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
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
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.