Diocesan Histories : Carlisle




NATURALLY, from their proximity to a district bitterly hostile to Roman rule, the Roman garrisons on the Wall were maintained to the latest period of the Roman dominion; it is doubtful if they were then withdrawn. The legions themselves were withdrawn, but it seems likely that the auxiliary troops, long stationary in the same localities, often in the same forts, ultimately remained among a people with whom they must have to a great extent become amalgamated.

Whatever became of these troops, they were but of little effect against the invasions of the Picts and the Scots, the latter of whom harried the ex-Roman province, as well from their old seats in Ireland, as from their seats in Galloway and the west of Scotland. A still more formidable race of pirates infested the eastern and southern shores of Britain, known to the Romans as Saxons, and whose depredations had long ere now compelled the Romans to appoint a Warden (or Comes) of the march or shore exposed to the Saxon attack. These pirates were the English, a name which included three Teutonic tribes dwelling in what we know as Sleswick, namely, the Jutes, to the north of the present Jutland; the Angles, or English proper, just below them; and the Saxons on the Elbe, - the latter the best known to the Romans, who included all three under that name; while the three leagued tribes bore among themselves the name of Englishmen, - a name unknown to the Romans, but destined to be as famous and as glorious as ever was the name of Roman.

These English invaders bestowed the name of Wealas or Welsh, that is, strangers, upon the people whom they found in Britain; and we shall use the names "Britons" and "Welsh" as meaning the same people.

The English conquest of Britain commenced about forty years after the departure of the Romans. The Romanised Britons, left to themselves, and unable to protect themselves against the Picts and Scots, hired a parcel of English adventurers from Jutland under Hengist and Horsa, who, in A.D. 449, established themselves in the Isle of Thanet.

Into the details of the English conquest of Southern Britain, it is foreign to our purpose to go.

Of the conquest of Mid-Britain and North Britain, very little is known. The estuary of the Humber was the chief gate by which they found admission: some turned southwards, and founded the kingdom of Mercia, becoming known as Marchmen between the English and the Britons. Those who turned north founded the kingdom of Deira, and met further to the north another English kingdom, that of Bernicia, founded by Ida, who, in 547, had planted his kingdom on the rock of Bamborough. The great forest between Tyne and Tees was the march, or debateable land, between Deira and Bernicia; but these two great kingdoms were united by Æthelfrith, and formed into the great English kingdom of Northumbria, which stretched from the Humber as far north as the Forth. The east of the present kingdom of Scotland up to the Forth was, and is, English ground, though now incorporated into Scotland. Æthelfrith was a great conqueror. In 603 he defeated the Scots at a place called Dægsastan, which some think to be Dalston, near Carlisle; others Dawston, in Liddesdale. In 607 he completed the English conquest of Britain by the capture of Chester, and by so doing, he separated the Britons, of what is now Wales, from the Britons to the north of them.

The English conquest was marked by great atrocity: the wealthier Britons fled across the seas; the poorer took refuge in the mountains and the forests, until hunger drove them out to be cut down. So far as the English conquest extended over Britain, it was a complete dispossession. The language of the Britons disappeared, as did their Christianity; the one was superseded by the English tongue, the latter by the religion of Woden and of Thor.

The English conquest covered the eastern part of Britain. In the western and more mountainous parts, the Britons held their ground. There was a British or Welsh kingdom of West Wales, which took in Cornwall, Devon, and part of Somerset up to the river Axe. All the land west of the Severn formed a second British or Welsh kingdom, that of North Wales, which included what we now call North and South Wales. To the north was a third British or Welsh kingdom, that of Strathclyde, which took in Galloway and the rest of the south-west of Scotland, with modern Cumberland and Westmorland, &c., down to the river Dee, - thus extending from the Clyde to the Dee, until Chester was taken by Æthelfrith in 607.

The British or Welsh kingdom of Strathclyde, which thus extended from the Clyde to the Dee, including the district now the bishopric of Carlisle, was separated from the English Northumbria, which extended from the Forth to the Humber, by the range of mountains running down the country and forming its backbone - the great Pennine range.

