We pushed open the door to St Oswald’s church. It is still with a feeling of anticipation that we cross the threshold of these ancient places of worship. Churches that look incredible from outside have sometimes been so unsympathetically restored and reordered over the centuries that they lack all character. Others, with unpromising exteriors, reveal wonderful things at their hearts… we never know what we might find.
St Oswald’s church in Kirkoswald is an old one. It is likely that there was an early church on the site before the current building was begun nine hundred years ago. Nothing now remains of the original building, which would probably have been made of wood, though a fragment of a wheel cross, inscribed with an eight-pointed star and around twelve hundred years old, still rests in a window embrasure.
In the nave, the Norman columns remain from the twelfth-century church, but most of the main body of the church dates to the thirteenth century, while the chancel was added later, in the sixteenth century.
The church has served the village and its people for hundreds of years. Although it was granted a market charter in the thirteenth century, the village never grew into a town. The Roll of Honour testifies to how many men and women from the village lost their lives in war and you can only imagine the effect such losses can have had in this small community.
The ends of the pews bear the shields of notable local families, carved or painted, and echoed in the heraldic stained glass windows of the chancel, created by John Scott of Carlisle. The area was once an important one, and the village still has the old moated enclosure, its castle and the ‘College’, a prestigious building from the time when St Oswald’s was a collegiate church, kept by twelve canons and a provost.
Part of the ‘College’ was once a Pele Tower, built in 1450 as a place of refuge and defence against the incursions of the Scottish Border Rievers. In 1547, after the Dissolution, the College became the home of the Fetherstonhaugh family, from Featherstone Castle in Northumberland. Given the details in the church, the history and connections, it was almost as if this old church were drawing together the threads of many workshops and adventures…
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