Diocesan Histories : Carlisle




Shortly after Carlisle and the district round it had become English ground, and part of the see of Lindisfarne, St. Cuthbert himself visited his new possessions. A day or two after St. Cuthbert's arrival, as some of the citizens were taking him round for the purpose of showing him the walls of the city, and a fountain or well, of marvellous workmanship, constructed by the Romans, he suddenly became disturbed in spirit, and leaning on his staff, he bent down his face sadly to the ground, and again raising himself up, he lifted his eyes to heaven, and groaning deeply, he muttered - "Perhaps at this very moment the hazard of the battle is over." When questioned by the bystanders, he would say no more than, "Do you not see how marvellously disturbed the air is? and who among mortals is sufficient to search out the judgment of God ?"

Next day, a Sunday, he preached, and the burden of his discourse was, "Watch and Pray, Watch and Pray," which his hearers misapplied to the expected recurrence of a plague, which had recently ravaged the district. In a few days came a solitary fugitive, who announced that "the Picts had turned desperately to bay as the English army entered Fife, and that Ecgfrid and the flower of his nobles lay a ghastly ring of corpses on the far-off moorland of Nechtansmere." [This battle is generally reckoned as having taken place 20th May 685].

Inquiry revealed the fact that the king fell on the very day and at the very hour at which St. Cuthbert bent over the old Roman fountain at Carlisle.

It would be most interesting were it possible to identify one or other of the ancient wells with which Carlisle is honey-combed, as that which the local antiquaries of the seventh century took St. Cuthbert to see: some have suggested one or other of the wells within the area of the castle, but a more probable suggestion is the old market well, now filled up and lost, which was in the roadway of English Street, opposite the shop of Messrs. C. Thurnam & Sons.

On the moorland of Nechtansmere there fell for ever with King Ecgfrid, in 685, the Northumbrian supremacy over England. Mercia at once struck for independence; Galloway arose, and chased the Northumbrian Bishop Trumwine,1 out of Whithern, which stands, Bede says, "by the arm of the sea," i.e., Solway; "which parts the lands of the English and Scots," - proof that in 685, if not long before, the district around Carlisle had become English ground, though not part of the kingdom of England. It still remained subject to the fallen Northumbria, which had vitality enough to capture, in 756, Alcluid; and thus all Strathclyde, except Galloway, became tributary to Northumbria, which was, however, too weak to retain its rule. The inhabitants of Strathclyde thus got left to themselves for a century or so, during which their country was the scene of much confused fighting, in which English, Scots, Norsemen, and Danes, all took part.

The weakness of Northumbria allowed that kingdom to fall an easy prey to a new race of invaders, - the Danes. Between 867 and 869 they conquered Northumbria, and dismembered it; Deira, now Yorkshire, they seized and occupied; Bernicia they made a tributary. Halfdene [Halfdan] was the Danish leader, who, in 876, occupied Deira, and he extended his ravages into modern Cumberland. He laid Carlisle in ruins, so that for two hundred years it laid waste, and large oaks grew on its site. On the dismemberment of Northumbria by the Danes, Carlisle and the district round it, or Carliol, which we cannot doubt is defined by the diocese of Carlisle, as it existed prior to 1856, fell to neither English nor Danish rule. It turns up incorporated with Strathclyde proper, and with Galloway, under the name of Cumbria. One Grig, king or regent of Scotland, i.e., of the Scots and the Picts, is said to have brought this about by force of arms; but marriage with a British princess, rather than conquest, or perhaps the two combined, must have been the cause of Grig's success. After Grig's death we find there was some relationship between the kings of Scotland and Cumbria.

Meanwhile the English and the Danes had been fighting with great vigour. Alfred the Great had commenced the attempt to reduce to English rule the territory known as the Danislagh [Danelaw], where Danish laws and customs prevailed. Edward the Elder, King of the English, continued the warfare, and, in 924, he wrested Manchester from the Danes, whereon the whole of the North laid itself at his feet, not only Northumbria, including the Lothians, but the Scots and Picts of Scotland; and the Britons of Cumbria chose him to be "FATHER AND OVERLORD." The Britons of North Wales had done so before, and thus Edward, King of the English, became Overlord, or Emperor, of the Britons and the Scots. This transaction is the famous "Commendation to England of Scotland and Strathclyde." Fierce has been the war of pens that has raged over it: Scottish historians can ill brook to own that, in 924, Scotland declared itself vassal to England, and their energies have been directed to the whittling away of its importance. But it was the foundation of all the claims made by Edward I to Scotland. At the time it was of but little practical importance: the Overlord, Edward the Elder, died almost immediately. War at once broke out all over the North, and lasted, - spite of a peace made at Dacre, in Cumberland, where Bede tells us there was a small monastery, until Ethelstan [Athelstan], King of the English, in 929, defeated Constantine, King of Scotland, and Eugenius, or Owen, King of Cumbria, at the battle of Bruanburgh [Brunanburgh, 937]. Eugenius, or Owen, whichever may be his name, fell in this battle, whose site is unknown.