Nothing almost is known of what was going on in Strathclyde during the English conquest. One of our greatest living historians has said he could see nothing through the darkness that hung over Strathclyde. Probably Strathclyde was merely a collection of petty British or Welsh states, under different rulers, having a kingdom of Strathclyde proper, with its capital at Alcluidd, or Dumbarton, whose ruler probably had a shadowy superiority over the others. Sir Francis Palgrave names the chief of these states as:- Reged [now usually given as Rheged], in the south-west of Scotland; Strathclyde, or Clydesdale, and Cumbria, in the south. Mr. Freeman calls the whole Strathclyde, and that name for long overshadowed and absorbed the others; but the double meaning of the term must be kept in mind, the extended and the restricted one. The people who dwelt in this great British or Welsh kingdom were called Cumbri, a designation we first meet with in the Chronicle of Ethelwerd, - at a much later date though than this [usually referred to today as Æthelweard the Chronicler, who was active in the latter years of the 10th century. He was a descendant of king Æthelred I.] The Saxon Chronicle says that in 875 the Danes made frequent attacks on the "Peohtas" and on the "Stræcled Wealas." Ethelwerd translates this passage into Latin as "Pihtis Cumbrisque." [i.e. Cumbrian Picts.]

The Britons of Strathclyde or Cumbria occupy a tolerably large space on the map, but a very small one in history; their annals have entirely perished, and nothing authentic remains concerning them except a very few passages, wholly consisting of incidental notices relating to their subjection and their misfortunes.

Romance would furnish much more; for it was in Cumbria that Rhyderic, or Roderic the Magnificent [now usually given as Riderch, also Riderch Hen, the Old. His reign was circa 580-612], is represented to have reigned and Merlin to have prophesied. Arthur held his court in Merry Carlisle, and Peredur, the Prince of Sunshine, whose name we find amongst the princes of Strathclyde, is one of the heroes of the Mabinogion, or tales of youth, long preserved among the Cymri. These fantastic personages, however, are of importance, in one point of view, because they show what we might otherwise ignore, that from the Ribble in Lancashire, or thereabouts, up to the Clyde, there existed a dense population, who preserved their national language and customs. Even in the eleventh century the Britons or Welsh inhabited the great part of the western half of the island, however much they had been compelled to submit to the political supremacy of the English invaders.

After the conclusion of the English conquest of Britain by the capture in 607 of Chester, by Æthelfrith, King of Northumbria, the character of the warfare between English and Briton changed; it died down into a warfare against the separate British provinces, West Wales, North Wales, and Cumbria, which went on until the victories of that Edward I, who died on Burgh Marsh. To return to Æthelfrith. Æthelfrith, before his death in 617, reduced the petty states of Cumbria to some sort of tributary position, and in the reign of Edwine [St. Edwin], King of Northumbria and Overlord of Britain, they were so much so as to be sometimes included in the name of Northumbria.

The district was very extensively colonised by English settlers from Northumberland; their settlements may be known by the termination "ton." They entered by the great roads the Romans had left, and settled right and left of these roads. One division came along the Roman Wall and its roads, and settled at Walton, Irthington, and Brampton, and turned southwards to Plumpton, and Hutton, and Newton, and filled the great central fertile plain of Cumberland to that extent that it acquired the name of Inglewood, the wood of the Angles, or English. Another lot streamed in by the Maiden Way; we find them at Alston, in Cumberland, and at Dufton, Marton, Bolton, Clifton, Helton, and Bampton, in Westmorland. In the west of Cumberland they got to Wigton, Aikton, and Oulton; in fact they absorbed the most fertile and most accessible part of the district, - that great plain which extends from Penrith, widening northwards as the mountains open out, and sweeping round westwards by the Solway. The mountains were left to the old inhabitants, - the Britons.

It is not, then, surprising that Ecgfrid [Ecgfrith], King of Northumbria, who reigned from 670 to 685, absorbed Carlisle and a large district round it into Northumbria; in fact, he made Carlisle and the district round it English ground, though not part of the kingdom of England, and he bestowed a portion of it on St. Cuthbert, - for the English invaders had been converted from the religion of Woden and of Thor to Christianity. How that was done, how the heathenism of Northumbria was attacked, first, from the south by Paulinus, the missionary of the Roman Church; secondly, by Aidan and by Boisil, the missionaries of the Celtic Church; how Wilfrid of York and Benedict Biscop, on the one hand, and Colman on the other, struggled for the supremacy of their churches, and how the Roman Church, at the Synod of Whitby, won a victory, which enabled her to appoint Theodore of Tarsus Metropolitan of England, are matters of the deepest interest to us, but belong rather to Northumbrian than to Cumbrian history, and have been well told by the late Rev. J. L. Low, in the volume of this series devoted to Durham.

