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Visit to Holme Cultram Abbey Church of St Mary

Tuesday 15th August 2017

Some 54 people, mainly from our congregation but also with a few guests from other local Churches, travelled by coach to Holme Cultram, which is situated in the village of Abbeytown in the north-west of Cumbria. After a pleasant drive of just under two hours we arrived at St Mary’s Church to a very warm welcome by the Rev’d Canon Bryan Rothwell and members of his congregation.

This very striking and unusual Church is of particular interest for a number of reasons. It has had a long and turbulent history, it is a Grade 1 listed building which has been considerably restored in recent years, and most importantly for us it is the home Church of our Curate Andrew, where he grew up and developed his Christian faith.

After a short introduction to the Church and its history by the Rev’d Rothwell, we had the opportunity to explore the Church for a few minutes before lunch. 

Holme Cultram Abbey was established by Cistercian monks in1150 AD and it became quite wealthy, owning large tracts of land on both sides of the Solway Firth, but it suffered from fairly frequent attacks from Scottish raiders throughout the middle ages. It was eventually destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538 during his dissolution of the monasteries. Like Cartmel Priory, the Abbey Church was allowed to remain intact as a parish Church for the village. Unlike Cartmel Priory however, St Mary’s Church building was not well maintained and 1703 it was decided to considerably reduce the size of the Church by shortening the nave and removing the side aisles.

In 2006 the Church was badly damaged by fire. The roof was completely destroyed as were many of its contents including irreplaceable medieval documents.  The Church was not opened again for regular services until 2015. The Church today is an absolute credit to the parishioners, architects and builders who obviously have worked so hard to restore it. They have succeeded in creating a modern, open and flexible space for worship and social activities, whilst at the same time sympathetically restoring the medieval stone work and stained glass which survived the fire. The result is breath-taking and has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

After some time admiring the church building we then sat down to a delicious lunch of ham salad followed by a trio of sweets which were simply to die for. The meal was prepared and served by our hosts and the seats we sat on were very familiar to us as they had come originally from our Parish Hall. It was good to see how well they fit into their new home.

After lunch we were treated to a very special Eucharist. It was special because it was the feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary where we celebrated her love, care and support for Jesus throughout his whole life and where we were actually in St Mary’s Church. It was also special because it was the first time Andrew had taken a Eucharist in his home Church. In fact the service was something of a Norman family affair. Andrew led the service, his sister Sarah read the first lesson and his mum Anita officiated with the chalice, while in the congregation were his father and grandparents.


After the service we thanked our hosts over tea or coffee accompanied by a selection of scrumptious cakes.

We reluctantly left for home somewhat later than planned and everyone agreed that this had been a wonderful, unique visit which we all enjoyed immensely.

Our thanks go out to our friends at St Mary’s and to Andrew and to Christine for their hard work in organising such an interesting and enjoyable visit.