In 945 Dunmail [aka Donald], "the last king of rocky Cumbria," fell out with his Overlord, Edmund the Magnificent, King of the English, who at once fell upon Cumbria, laid the whole of it waste, and handed it over to Malcolm, King of Scotland, on condition that he would be his ally by land and sea. Tradition says that the decisive battle between the English and the Britons of Cumbria took place at Dunmail Raise, and that King Dunmail fell there. Other accounts say that he escaped, and died peaceably at Rome, some years later.

To briefly review these events, which are of great political importance in the general history of this country: King Dunmail was, by virtue of the Commendation of 924, vassal to King Edmund. He revolted against his Overlord, who took his kingdom from him and granted it, in 945, to Malcolm I, King of Scotland, as a feudal benefice in the strictest sense. Cumbria thus became a fief of the Crown of England, but not a fief held within the kingdom of England; it was without that kingdom, and had always been so.

Nothing is recorded of Cumbria for many years, except that in the year 1000 it was laid waste by the English. At this time it was the chief rendezvous of the Danes in Britain. It is doubtful whether the English attack was on the native Cumbrians or on the Danish settlers. This rendezvous-ing of the Danes in Cumbria would be the time when they made extensive settlements in the district now Cumberland and Westmoreland, which may yet be known by the termination "by." There are some sixty-three of these. Like the "tons," the English "tons," they occupy the best of the country, running in a circle from Appleby on the south-east, along the Cumberland plain to Allonby on the Solway, and cropping up again at Ponsonby.

In addition to this Danish colonisation, there was an extensive one from Norway, utterly unrecorded in history but proved beyond possibility of cavil by the researches of Mr. Robert Ferguson.2 The place names of the district prove it, - above one hundred end in the Norse termination of "thwaite"; nearly as many end in the Norse termination "garth " or "guard," or "gard." These names lie, not in the plain, but in the high ground avoided by the Danish "bys," and the English "tons." The thwaites occupy higher ground, as a rule, than the guards. Both lie thickest towards the west of the district, thus showing the Norsemen to have entered from the west. They came from their depot in the Isle of Man, which they had seized.

The Danes and the Norsemen brought with them into the district a fresh wave of heathenism, the heathenism of Woden and of Thor.

Amid all these settlers and invaders, - English, Danes, and Norse, - the Britons or Welsh of Strathclyde, Reged, and Cumbria gradually melted into the surrounding population, and their language ceased to be discernible as that of a separate race. But that was a slow process. Their language is thought to have lingered in secluded places until the Reformation, when it was possibly destroyed by the ministrations of the Protestant clergy. A few British local traditions still remain. Pendragon Castle reminds the traveller of the fabled Ather or Uther. Some of the mountains which adorn the landscape retain the appellations given to them by the original population, and Skiddaw and Helvellyn now rise as the monuments of a race which has passed away.

About the middle of the tenth century the English put an end to the kingdom of Northumbria, and entrusted its government to a series of Earls, of whom Siward is the best known. Siward was appointed by Edward the Confessor, and he defeated and slew Macbeth, King of Scotland, the murderer of Duncan, King of Scotland. Malcolm, son of the murdered monarch, was King of Cumbria. Either this Malcolm, or his son of the same name, was placed by Siward on the throne of Scotland, and as Malcolm Caenmore long retained both Cumbria and Strathclyde in his hands. During his reign, however, the district of Carlisle, that is all the Cumbrian territory south of  the Solway (defined by the limits of the bishopric of Carlisle as it existed prior to 1856), was severed from the rest of Malcolm's dominions. The date of this is uncertain, but it would appear to be 1070, in which year, as we learn from Symeon of Durham, Gospatric, Earl of Northumberland, over-ran that district, in revenge for the devastation of Teesdale by the Scots. His son, Dolphin, was put in possession of the territory thus wrenched from Malcolm's dominions, from Cumbria.

The next authentic information we have from the Saxon Chronicle, under the date 1092:

"The king (i.e., William Rufus) went northwards with a large army to Carlisle, where he repaired the city, built the castle, and drove out Dolphin, who had before governed that country; and having placed a garrison in the castle, returned south, and sent a great number of churlish folk thither, with wives and cattle, that they might settle there and till the land."