For the religious history of Cumbria during the period whose secular history we have rapidly run through, we must hark back in point of time, and glean what we can from church dedications and lapidary remains, in addition to what can be found elsewhere.

In our last chapter we mentioned the conjecture that the single dedication in the diocese to St. Ninian was connected with the personal ministrations of that bishop. But beyond the fact that through his preaching the southern Picts abandoned their idolatrous worship and received the pure faith, and that among them he ordained priests and divided the land "per certas parochias," we have no certain knowledge of St. Ninian's missionary labours among the Britons of Strathclyde or Cumbria.1 It is open to conjecture that his labours were supplemented in the last half of the fifth century by those of St. Patrick himself: the church at Patterdale, near Ullswater (formerly Patrickdale) is dedicated to St. Patrick, and there is a St. Patrick's well near the church. There are three other supposed dedications to St. Patrick in the diocese, but that of Ousby, in Cumberland, is doubtful, and those of Bampton Patrick and Preston Patrick, in Westmorland, may have no better origin than some confusion between a former owner, - Patrick, son of Culwen, or Curwen, the great grandson of Gospatrick, son of Orme, son of Ketel, and the Celtic saint. But St. Patrick's fellow-worker and kinswoman, St. Bridget, is commemorated by no less than five dedications, all in Cumberland, viz., Bridekirk, St. Bridget's Beckermet, Brigham, Moresby, and Kirkbride; these lie near the coast, most readily accessible from Ireland, as does also one of the other churches dedicated to an Irish saint, St. Bees, dedicated to St. Bega, to whom also the church (formerly a chapel) at Bassenthwaite, is dedicated; Precentor Venables observes that -

"When we consider the short stretch of sea which divides Cumbria from Ireland, the Isle of Man forming a convenient halting-place between the two, and the frequent intercourse of the two lands in early times, it is not a little surprising that the traces of Irish evangelisation should also be so scanty. This is all the more remarkable when we remember the abundant evidences of Irish missionary agency in Wales, and among the West Welsh of Cornwall."2

The conclusion the precentor draws is that the Christianity of Cumbria was far less vigorous and reproductive than among the other Celtic tribes. The precentor continues:

"Passing onwards, the next group of dedications which arrests our attention are those to St. Kentigern, otherwise. St. Mungo (a name which, we are told by his biographer, Joscelin of Furness, signifies Karrissimus amicus), the great agent in the revolution which again Christianised Cumbria, whose vast diocese, - restoring St. Ninian's decayed, but not extinct, church, - extended from the Clyde to the Mersey, and from the Irish Sea to the eastern watershed." [i.e. to the Pennines.]

There are eight churches in the diocese, dedicated to St. Kentigern or St. Mungo: viz. (i.) Irthington; (ii.) Grinsdale; (iii.) Caldbeck; (iv.) Castle-Sowerby; (v.) Mungrisdale (Mungo-grisdale); (vi.) Crosthwaite; (vii.) Bromfield; (viii.) Aspatria. No other churches in England are known to be dedicated to this saint; and the eight churches we have mentioned are all in that part of the county of Cumberland which lies north of the river Derwent. The following sketch of St. Kentigern's career is by the Rev. T. Lees, in the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society, compiled from the biography written by Joscelin, of Furness, which has been edited by Bishop Forbes in the "Historians of Scotland:"

