Evidence for mankind’s ‘spiritual journeying’
from the earliest times lies relatively undisturbed across the beautiful
Furness Peninsular. There is a stone circle on Birkrigg Common,
burial mounds, earth works, standing stones, sacred wells alongside
significant remains of Neolithic, Bronze Age and Roman habitation.
Much more awaits the interested wanderer whether it be by foot,
bike or car, and of course, revealing spectacular scenery and panoramic
views in all directions.
The ‘christianising’ of pagan religious
sites and the growth and development of Christianity can be evidenced
in and through Low Furness’ ecclesiastical and religious buildings,
some of which are still active places of worship, prayer and Christian
archeological discoveries show that the epicentre for the growth
and spread of Christianity could have been the church of St.
Mary and St. Michael Great Urswick, a former monastic site built
upon a substantial Roman site and associated with the early Celtic
Saints. Rightly regarded as the ‘mother church’ of Furness.
is not difficult to imagine how remote Furness was from the rest
of the mainland Britain. One of the oldest and most hazardous routes
was across the sands of Morecambe Bay, a route well known to early
travellers, used by the Romans and by pilgrims and other ’religious
folk’ moving between monastic communities. The bold ’pilgrim’
can still cross ’over Sands’ from Cartmel with a professional
guide and can come via Chapel Island to reach the base of Low Furness
at Conishead Bank near to Conishead Priory which is now a major
Buddist teaching centre.
This follows the route called the Cistecian
Way which then brings us past the hill fort above Urswick and then
drops down into Urswick and its Tarn, continues along the spine
of Low Furness to the majestic ruins of the former hugely influential
Cistercian Abbey called Furness Abbey.
pick up our route again from Gleaston Mill
(stopping for refreshments and a local history lesson) and head
out towards the coast road to find the particularly beautiful setting
for St.Cuthbert’s Church at Aldingham.
The first recorded incumbent of St.Cuthbert’s was Daniel Le
Fleming of The Mote, about 1180, son of Michael Le Fleming to whom
we were introduced at Urswick He ceded much of Low Furness and its
people to Furness Abbey in return for other lands at Bardsea. This
was a religious site well before the current church was erected
in about 1130; it is likely that the monks from Lindisfarne brought
the bones of St.Cuthbert here in about 880AD to avoid their capture
by the Danish invaders. They continued on their long and winding
journey back to Chester- le-Street by 882 having been seven years
‘on the road‘ around the North of England. A standing
cross was probably erected here to commemorate this resting place.
(A well-worn portion of a Saxon cross is built into the east wall
of the chancel).
Turning along the Coast Road to Rampside
’village’ and Roa Island
is well rewarded with a short ferry ride across to Piel
Island with its 14th Century castle which was used as a fortified
warehouse by the monks of Furness Abbey.
we continue along the Coast Road towards Barrow we reach St.
Michael’s church, formerly a chapel of ease linked with
Furness Abbey and is now a parish church serving Rampside and area.
Viking remains have been found here. Many of its graves indicate
its links with the sea.
The political and ecclesiastical turbulence of the
16th and 17th centuries is all well documented in Low Furness. Dissenting
groups flourished in worship. A significant increase in Anglican
churches built by particular benefactors is noticed.
was the position of St. Matthew’s,
Dendron.in the heart of rural Furness. Its chief ‘claim
to fame’ is as a place where the young George Romney went
to school for a while.
Swarthmoor Hall became
a centre for Quakerism, the home of the ’notorious’’
The growth of Methodism and small ’mission churches’
in the villages are an illustration of a more vigorous period of
Church history, but now provide a stark reminder of the 20th century
church’s retreat from the countryside. Examples of these buildings
can still be seen (albeit now as private houses) in Stainton, Gleaston,
and other places. A small United Reformed Church continues to meet
for worship in Urswick and has good links with the ’parish
contrast , the influences of the ’new Romans’, the Victorians,
a period of vigorous church re-ordering and building developments,
will have been clearly noted from the display at Aldingham Church
and its neighbouring village church of Holy
Trinity, Bardsea, which like Rampside and Dendron became a parish
in its own right at the latter end of Victoria’s reign.Bardsea
was formerly a part of the larger Parish of Urswick. Both are now
a part of the Low Furness Group of Parishes.
We come ‘full circle’ back to Urswick to complete our
the 20th century, as in most of the affluent West, the established
churches had been in steady decline. Many of the churches in Low
Furness sustain small, faithful worshipping groups today. It has
experienced the pain of ‘rural retreat’, a reduction
in the number of farms, the loss of village schools, post offices,
shops, etc, and a much reduced public transport service; ‘new
century communities’ are being established which are very
different from former times and the spiritual journey continues
to seek a modern expression.
Great Urswick has once again become the focus for education,
for community and for the development of a ‘new Celtic spirituality’