here mild among this springtime bliss –

She presides in such a place as will most sweetly calm

The troubled minds of those who mingle mid the graves

And by the marshy moats which men once dug upon this mound

When few but brave men felt compelled to make their fortunes here

And those that did played nine men’s morris meekly by the church.

A simple place, blanched white in sun and shining like

A beacon in lands dark, remote, or bleak or bad

And which now are but a less-viewed vestige of a vanished age.

Let ancient Bygrave calm you too and capture in your troubled head

and thoughts

A time when folk did wander free

And played at idle sports

Below the shadow of some tree

In harvest time cohorts.

 

Bygrave in the county of Hertford is an ancient settlement which today sleeps atop rolling countryside just below the Royston Ridge. The church, St Margaret of Antioch, contains much of interest, including wall paintings, a fifteenth century font and the remains of a mediaeval rood screen. Parts of the building are Saxon in origin. The field system surrounding the village are of particular note; research shows that it was never enclosed. This landscape sensitivity report does give some cause for alarm, given that this ancient landscape has survived for so long. This particular survival is miraculous and it is Sir Gawain’s view that all must be done to protect it for future generations so they can know and understand how our ancestors lived.

 

 

 

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Fettiplace lies by Lambourn’s levels


Image of tomb of Sir Thomas Fettiplace, East Shefford, Berkshore

The stately alabaster tomb of Sir Thomas Fettiplace at St Thomas Church, East Shefford, Berkshire

By the banks of the Lambourn Gringolet bides

Resting and watching the reeds in the river

As I edge to that church where in past age

I knew a knight who kept these lands.

Fettiplace true sleeps tidy now,

His eyes in alabaster cast about

Yet nought they see for soul has passed.

Yet that fine effigy fast as stone

Makes in my mind him quick as men did know:

Loud laughing round the boar with ruddy lips,

His loyal servants sing of his success

And his wife with charm well warms won hearts!

Now at rest he reigns in royal peace

By Beatrice in this calm and blessed bower

To touch the hearts and souls of those like me

Who ride

Down old and ancient lanes

On tracks that we decide

In search of what remains

Of what our memory cannot hide.



St Thomas’ Church, the subject of this blog post, is found at East Shefford in the County of Berkshire. This delightful building is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

A detailed architectural assessment of the building can be found on this interesting site, the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture.


 

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Swinside: Stone Sentinels of Past Centuries


Swinside Stone Circle, Cumbria

Swinside Stone Circle, Cumbria

Travelling, Le Gringalet has called me to Lancashire and Cumberland in my cause;
My horse lifts me high upon heath and mighty on mound
Through lofty lowlands and limp inlets sandy on Furness fallow.
Climbing now with Morcambe bay massive on my left shoulder
I soon rise to fields thrashed by winds, throttling life and thrusting sheep against walls
Where now we reach a circle stoney, standing guard sternly:
Swinside, the sunkenkirk, swept by swarming blasts, many stones sleeping close to the ground.

When I walked here last on the warmest of days under King Richard
These stones still stood circular and knowledge was dim as to their purpose.
And nothing now has changed save the passing of the years from one new one to the next.
Yes, more of this henge no longer hangs but hugs the soil where wind has pushed it
But whether warm to the ground or still windswept and upright
These robust stones remain in their entirety from my day and before.

What celebration have they seen in the years they stood?
What flushed face of youth feebly withstood young love here?
What women grew round and with birth gave the earth?
What men fought fights for far-flung tribal rites?
Did Romans see, stare and set apart?
Did Norman knights ennoble themselves through nuance of connection?
Did woman out of wedlock worry in tears for her child?

These stone sentinels of past centuries have seen it all:
The clasped hands of heaving lovers; the glistening eyes of sorrow;
The last sight of a land once loved by men away to foreign wars;
The coming and going of the seasons, from sweet to sweat;
The growing old of children, as childhood became but yesterday
And men grew weary, weeping for the youth they’d squandered.

Swindside is a site of yesterdays, steward of memories and holding them in its silent grasp:
If we could know its secrets we would without melancholy accept our fate
But yet the passage of time slips through our fingers and from our feeble grasp
And with it we see our lives pass by as particles of sand sieved with fumbling futility.
Swinside with certainty in its silent ways sways us to reflection
On how we lead our lives.

As we journey on our way, take care;
Our errors cause much pain.
But if through all our acts we’re fair
Our honour will remain.

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