Bowness-on-Solway, Cumbria – St Michael

Julie and I went for a drive on Easter Tuesday 29 March 2016. It was a good sunny day in Hexham, but clouded over as we entered Cumbria. By the time we had driven round the Carlisle bypass there were some quite heavy showers. We drove through Burgh and on to Bowness – I think J was quite impressed with how far I had walked last week.


We parked outside St Michael’s church in Bowness-on-Solway NY234627. Church website.  Today there was no service so I could go and explore. We are in the middle of a Roman site, so is this a pre-Christian site? Bowness is on the main river/sea route east/west, and you can cross the estuary south/north at low tide. Perhaps Patrick, Ninian, Mungo, Cuthbert, Adamnan and other saints came this way, and for many years Bowness was in the diocese of Glasgow. We know that in 1300 Roald de Richmond was appointed Rector of St Michael’s church – as the guidebook says “poor, marshy, surrounded by water and mosses, and with long memories stretching back to Roman stones themselves.”


The Bell-cote is good and solid, and inside there are old bells from Scotland. In 1626 some Scots came to Bowness and took the bells. The locals launched their boats to chase them back across the Solway, and the Scots lightened their loan by throwing the bells overboard. A short time later Bowness men crossed the estuary and took the bells from Dornock and Middlebie. They hung in the bellcote until replaced in 1905. I only photoed one of the old ones!


The church is always open and feels very welcoming. They ask us to sign the Visitors’ Book, but do not provide a pen. A lovely tapestry, with map of the parish.


The bowl of the font is Norman. On the west side is a vine and symbols of the Trinity, and some lovely work on all sides. Local tradition says that during the time of Cromwell it was taken out and buried in the churchyard. It was dug up by John Wallace the Sexton at the beginning of the C19 and reinstated in 1848.


Children of the school have made Stations for Easter, wanting to tell the story of Easter. There was a lovely leaflet about them – “We wanted to help tell the story with visual prompts. They needed to be clear and big enough to be seen, but not overwhelming and a distraction. We hope you feel they are fitting and can see that they have been made by the children from our school with minimal adult interference!” Thank you – they are excellent. Here is an amphora of wine, goblets and bread to represent the Last Supper. The children have been to Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, so bought their Roman knowledge in. Here are 30 pieces of silver. Class 4 looked at real Roman silver coins from around AD 33 and copied the profile of Tiberius Caesar onto thin card. “When stuck to the thick circles of card and wrapped in foil the impression of the head can be seen as if it was part of the coin. Every child in Class 4 made a coin and then we arranged them so they spilled out of the over sized purse.”


This memorial slab was thought to have belonged to the Whitrigg family, and was moved from the floor to the wall in 1975.


The War Memorial – a lot of names for a small village. One of several memorials, and the list of who you can’t marry. One way of exiting a firey marriage? Proving she’s really your sister!


The “Washing hands” station, where the children used blue tissue paper and a silver bowl to show the riches and importance of Pilate, is on the cabinet which houses the Breeches Bible. It was printed in 1585 and refers to Adam and Eve making themselves breeches in Genesis 3.7. This is the version Shakespeare used, and Cromwellian soldiers got their strength from the adversarial nature of this translation. I am sorry that I didn’t photo all of the children’s Stations – I am very impressed with their work (and impressed at their teachers).


Lovely kneelers, with a picture of the church and some of the birds that must have followed me on my walk across the marshes.

DSC00070The church also appears in several windows – and they do have some excellent stained glass. I still have not got the hang of photoing windows – perhaps one of my photographer friends could give me a proper lesson sometime. If you are a good photographer, do go and pay a visit to this church.

Mary is in the north wall, looking down at the font, the place of baptism. She holds lillies, the symbol of purity. Above her is the church, and the star of Bethlehem, and the form of the cross. The window was designed by Mr R. Nichol, but the guide does not tell me who made them. It was installed in 1988.


The War Memorial Window has a soldier who bears a striking resemblance to the glass at Slaley (though theirs’ is better).  The youngsters had made Roman Soldiers to represent Jesus’ arrest.


The left hand window is in memory of the Reverend J.M. Allen, Rector 1961-72. It was also designed by Mr Nichol and the glass prepared by Mrs C. Boyce of Banks, Lanercost. Jesus is embracing two youngsters (Mr Allen was greatly involved in youth work), his robe is khaki in colour (Mr Allen was in the Border Regiment in WW2), and round his head the corona is in the form of a star (he was veteran of the Burma campaign and holder of the Burma Star). You can also see the birds of the Solway Firth, a Haaf net, his dog, and flowers of the estuary. The children have made a Crown of Thorns, they thought it would be like the laurel wreath crown worn by Caesar. On the right is the Nelson Window, in memory of Mrs Elizabeth Nelson (1923-1998). It was executed by Alex Haynes of Brampton.

DSC00068DSC00057I liked this window of the Risen Christ. It was donated in 1972 and designed by G. Maile & Son of Canterbury. I am amazed how windows by different artists go so well together.


These windows on the north side of the Transept are older – 1900 or thereabouts. Archangel Michael stands over the church and parish, you can see the Solway and the Roman fort. Below is St Columba setting sail from Ireland. On the right is Kentigern, also known as Munro.


The East Window is lovely. The risen and ascended Christ is in the centre, with Romans below. Michael defeats the dragon. There are farmers and fishermen and shepherds. In memory of John and Mary Wilson.


In the porch is another window by Alex Haynes, installed in 2006. The sun represents God the creator and illuminator, the moon symbolises time, tide and the mutability of human existence. Below are the pools, gullies and sea washed turf of the marshes. On the ledge below is a lovely Easter Garden – reminding us of the reason all this is here.


Outside there are some wonderful headstones – they must have cost quite a lot of money. It is a lovely little church, and how great to see the school so fully involved. The school have a good website too.




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