"Kentigern's grandfather is asserted to have been a heathen king in Cumbria or Strathclyde; his mother, Tenew [Teneu, Thaney], was a believer in Christianity, but not baptized. Being found with child [following rape], as it is stated, by Eugenius, or Ewen, King of Cumbria, she was, in punishment for her incontinency, according to the custom of her tribe, cast down in a chariot from the summit of a rock. Miraculously escaping, she was accused of witchcraft, and, exposed in an open boat, abandoned to the waves, in the open sea beyond the Isle of May [in the Firth of Forth, off the east coast of Scotland]. She drifted to Culenros [Culross, also on the Firth of Forth], and, on the shore there, her son was born. St. Servanus, who was leading a hermit's life in that neighbourhood, warned by a vision, took charge of both mother and child, baptizing Tenew and bringing up her son. He called the boy Kyentyern (quod interpretatur Capitalis Dominus), i.e., head or capital lord; and the boy's rapid advancement, not only in secular education, but also in holiness, endeared him so much to his protector, that he used to call him, as a term of endearment, "Munghu," i.e., the dear friend. Tired out by the persecutions of his envious fellow-scholars, Kentigern quitted Culros, and, arriving at Carnock just in time to witness the death of Fergus, a holy hermit who dwelt there, attended to his burial rites. The body was placed on a wain drawn by two untamed bulls, who drew it of their own accord, and without accident, to Cathures, now Glasgow, and there Kentigern buried it in a disused cemetery, formerly consecrated by St. Ninian. Here Kentigern took up his abode, and, after some time, the king and the clergy of regio Cambrensis, the great British kingdom stretching from the Clyde southwards, along with the rest of the Christians, few, indeed, in number, met together and besought him to be their bishop. Overruling his scruples, and imploring the blessing of the Blessed Trinity, they enthroned him; and, having summoned a bishop from Ireland, after the manner of the Britons and Scots of that period, they compelled him to be consecrated. After his consecration, he visited his extensive diocese on foot, correcting his people, - the greater part of whom had apostatised from the Church, - reforming abuses, and enforcing ecclesiastical discipline. But heathenism was still strong in the land, and Kentigern was persecuted by King Morken. Even after Morken's death, his relations continued the persecution, not only seeking to entrap the man of God, but conspiring against his life; so, after the pattern of St. Paul, who fled from Damascus, Kentigern fled from the country, and betook himself to St. Dewi, Bishop of Menævia, in North Wales; and on this journey he visited this district, as you will presently hear, and collected therein a great harvest for the Lord. Settling on the banks of the Elwy, he founded that great monastery from which the see of St. Asaph derives its origin. Men of all ages and ranks pressed into it, to the number of 965. Here he worked in peace for some years, till at length the crowning mercy of the battle of Ardderyd3 (A.D. 573) placed a Christian king on the throne of Strathclyde. [Gwenddolau (ap Ceidew) was the defeated pagan, at the battle of Ardderyd, or Arthuret. His loss is said to have driven his advisor, Merlin, mad]. Recalled to his bishopric by the new king, Rederech Hael, or the Liberal, Kentigern obeyed the call; and, having appointed Asaph, his disciple, as his successor in the monastery and see, he returned to the north, accompanied by 665 monks, 300 remaining in Wales with St. Asaph. For thirty years after his return to Strathclyde, Kentigern carried on his Master's work, not only among the Britons, but also among the Picts. Before the close of his life St. Columba, the great founder of the Christian colony at Iona [a small island off the west coast of Scotland], visited Kentigern at Glasgow. They exchanged embraces, and filled themselves with spiritual feasts before they refreshed the body. 'How great,' adds Joscelin, 'was the sweetness of heavenly contemplation in their holy hearts is not for me to say, nor is given to me, or to those like unto me, to search out the hidden manna, as I think, entirely unknown save to those who taste it.' The two saints exchanged their pastoral staves; that which St. Columba gave to St. Kentigern was long preserved in honour at Ripon, St. Wilfrid's church. St. Kentigern died A.D. 603, in extreme old age. . . . His body was buried, as was fitting, at the right side of the altar, in his cathedral, at Glasgow."4

This remarkable interview between the two great Celtic saints, St. Kentigern and St. Columba, took place shortly before the arrival in England of the great Roman saint, St. Augustine of Canterbury, who, in 597, was sent into England by Gregory the Great to convert that country to the Roman faith. It is too often forgotten that before St. Augustine set foot in England, a powerful Celtic church was flourishing in the North: some people have even imagined St. Augustine preached the Gospel on Crossfell in Cumberland, and founded the church of St. Augustine at Alston. It is needless to say he never was in the North at all, and that the church at Alston is, probably, dedicated to St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo.

