Lanercost Priory

On our way up to Scotland in June we travelled via The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle and Lanercost Priory. At The Bowes we looked at the latest exhibition Shoes : Pleasure and Pain; saw the famous automaton Swan in limited action and enjoyed a lovely selection of portraits of English women: English Rose – Feminine Beauty from Van Dyck to Sargent. Our Art Fund cards gave us free admission to everything and the Museum – a French Chateau plonked down in the Yorkshire Dales – has a good cafe and well-stocked shop.

Bowes Museum

The Bowes Museum

From the pleasures and pains of shoes, and thinking particularly of those possible effects on us of our walking boots, we drove on to our overnight stop near Lanercost Priory. The Priory itself is owned and managed by English Heritage but next door is the church of St Mary – open to everyone. Arriving quite late in the afternoon time only allowed a visit to the church (two stars in Simon Jenkins‘s 1,000 best).

Lanercost is a glorious oasis in these northern wastes … A frontier church in every sense, the old Augustinian priory was built by the Norman Vaux family c1166 from the stones of Hadrian’s Wall and intended as both a military and a religious bulwark agains the Scots.” writes Jenkins. The church  and priory have had a turbulent past.


St Mary’s Early Gothic Nave

One significant feature behind the altar is the Lanercost Dossal. Jenkins fails to mention this (maybe it was not there on his visit) but he does mention the Morris windows.


The Lanercost Dossal is an embroidered woollen cloth, 24ft by 4ft, which was made to hang on the wall behind the Priory altar. It was commissioned in 1881 by George Howard 9th Earl of Carlisle and was designed by William Morris (1834-96) famous as a poet and a designer of church and domestic furnishings. There are also three stained glass windows from the William Morris Company in the Priory. The Dossal was embroidered over a period of five years by the ladies of the Parish including, Mrs Bulkeley, Mrs Chapman and Mrs Dodgson, the wives of the past and present vicars. It was hung behind the Priory altar on Easter Day 1887.” [Source]

Dossal facsimiles

A display at the back of the church illustrates how the dossal facsimiles were made and the link above tells more of the history of this important work of church art.

cross 1

The Lanercost Cross in its Niche

One exceptional medieval feature in the church is the Lancercost Cross. Originally it stood outside the church but only the stump now remains. The main shaft of the Lanercost Cross has been housed inside the church since 1888. It carries an inscription in Latin which dates back to 1214. Fortunately, the full text was recorded by Lord William Howard in 1607.

cross 2

The full inscription is translated as :

“In the 1214th year from the Incarnation, and the seventh year of the Interdict, Innocent III holding the apostolic see, Otto being emperor in Germany, Philip reigning in France, John in England, William in Scotland, this cross was made”.

cross plan

Plan of the Lanercost Cross

Seemingly important features of this Border Country we managed to visit several more abbeys along the route of our Scottish Borders Footloose Walk.




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