Thus the present boundaries between England and Scotland were established, and the district, presently to be made into the see of Carlisle, became for the first time part of the English kingdom, and England assumed its present geographical limits. Rufus, of course, found the site of Carlisle a ruin, a waste chester; it had been so since Halfdene the Dane. He also introduced a new ethnological element, Saxons from the south, and the ethnological strata in the district would seem to be Briton (Welsh), Angle, Pict, Dane, Northman, Saxon. These various ethnological strata indicate each a different religious wave. The heathenism of the Britons and the heathenism introduced by the Roman legions were bathed in a wave of Celtic Christianity, and Cumbria became a territorial part of the Celtic Church, owing allegiance to the bishopric of Glasgow or that of Whithern while it existed. The first English settlers brought in with them a heathen wave, the religion of Woden and of Thor. Over this swept another wave of Christianity, from Northumbria, bringing with it the Roman allegiance, and the Roman use, while the town of Carlisle with the parish of St. Cuthbert Without (fifteen miles in circuit) and the district of Cartmell in Furness became by Ecgfrid's gift part of the endowments of the bishopric of Lindisfarne and Lindisfarne's successor, the bishopric of Durham. With the Danes and Northmen came another wave of the worship of Woden and of Thor, feebler, probably, than its English predecessor, and too shallow to swamp the Christianity it found before it. The Saxons imported by William Rufus were, of course, Christians, as were the other of his followers that settled in or round Carlisle, except a stray Jew or two whose names appear in the early Pipe Rolls.

We have already pressed into our services the dedications of the local churches for the period prior to the advent of St. Cuthbert in Carlisle; let us see if they help for the period between that date and the arrival of the Red King, some 400 years (A.D. 685 to A.D. 1092), during the latter half of which Carlisle, i.e., Caer Luguvallium, lay a waste chester, or nearly so.

To the influence of the Northumbrian Church we may ascribe four dedications to St. Oswald, namely, Dean, Grasmere, Kirkoswald, and Ravenstonedale, and the dedication of Westward or Ilekirk to St. Hilda. Sixteen dedications in Cumbria commemorate St. Cuthbert: one of these is at Carlisle. We have seen that St. Cuthbert visited Carlisle; that he preached there. Bede tells us that he held an ordination there, and that in that city he had a meeting with his friend Herbert, the anchorite of Derwentwater, whose name is commemorated in St. Herbert's Isle, in that beautiful lake, where are still to be seen some fragments of the chapel that once bore his name.3 It is probable that the church in Carlisle, dedicated to St. Cuthbert, was founded soon after his visit. One curious piece of evidence has hitherto been overlooked. Denton, in his manuscript History of Cumberland,4 tells us:

"The rectory of St. Cuthbert, in Carliell, was founded by the former inhabitants of Carliell, before the Danes overthrew the city, and by them dedicated to the honour of St. Cuthbert, of Duresm [Durham], who, of ancient times, was lord of the same for about 15 miles round Carlisle. At the first foundation of the church, every citizen offered a piece of money, a coin of brass then current, which they buried under the foundation of the church steeple there, as was found to be true at the late new re-edifying of St. Cuthbert's steeple, An. Dom. . . . for when they took up the foundation of the old steeple, they found well near a London bushell of that money."

These coins of copper may have been Roman, but it would be curious if a bushel of Roman copper coin did not contain a large proportion of first and second brasses [?], which would easily have been recognised as Roman. The find must have consisted of Northumbrian stycas, which, prior to the Danish invasion, were of copper, or a mixed metal. The number of them points to their having been thrown in by a large number of persons, assembled at a great function, such a crowd as could not be collected in Carlisle after its overthrow by Halfdene the Dane in 876; the church of St. Cuthbert, in Carlisle, must have been founded prior to that date. A fragment of a Saxon sepulchral cross, on which is the word SIGTTEDIS (supposed to be the name of a female), was found in 1857 in digging foundations for an extension to the house in the cathedral precincts now annexed to the third stall. The fragment is figured in the Archæological journal, vol. xv. p. 85, and is assigned to the year 700. It would seem, therefore, that there was a church on this site as early as that date, and it is quite possible that St. Cuthbert himself was present when the stycas were showered into the foundations of the steeple.5 The other fifteen local dedications to St. Cuthbert are of later date. They record the translation of the saint's body, "when, two centuries later, in obedience to his dying command, Bishop Eardulf and his clergy, with romantic and touching faith, fled with their precious deposit from Halfdene and his savage Danes, and, in the course of their weary seven years' migrations, more than once crossed the hills and moorlands of Cumbria, and brought St. Cuthbert's body within the western confines of what was afterwards claimed as his diocese. There is a mediæval tradition of some value that wherever the bearers of St. Cuthbert's coffin made a halt of any duration, there a church or chapel was erected bearing his name."6

Most of the churches under this dedication probably have this origin, and from them the Rev. T. Lees, F.S.A., has traced out the supposed route of the mournful cortège.7 The party made an attempt to sail from Workington to Ireland, but a tempest turned the sea into blood, and drove them back: the tempest, no doubt, stirred up a submarine deposit of hæmatite iron, common there.

