Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Viking Trail - St Bee's Priory

St Bee's Priory Church may be better known for it's Norman architecture.  In 650 the church was the site of a Benedictine Nunnery but was destroyed by the Danes on the latter part of the 9th century.  The Norse settled shortly after and named the place Kirkeby Beghoc, meaning village by the church of St Bega'.  It is the most northerly church in this Viking Trail.

This cross once stood on the main road to Whitehaven.  It is thought to be a 'Sanctuary Cross', marking the boundary of the parish, or a resting cross on the coffin road.  The coffin roads date back from medieval times when many West Cumbrain parishes did not have a licence to bury, and bodies were bought to St Bee's.  The cross may have served  as a symbolic last resting place when the priory was first glimpsed.

This lintel is above the cross (above) and opposite the West Entrance.  It is a Norman lintel stone depicting a fight between St Michael and a dragon.  The dragon has a head at it's tail - to show the eternal fight of good and evil - and towers over St Michael threateningly.  The dragon is flanked by interlace and a dove of peace with scandanavian and celtic influences.  The stone is dated around 1120 and may have been over the entrance to an earlier church or chapel.

The West Door.  To me, if you walk through this door, you will enter a fantasy world like Middle Earth or back in time.  Fantastic.  It is one of the finest doors in Cumbria and dates to 1160.  It is richly carved with successive arcades of chevrons in which are several 'Beakheads' of birds and beasts.  The arcades spring from intricately carved capitals, beneath which there would have been sandstone pillars.  Only one of these survive.  Apart from some obvious modern restorations, you are looking at a doorway that is largely unchanged in 850 years.  Amazing.  Breath taking.
The west end of the nave.  The screen is Art Nouveau and is designed by William Butterfield and erectd in 1886.

Little remains in the Priory of Norse Times.  This is a fragment of an ornate cross shaft, standing in a window in the south aisle.  The cross, carved out of white granite, has fine sprial scrollwork on the mainface while the two sides are decorated with interwoven cable and crenellated band.
A View of St Bee's Priory Church, showing the south side aisle

This is a grave slab from the 12th or 13th century.  I read the notice about it, but can't clearly remember what it said.  I was getting quite excited at all the things to see and read.......

Another grave slab.  A return trip to St Bee's me thinks

A closer view of the Art Nouveau Screen.  As the east wall has now window, the screen enlivens the view.
Onto the Lady Chapel.  I was quite moved by this chapel.  This is the grave slab of Joanne De Lucy, who died in 1369. She was 8 when she died, but is portrayed as and adult, I'm not sure why. 

The Lady Chapel is dedicated to St Bega.  The two statues of St Bega and Mary with the Baby Jesus were placed here in 1955 and are the work of Josephina de Vasconcellos.  They stand on two original medieval statuary corbels.  Nest to the altar is a medieval piscina, used for washing the communion vessels at the end of service.  The Lady Chapel is also a Rememberance place for children who have died.  There is also a book for people to write in to Remember their lost child.

The organ is of catherdral proportions.  It was the last organ to be built personally by Henry Willis, in 1899.  It contains over 2,000 pipes and is one of the finest examples of an unaltered late romantic Victorian organ in the country

This is the Garden Of Rememberance for children who have died.  You can't see it very well, but there is another sculpture of a child, sleeping in a hand.

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