Bewcastle – St Cuthbert’s Church
Location : Bewcastle
Grid Ref : NY 565746
Most people regard Bewcastle as remote and isolated, but in 122 AD Hadrian visited and built his wall, ‘to divide the Romans from the Barbarians’. Three outpost forts were built, one of these at Bewcastle, linked directly with the wall at Birdoswald. During the 2nd and 3rd century, a thousand men were stationed here. It is uncertain was happened from when the Romans abandoned the fort, and the Anglian cross was erected in the late 7th century. The fact that a cross was built here suggests that the site had a continuing religious significance.
At the time of the Norman Conquest a castle was built in the NE corner of the Roman fort. The church was built during the reign of Edward I, using stone from the Roman fort. In the 18th Century, it was rebuilt and the dedication changed to St Cuthbert.
The simple building has a West tower and bell-cote. Inside there is a tapestry depicting St Cuthbert. The interior conveys an atmosphere of peace, enhanced by the simple windows.
Most people come here to see the Cross, made of yellow sandstone and standing 14 feet high. The cross head is missing, but the shaft is exceptionally well preserved.
The Cross bears an inscription in runes commemorating Alefrith, once King, son of Oswi. What distinguishes this cross from the others in Cumbria is the sacred figures carved on it. Apart from the Ruthwell cross, just over the border in Scotland, there is nothing as perfect as these two, of comparable age, in the whole of Europe.
Booklets available in the Church, and information in an accompanying exhibition, describe in detail the carvings on the Cross. There is a large mural in the exhibition showing what Bewcastle might have looked like in the 7th Century.
Nicola Didsbury writes “Isn’t Bewcastle Cross incredible. In fact the whole area is fasinating. My Grandparents were from Bewcastle, and are buried in the church yard. I thought you may be interested in this translation of the runes:-
Each of the four sides of the monument is profusely sculptured: but the west side is the most interesting to the archæologist, as it contains a long inscription in runic characters, the interpretation of which reveals the origin of the column. It is thus read (substituting Roman letters for the runic) by the Rev. Mr. Maughan: + THISSIG BEACN THUN SETTON HWAETRED WAETHGAR ALWFWOLTHU AFT ALCFRITHU EAN KYNIING EAC OSWIUING + GEBID HEO SINNA SAWHULA, that is “This slender pillar Hwætred, Wæthgar, and Alwfwold set up in memory of Alefrid, a king and son of Oswy. Pray for them, their sins, their souls.” The reader will observe that nearly all the above words (the proper names excepted) are still in use, though slightly altered, in modern English. Thissig has become this; beacn, a sign or token, is now beacon: thun is thin; setton, set; aft, is the root of after; ean is ane or yan, still used in the northern counties for one; kyniing has become king; gebid, the syllable ge is simply an expletive, and bid, to ask or pray, is still so used in “bidding to funerals”; sinna is now sins; and sawhula, souls, the vulgar pronunciation of which (sawl) is not far removed from the Anglo-Saxon. It is from this webpage It says Alefrid ruled just before 670ad.”
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