Other early dedications in the diocese are St. Wilfrid, one church; St. Andrew, eight churches; and St. Michael, twenty-seven. Dedications to St. Michael are very frequent in Celtic districts,

"while dedications to St. Andrew were first introduced in the northern parts of Britain."8

These thirty-eight local churches probably owe their foundations to dates between 685 and the advent of the Normans with William Rufus in 1092. The other local dedications, including twenty-nine to St. Mary the Virgin, are probably of later date. Professor Rees9 attributes the introduction of this dedication into Wales to the Norman lords; they probably brought it into Cumbria.

It has already been mentioned that Ecgfrid founded a nunnery and schools at Carlisle, probably at the instigation of St. Cuthbert, to whom some writers give the credit of being the founder of these institutions. There is good evidence for supposing a monastery also existed there in early times. Eadred, called Lulise from having been educated at the schools founded by St. Cuthbert there, was abbot of a monastery there; indeed, it is probable the schools and the monastery were one and the same: schools, monastery, and nunnery perished when the Danes destroyed Carlisle. The same fate must have overtaken the religious house, which St. Bega probably founded on the headland that bears her name [i.e. St. Bees]; and also the monastery at Dacor or Dacre mentioned by Bede.

Many valuable and interesting sculptured monuments exist to this day in Cumbria, which throw light on the religious beliefs prevalent in that region prior to 1092. We have already mentioned the St. Keneth stone at Dearham. In the coped tombstones, commonly called Saxon hogbacks, we have the idea, common to various races in different parts of the world, expressed that the grave is the home of the dead; the Romans had this idea, and used it in this country, as their tombs in the York museum show. The Teuton had this idea. At Cross-Canonby, at Plumbland, at Aspatria, at Lowther, at Penrith, at Bongate Appleby, and elsewhere in Cumbria we find these coped tombstones; the world tree (Yggdrasil) of Scandinavian thought twines over them: their curved ends descend into monstrous jaws, the jaws of Hel, Loki's daughter, Helmuth; but the appearance of the emblem of the Holy Trinity, the triquetra among these carved allusions to Scandinavian and heathen mythology, shows that the Christian religion was overcoming the old heathenism, and that the dead man below was a Christian. We find this mingling of the emblems of two religions on many cross-shafts and fragments of cross-shafts found up and down the diocese; we find in one instance the Hell-Wolf, Fenris, portrayed within the sort of mouldings we find on a Roman altar; on another we find, as on the hogbacks, the Christian symbols mixed up with carved legends of Loki and of Balder. Of the famous cross at Gosforth it has been well said that it is at once a pictorial religious book for the heathen Scandinavian and the Christian Northumbrian. Its general appearance at a little distance is that of a Thor's hammer on a large scale, the lower part of the shaft being polished. A closer inspection shows the whole to be an elaborately carved Christian cross set in a socket of three calvary steps. The world Ash (Yggdrasil), the tree of the universe, of time and of life, covers the shaft, on which are sculptured episodes, which the Rev. W. S. Calverley, F.S.A., thus describes:

"On the west face we have a central Hemidall-Christ, the incarnation of the deity, holding at bay the dread offspring of Satan, whilst Loki himself lies bound beneath, and Odin the father approaches the future. The devil overcome. On the south side we have a central divine hart triumphantly walking through the world unhurt by the slime and venom of the great worm of the middle earth or by the howling dog, - the Christ, the fountain of living waters, the incarnation of the deity who, below, rides armed to battle with, and to overcome, the world. On the east we have a central Thor, Odin or Baldr-Christ, who fights the last great battle and overcomes the flesh, which is crucified and pierced with the spear; who, though the jaws of Hel gape wide and swallow him, in another personification, - Vidar the Silent, he who opened not his mouth before his foes, rends asunder those very gates, victorious over death and the grave, and, as we see on the north side, rides on - the everlasting conqueror through His glorious resurrection."10

The episode of Loki bound also occurs on a pre-Norman stone at Kirkby Stephen Church, Westmorland; and also been recently identified upon one of the two pillars in Penrith Church, standing at head and foot of the well-known Giant's Grave.

