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The Church of St. Mary and St. Michael, Urswick.

 The Early Church

In 1123 Stephen de Blois (later King Stephen of England 1135-1154) gave land at Tulketh near Preston to monks of the Order of Savigny.  Four years later he wrote asking them to come to Furness to set up an abbey and gave them the land on which they built Furness Abbey.  In 1148 the Order of Savigny was amalgamated with the Cistercian Order, but before that date the monks had already claimed patronage of Urswick Church.  Tradition has it that the Church had already been in existence for 200-300 years before that date, something that was borne out by the discovery of a fragment of an Anglo-Scandanavian cross in 1909 and the Tunwinni Cross in 1911.  The latter, found in the wall of the Church when a window was being enlarged, was originally dated to the 9th century by W. G. Collingwood, and is now being suggested as possibly from the late 7th-early 8th century.

Whichever of these two dates we take, both would indicate that Urswick was the mother church of the Furness area, due to the inscription from the Tunwinni Cross indicating the existence of a literate Christian community here.  There is also the strong suggestion that Urswick was the early centre of Celtic Christianity in Furness, which may be further supported by a recent theory proposed by the British Geological Survey, that in the 8th century and before the sea came into Urswick Tarn.

 The Dedication of the Church

The original charter, giving land to the monks who built Furness Abbey, refers to an already established Church of St. Mary in Urswick.  Later reference was made to St. Mary in the Fields.  Now the Church is known as St. Mary and St. Michael’s, though no one seems to know just when the name of St. Michael was added. However, in his honour Rushbearing takes place each year on the Sunday nearest to St. Michael’s Day (29th September).


Points of Interest



Relative to Low Furness and its importance as a cradle of Celtic Christianity there is evidence of Roman habitation at Urswick, including a military fort and settlement, together with evidence of early Christianity. The shape of the Celtic monastery at Great Urswick is based on that of the Irish template similar in layout to Iona and Lindisfarne and can be clearly seen in the landscape. The question is: When was it established and by whom? Again, there are writings which suggest that St. Ninian consecrated and sent bishops into northern Britain and that the seaward location of Furness suggests a simpler route between these places and of course with Ireland. This is a possibility. We know that St.Patrick came from northern Britain, probably on the Solway, adopted the Roman model and when sent to Ireland by the pope attempted to establish a Roman diocesan structure there. Could it be that Irish monasticism was re-exported to Furness at a similar time to St.Colomba’s mission to Iona because we know that travelling was a significant part of Celtic Christianity and ‘peregrinate’ travelled great distances.

Celtic connections to Urswick Church can be investigated by clicking on the link -


Walking in the footsteps of the ancients and other walks can be found below click on the link -

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