Ye gods and little fishes, where do you start with the stones of Gosforth? Well, not with the gods and fish… I’ll save those till last. That was the best bit. First, we had the crosses. One, sadly, a mere stump, cut down to make a sundial long ago. The second… a slender pillar… fourteen and a half feet of sculpted, magical red sandstone. The same type of stone as Chester Cathedral… a stone we were going to see a lot of on our travels north of the border, we knew… if we made it that far.
The Gosforth Cross dates back to between 920 and 950AD and is in remarkably good condition in spite of the harsh, Cumbrian weather and a coat of emerald green moss. Scenes from Norse mythology populate the entire surface. The base is round and carved to represent Yggdrasil, the World Tree… then there is Víðarr tearing the jaws of Fenrir, Loki bound with his wife Sigyn protecting him, Heimdallr holding his horn… A whole host of gods, of strange and wonderful creatures with symbolism enough to keep us occupied for ages! This alone would have been worth the trip. But there was more to come.
There has been a place of Christian worship on the site since around the eighth century, though the present building ‘only’ dates back to the twelfth. It has been subject to the inevitable evolution and renovation but as always it carries the history of the community it serves within its walls. Carved medieval grave slabs and stones heads wait inside the porch, though I think we both expected little more than a pretty, country church. How wrong can you be?
The afternoon sun was low and streamed through the windows, casting reflected images on the aged stone. The Norman chancel arch is poised still on its carved capitals, the windows hold stained glass that would have caught our attention at any other time, but as I have mentioned, this trip seemed to be all about the stone… and there was stone aplenty, quite apart from the building itself.
Continue reading at France & Vincent