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Church of the week

St Bega, Bassenthwaite

Featured on 30th October 2020

St Bega church, Bassenthwaite

St Bega Church, Bassenthwaite

Shrouded in mystery and fantasy, legend tells of God instructing Bega to build on the only place that didn’t have any snow. She chose the shore of Bassenthwaite, a place of amazing peace, tranquillity and breath taking views.

St Bega was a 7th-century Irish princess who was destined to marry a Viking prince. In order to preserve her virginity, she fled across the Irish Sea with her only possession, an arm-ring gifted by an angel. She landed on the English shore at St Bees, where later a priory was founded in her honour.

Bega settled in the area and led a life of piety until, frightened of raiding pirates raids, she moved to settle further inland.

The church is shrouded in mystery. Constructed around 950AD, the simple, rounded chancel arch is supported on thick pillars. However, the large uneven stones in the north and east walls hint at being Roman, suggesting that the church was erected on an earlier building.

The large arch between the chancel and north aisle is 12th century, and a later 14th-century arch is located in the nave. The simple font at the west end of the nave dates around 1300.

Above the south doorway hangs a royal coat of arms dating to 1745. Erected after the rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and was meant to remind citizens of where their loyalties should lie!

 “… to a chapel nigh the field, 

A broken chancel with a broken cross, 

That stood on a dark straight of barren land.”

St Bega’s has been popular with poets and artists throughout the ages with Tennyson's taking inspiration from the little church for the opening lines of 'Morte d'Arthur'.  It featured in Wordsworth's 'A Guide to the English Lakes' as well.

Sadly, Victorian restoration has erased earlier evidence of how this little church crossed the centuries.

 

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