Those who wish to go more fully into this most interesting subject of pre-Norman sculptured stones must consult the papers of Mr. Calverley, in the fifth and succeeding volumes of the Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society. To Mr. Calverley is due the credit of having been the first to interpret these lapidary pages of local history, and he has kindly furnished the little table at the end of this chapter.

No inscriptions in the Ogham characters used by the Celts are known in the district; inscriptions in the Teutonic runes exist. There is one on a gravestone at Dearham Church, which Professor Stephens assigns to A.D. 850-950; it is covered with Christian symbolism, and the Professor reads the runes

May Christ his soul save.

There is a runic inscription on a cross-shaft at Beckermet, which has been read to refer to Bishop Tuda, the successor of Colman, but this reading is doubtful, and the runes are probably of a later period. There is another on a font at Bridekirk, which has sculptured on it the baptism of our Saviour; this refers to one Richard as its maker: from the Bolden book he is known to have flourished about 1160. Then we have the famous cross at Bewcastle, bearing the figure of our Saviour, and runic inscriptions: this, Professor Stephens assigns to the seventh century, but Miss Margaret Stokes to a period between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, judging from its analogy to instances of early Christian art in Ireland.



By the Rev. W. S. CALVERLEY, F.S.A.


List No. I. comprises sculptured stones of the period embracing the work of SS. Ninian and Patrick.

List No. II. covers the time of S. Kentigern, anti thence we pass to Nos. III., IV., &c., to the Lindisfarne School and to sculptures containing various mythological subjects, according to the tone of thought of the natives and of the different settlers amongst them.

No. I. - White Sandstone: Generally having a boss in the centre of the crosshead, surrounded by a raised circle or by a circle of bosses. Ornamented with spiral work, often designed to show three curves together as a sign of the Holy Trinity. Also spiral work with interlacing bands, interspersed with bosses or pellets and the curved Triskele, the Svastika, and the S-shaped symbol, with scroll-work, the key pattern, or plaitwork, on the edges. Drawn with a free hand :- Beckermet, Hale, S. Bees, Workington, Distington, Dearham, Cross-Canonby, Plumbland, Bridekirk, Aspatria, Bromfield, Brigham, Isell.

No. II. - Red Sandstone: Interlacings without interspersed pellets or symbols, save occasionally the Triquetra:- Irton, Waberthwaite, Muncaster, S. Bees, Beckermet, Hale, Workington, Distington, Dearham, Cross-Canonby, Gilcrux, Aspatria, Brigham, Aldingham, Hesket in the Forest, Bongate Appleby, Rockliff.

Sculptures, with Runes, at Beckermet, Dearham, Bridekirk, Carlisle.

No. III. - Red Sandstone, with mythological traces: Beckermet, S. Bees, Gosforth, Hale, Dearham, Plumbland, Cross-Canonby, Brigham, Penrith, Bewcastle, Dacre, Kirkby Stephen.

No. IV. - Other pre-Norman remains at Barbon, Lowther, Clifton, Ireby, Torpenhow, Newton Arlosh, Caldbeck.

1. Trumwine was probably Bishop of Abercorn, and not of Whithern. See Haddon and Stubbs' "Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents," vol. ii. pt. i. p. 7 n. Green, in his History, makes him of Whithern.
2. "Northmen in Cumberland and Westmorland," by Robert Ferguson, F.S.A. London: Longman & Co., 1856. See also "Lakeland and Iceland," by Rev. T. Ellwood. - Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society's Transactions, vol. ix. p. 383.
3. "St. Herbert of Derwentwater," Rev. T. Lees. - Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society's Transactions, vol. vi. p. 338. "Church Dedications in Diocese of Carlisle," Ibid., vol. vii. p. 122.
4. Now published by the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society, Tract Series, No. II. p. 97. It was written in 1610.
5. It may be suggested that this fragment belongs to the burial ground of St. Mary's parish, and proves the antiquity of a church on the site of the cathedral. Not so. The place of the find is nearer the St. Cuthbert's ground than the St. Mary's. Moreover, a church would not be, in a Celtic district, dedicated to St. Mary so early as the year 700.
6. "Church Dedications in Diocese of Carlisle," by Precentor Venables. - Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society's Transactions, vol. vii. pp. 122, 130.
7. "The Translation of St. Cuthbert." - Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archæological Society's Transactions, vol. ii. p. 14.
8. Mr. Skene, cited by Precentor Venables ut ante.
9. Cited by Precentor Venables. "Church Dedications," ut ante.
10. Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Archæological Society, vol. vi. pp. 373, 400.


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


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19 June 2015

© Steve Bulman