To return to the St. Kentigern dedications in Cumberland, north of the Derwent, these are, probably, examples of what Bishop Stubbs has termed "proprietary dedications," by which is understood that a church or chapel was called by the name of the holy person who first built, or caused it to be built, and in connexion with whom it obtained local celebrity, and not from any formal dedication to him. These local dedications to St. Kentigern are explained by a passage in Joscelin's biography of the saint.

Joscelin, in describing the course of Kentigern's journey from his diocese of Glasgow to Menævia, in Wales, mentions his arrival at Karleolum (Carlisle), where,

"having heard that many in the mountainous districts were given to idolatry, or ignorant of the Divine law, he turned aside, and, God helping him and confirming the Word by signs following, converted to the Christian religion many who were strangers to the faith, and others who held the faith in error. He remained some time in a certain thickly-planted place, to confirm and strengthen in the faith the men who dwelt there, in which he also erected a cross as the sign of their salvation, whence the place took the name, in English, Crossfield, i.e., Crucis Novale, in which locality a basilica, erected in modern times, is dedicated in the name of the blessed Kentigern, which is illustrated with many miracles."

Looking at the Kentigern churches, as they appear on a map, it would appear as if the saint entered Cumberland by the Maiden Way, and followed it to its junction with the Roman Wall, and along the Wall to Irthington and Grinsdale, thence by Bromfield and Aspatria towards the coast, where he might intend to embark for Wales. At these places the Lake mountains would be full in view, and probably excited his curiosity about their inhabitants, and induced him to visit them in order, - Caldbeck, Castle-Sowerby, Mungrisdale, and Crossfield, which can be no other than Crosthwaite, the parish church of Keswick. Joscelin continues:

"Turning aside from thence, the saint directed his steps by the sea shore, and, through all his journey scattering the seed of the Divine Word, gathered in a plentiful and fertile harvest unto the Lord. At length, safe and sound, he reached St. Dewi."

St. Kentigern probably went south from Crosthwaite by the Roman road to Chester.

St. Kentigern included the district with whose ecclesiastical history we are dealing in the bishopric of Glasgow, which he founded, and which extended from the Clyde to, probably, the Mersey.

Two dedications in the diocese, both in Westmorland, commemorate St. Columba, a dedication which is rare in England.5 It seems probable that dedications to Celtic saints were once more common in the district; the dedications of many churches in the diocese are unknown. A careful scrutiny in the wills in the pre-Reformation registers of the Bishop of Carlisle has failed to recover a single one of these dedications, and it appears probable that they were unknown at the date when these wills were made; these wills extend over the fourteenth century. If we omit from these churches with unknown dedications those that were mere chapelries to large parishes, we shall find that the remaining ones lie along or near the Cumberland coast, the place most accessible to Irish missionary work. Dearham is one of these churches; to its lost dedication a clue was found during the extensive repairs carried out in 1882. In pulling down the chancel arch the shaft of an early cross was discovered, which is thus described by the Rev. W. S. Calverley, F.S.A., then vicar of the parish:

"In the upper part is a human figure on horseback, carrying or holding something in front on the horse's shoulders. The whole is surrounded by spiral work and little bosses: beneath, a bird with long bill and short tail bears a baby or bundle in its big claws: in front of the bird a deformed man-figure holds forth a vessel in his right hand: above the man's head appears to gape a pair of jaws, which belong to the double-stemmed, spiral, worm-like bodies which surround the figures, and curl and twist into every unused space: beneath the bird is twice repeated the ancient symbol of endless existence, the svastica, now the cross sign, used in all ages, and passing, as it ought to do, into every faith, because the truth of which it tells is as old as Paradise; and beneath these, again, the characteristic spirals of British or Celtic or Eastern work."6

These curious carvings represent the legend of St. Kenet, or Keneth (Kenedus), whose history Mr. Calverley thus gives from Capgrave:

"Kenedus was son of the daughter of Diochus, a prince in Letaina, Lesser Britain [Brittany(?)], born a mile from King Arthur's palace, in the province of Goyer (Gower): he was lame from birth crus femori adherebat. After baptism he was thrown into the river in a coracle, and by a great storm carried to an island, from which the seabirds bore him with claws and beaks, and placed him on a rock, where they covered him with many layers of feathers, driving the serpents and worms from the place. An angel descended, and placed a brazen bell to the mouth of the little one. Each day the bell was replenished with milk from a deer or forest doe. A shepherd, who had his house on the seashore, found the child in his nest upon the rock, and carried him away from the birds to his own home; but the seagulls gathered in troops, and finally the boy was borne back to his rocky perch. Kynedus grew up, - deformed, it is true, but a holy hermit, who had learned that of food the bitterer and sharper and harder, the most pleasing to God, and, like St. David, able to live on roots and herbs. . . The rude and weather-beaten sculpture still shows plainly the seagull with its burden in its claws, the figure with the old-shaped papped bell in his right hand, and the worm things which the early saints, no less than the seagulls, are credited with having driven away."

It seems a reasonable conclusion that the church at Dearham was dedicated to St. Keneth; we have here a link between Wales and Strathclyde at an early date, St. Keneth being of the sixth century at the latest. It seems probable that the other churches whose dedications are lost might also indicate links between Strathclyde and Wales, or Strathclyde and Ireland. After the triumph of the Roman Church over the Celtic Church, dedications to saints not of the Roman Church would have a tendency to fall into oblivion.

We have now brought up the history of the Celtic Church to the same point as that to which we, a few pages back, brought up the history of the English conquest, the colonisation of the district by the English, the absorption of Carlisle and a district round it into Northumbria by Ecgfrid [670 to 685]. Ecgfrid granted a portion of this district to St. Cuthbert. The grant was made in 685: it included civitatem quæ vocatur Luel (Carlisle) quæ habet in circuitu quindecem milliaria: also terram quæ vocatur Cartmel et omnes Britannos cum eo. The expression civitas would seem to indicate that Carlisle had some political organisation distinct from that of the rest of Cumbria; that its circuit was fifteen miles shows that more was included than the mere inhabited town. Now the old parish of St. Cuthbert Without would, with the town, be about fifteen miles in circuit, and this was what Ecgfrid gave to St. Cuthbert. It occupies the angle between the rivers Eden and Caldew, and was probably the only land then cleared and cultivated in the vicinity of the town. The land across the Caldew, which afterwards became the parish of St. Mary's Without, and the land across the Eden, which afterwards became the parish of Stanwix, were both uncleared scrub in St. Cuthbert's days. By Ecgfrid's conquest a portion of Cumbria, so much as he made English ground, was
transferred from the see of Glasgow to St. Cuthbert's see of Lindisfarne. We have thus the Roman traditions, to which the Northumbrian Church had after the Synod of Whitby in 664 adhered, introduced into Cumbria. The gift to St. Cuthbert of the city of Carlisle and land about it was by way of a pecuniary endowment, and not by way of conferring spiritual jurisdiction. Ecgfrid, probably by the advice of St. Cuthbert, founded a nunnery and schools at Carlisle. From the supposed figure of a nun in stone having been found under the foundations of the present church of St. Cuthbert's, Carlisle, when it was re-erected, in 1778, it has been conjectured that the nunnery occupied the site where the church now stands. The figure has long ago been lost; it is almost certain to have been no nun at all, but some Roman relic.


1. "Church Dedications in Diocese of Carlisle," by Precentor Venables. Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society's Transactions, vol. vii. p. 122.
2. "Church Dedications in Diocese of Carlisle," by Precentor Venables. Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society's Transactions, vol. vii. p. 122.
3. The site of this battle is generally identified with Arthuret, nine miles north of Carlisle, an important strategic position, commanding the fords of the Esk, and the road from Cumberland into Scotland.
4. "St. Kentigern, and his Dedications in Cumberland," by the Rev. T. Lees, F.S.A. - Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society's Transactions, vol. vi. p. 328, et seq.
5. "Church Dedications in Diocese of Carlisle," by Precentor Venables. Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society's Transactions, vol. vii. p. 122.
6. Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society's Transactions, vol. vii. p. 291.


Diocesan Histories : Carlisle,
by Richard S. Ferguson, Chancellor of Carlisle
Published by SPCK, London, 1889


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19 June 2015

© Steve Bulman