From Workington, I headed down the coast, deviating out to St. Bee’s headland, followed by a stop at the Gosforth cross (but sadly, not the Irton cross), before ending my first day at Millom and Haverig.
St. Bee’s is named after St. Bega, probably a ninth century Irish-born saint in Cumbria and Northumbria, not a 7th century one (see discussion of the Prologue and Melvyn Bragg’s Credo); the local historian who greeted me at the Sunday coffee hour was equally dubious and kind enough to point out the artifacts inside the church (in better shape than those outside). There is no evidence of Cuthbert’s body traveling there, but see my fictional way of working her into the Prologue. Nonetheless, the site has a number of stone artifacts from the ninth and tenth centuries, including a rather plain cross:
and a door lintel showing a dragon fight:
Presumably this is St. Michael fighting the satanic dragon, but it would resonate with Scandinavian legend.
Similarly, to jump to day 4 to Kirkby Stephen in the Eden Valley, the so-called Loki carving is just as much Satan as it is the Scandinavian trickster figure: either way, the bound figure illustrates a lovely syncretism of Scandinavian and Christian mythos.
I thought the church signage did a good job of capturing the Christian view of this carving, rather than the neo-pagan view celebrating a pagan survival lurking under a Christian veneer (see Richard N. Bailey, Viking Age Sculpture in Northern Britain [London: Collins, 1980], pp. 138-39).
Back to St. Bee’s and on to Gosforth: many of the other stone monuments at St. Bee’s are fragmentary or heavily worn by weather. I may post some pictures after I have had a go at them with an image editor. But the Gosforth cross, despite being outdoors, was spectacular:
What struck me, despite having seen pictures of it many times before, is how incredibly tall and skinny it is. Like some of the other cross monuments (and unlike the short Dacre bears!), this was meant to be seen from a distance and mark proprietorship of the landscape.
Next post I will turn to older monuments in the landscape–Neolithic and Roman–and how they might have been understood by ninth and tenth century Christians when they encountered them.