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St. Mary’s Church Wreay

March 29, 2011

The wonderful thing about the Lake District and Cumbria is that you never know what interesting place or thing you you will discover next. I had been told about a church with a difference in the village of Wreay near Carlisle, so set off to have a look.

Reflections. St. Mary's Church Wreay

Wreay is a West Cumbrian village situated on the Petteril River about 5 miles South of Carlisle. Wreay being old Norse for “secluded nook or corner of land”.

Wreay Village Noticeboard

St. Mary’s Church was designed and built by Sarah Losh as a memorial to her sister. It is a simple Basilica Church influenced by Italian and French Romanesque Churches that Sarah visited on her European Grand Tour.

St. Mary's Church Wreay

I had no idea what to expect and was amazed by all the symbolism and pattern inside and out.  I should have got a clue from the door design. Arrows being a symbol of death.

Door detail St. Mary's Church Wreay

I had read a bit about the church before I went so knew it predated the Arts and Crafts period by about 50 years, Sarah was obviously ahead of her time as there were many similarities.

Alabaster Font. St. Mary's Church Wreay

Just inside the door was an alabaster font. Covered with silvered glass and lotus flowers, it was carved by Sarah’s uncle.

Interior St. Mary's Church Wreay

Built between 1840 and 1842 the church is full of symbolism showing the conflict between light and darkness, life and death.

Roof detail. St. Mary's Church Wreay

Dante Gabriel Rossetti visited the church in 1869 and wrote to his mother and Jane Morris about the “extraordinary architectural works by Sarah Losh”.

Wall detail St. Mary's Church Wreay

Rossetti thought her building so advanced that he expressed the wish that Philip Webb, designer of William Morris’s Red House should come to Wreay to see it.

Wall detail

Certainly as a textile designer I was finding plenty to be fascinated by.

Stained glass window. St. Mary's Wreay

Pine cones were another symbol that kept cropping up in the building. A symbol of eternal life. The sun was streaming in through the windows, and a gentleman who  I had been talking to had told me that first thing in the morning was a great time to visit as the light was amazing then, so I resolved to return.

Candle Holder

The outside of the building is interesting too.

St. Mary's Church Wreay

I love gargoyles and there were several here, crocodile, alligator, serpent and tortoise.

Gargoyle St. Mary's Church Wreay

Situated in the grounds is the Losh family burial plot and a replica of the Bewcastle Cross.

Replica of Bewcastle Cross

While I was standing looking at the outside an elderly lady came and chatted to me. She had worshipped at the church for over 40 years and was able to tell me a lot of it’s history too.

Exterior of Wreay Church

The two statues in the photograph were covered with mesh because the birds were nesting in them and she also told me the eagle had been replaced, but it seemed to have weathered into the building well.

If you are visiting the church the Plough Inn situated nearby is a very good pub with excellent food, and an amazingly good vegetarian selection too. Have also heard the Sunday roasts are a popular favourite as well, booking advisable. Wreay Woods nearby are a good choice to walk off your meal. Managed by Cumbria Wildlife Trust it is a mass of bluebells in the Spring, and keep your eyes open for the red squirrels.

From → Wreay

4 Comments
  1. This was fascinating. I’ve known about this church for years, yet never visited. Now I will! Thank you for sharing – and for taking the photos to illustrate.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. That’s the thing about Cumbria. It doesn’t matter how long you have lived here there is always something to discover. We are so lucky to live in such an interesting part of the country. It doesn’t matter which direction you head off in there is always something new to find.

  2. Fiona Purcell permalink

    Thank you, a wonderful article. I weas led to it by reading a review in the New York Review of “The Pinecone: The Story of Sarah Losh…” by Jenny Uglow

    • That’s interesting. Isn’t “The Pinecone” a great book. Jenny Uglow recently appeared in Keswick at the Words on The Water event talking about the book. The church at Wreay is stunning, glad you enjoyed my description of it. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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