This church is part of a group of seven parishes known as the 'Low
Furness Group of Parishes'. It has strong links with the United Reformed
Church in Urswick, sharing worship and many social events.
In 1123 Stephen de Blois (later King Stephen of England 1135-1154)
gave land at Tulketh near Preston to monks of the Order of Savigny.
Four years later he gave land on which they built Furness Abbey. In
1148 the Order of Savigny was amalgamated with the Cistercian Order.
The monks of Furness Abbey claimed patronage of the church at Urswick
before 1148. Tradition has it that the church was founded 200-300
years earlier. Support for this belief is based on the discovery of
a Viking cross in 1909 and in 1911 the Tunwinni Cross was found and
dated by W.G. Collingwood as 9th Century.
The original charter giving land to the monks who built Furness Abbey,
refers to an already established church of St. Mary in Urswick. Later,
reference was made to St. Mary in the Fields. The church is now known
as St Mary the Virgin and St Michael. Rushbearing takes place on the
Sunday nearest St. Michael's Day (29 September).
It is thought that an early church covered the area that now forms
the Nave. Outside, on the north and south walls can be seen arch holes,
these probably supported light timbers which carried a reed roof.
The lower part of the tower is probably pre-Norman, the upper part
being added in the Tudor period. On the west walls of the tower are
three niches, one of which contains a Mater Dolorosa, which is said
to have come from Furness Abbey.
Church was featured recently in an article in the Evening Mail by
Barrow born Steve Dickinson who believes that the parish church
rune stone holds the key to a 1600 year-old story that reveals the
origins of Christianity in Britain. Steve, an archeologist for more
than 20 years, was always fascinated by the rune stone which has
stood on the windowsill of the church since before he was born.
The stone was found on the site by a turn-of-the-century vicar and
was investigated on the site by the respected historian WG Collingwood,
who believed that it was a fragment of a Northumbrian cross dated
at the earliest to 850 AD.
Scholars did not seem to be able to come up with any
explanation for the two carved figures on the stones and after further
investigation Steve made a detailed and painstaking analysis of
the inscriptions, finding that the runes were imposed on fragments
of earlier writing. He believes that he has discovered two names,
which point to an historic meeting between a 7th century Irish cleric
and the seventh Archbishop of Canterbury, a meeting which changed
the balance of power in the early Christian church from Celtic to
realised that this meeting could have taken place at Great Urswick,
putting Furness at the centre of one of the most significant power
struggles of the time and demonstrating that there must have been
an early monastery at Great Urswick, literally the first monastery
of Furness. Cracks in the church wall indicate that there must have
been a much earlier church on the site, parts of which remain in
traces of earlier arches and part of an earlier gable end, now forming
a wall inside the church. Steve believes that part of the church
dates back to as early as 1600 years ago, which would make it the
earliest bit of any church in the country.
Life in the Church never stands still and again in recent years a significant restoration programme has been successfully completed. A new heating system installed; the tower has been refurbished and the 'bell ringers' floor has been reinstated. On the ground floor a 'display' has been installed celebrating the life and the heritage of both church and community.
The 'display' was donated to the Church by Hidden Light in Partnership with Hidden Britain Centres Projects. Hidden Light was set up to develop Low Furness as a tourism destination, through community led and managed tourism projects. The 'display' depicts the history of Low Furness and its heritage arising from detailed archaelogical, architectural and historic research programmes. The photographs below are of various views of the 'display' taken inside the Church tower:
Visitors to Urswick Church and its Heritage Display have travelled from all parts of the UK and from Australia, Canada and USA.
Comments from our Display Visitors Book include:
- G & B Tyldsley, Bolton: Fascinating
- Joanna & Eric Shaw, Grange-over-Sands: Very interesting
- Fr John Master, Keswick: Impressive history
- Ken Eustace, Wagga, Wagga, NSW Australia: The history is amazing Rian Moffat, Ulverston: Taken a long time to visit but will be back
- Robert Walker, Huddersfield: Love the history
- Brian Trigg, Newport, Gwent: Brilliant
- Bridget Davis, USA: Very happy to be here
- Amy Miller, Canada: Need box for donations
- Chris Abram, Carnforth: Making a film of the area.
- Church was gem of historical interest. Display came as a pleasant surprise.
- Patricia England, Heysham: Hope to bring a party here. Patricia has since made a return visit.
- Pastors Keith & Kathleen Wall, Australia: Historic heritage splendid to behold. Well done.
Urswick Church and the George Washington connection
Ossick Coots and Collared Doves - The Story of Urswick and its Church
Urswick and its Christian origins explored (PDF)
Further history of Urswick
church and support for its claim to be possibly the oldest church
Miller, guildsman and sculptor in wood (Urswick Church Commissions)