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Cartmel Priory

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by Bastion Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
Published February 3rd 2014
Ancient Jewel, Living Church
cartmel priory, st mary, st michael
Cartmel Priory of St. Mary & St. Michael

Built in the twelfth century, Cartmel Priory was founded by the Marshall Family. A century on, the estate was passed on to the Harringtons. It was passed down through many generations, but by the sixteenth century neglect brought it to a state of ruins. It was not until the Preston family took over in 1620 that the priory underwent restoration, and continued to have touch-ups all the way through the mid-nineteenth century.

cartmel priory, st mary, st michael

The time for repairs has come again. Cartmel Priory is currently undergoing extensive work, but at eight-hundred years old you'd probably need more than a dab of moisturiser too. Just because she isn't looking her best, Cartmel Priory of St. Mary and St. Michael is still open for services and visitors; in my opinion, despite the scaffolding, it is still one of the most impressive churches in the country.

Stepping through the Norman Archway, I was stunned by the sheer scale of this building; its soaring height and gigantic pillars supports Cartmel's unique double bell tower.

cartmel priory, st mary, st michael, south transept
South Transept

To the right is the south transept; this is where the monks would have come for morning service, walking down the stairway from their dormitory.

cartmel priory, st mary, st michael, south transept

Heavenly light sparkles through the stained glass windows from every direction; but while you may feel inclined to gaze up in wonder, don't forget to turn your head to the floor, where engraved slates are laid out in memoriam. Epitaphs are also carved into the walls, and display cases feature historical artefacts.

cartmel priory, st mary, st michael, dragon
St. Michael escapes the jaws of Satan's dragon.

Along the hallway stands an impressive organ. Adjacent to this is a sculpture of St. Michael escaping the jaws of a dragon. In the Book of revelations, it describes how the archangel, Michael defeated Satan's dragon, resulting in the fall from heaven.

cartmel priory, st mary, st michael, town choir, chapel
Town Choir Chapel

The Town Choir is a charming chapel with a fourteenth century Jesse window. Two ornate sculptures embellish either side, and to the left lies Harrington's Tomb, commemorating Lord Harrington and his wife Joan.

cartmel priory, st mary, st michael, chancel, misericord
The Chancel

The chancel is the area originally used by the monks, but received many additions over the years, such as a fifteenth century chair stall, and seventeenth century wooden screens surrounding misericord seats.

cartmel priory, st mary, st michael, chancel

Exit to the north transept, which was built during a time of architectural change, when churches began to face north rather than south in the fourteenth century. The addition of the north transept was probably forced upon the monks, who would rather have kept services to the south because of the expense of rearranging their dormitories and moving the staircase.

cartmel priory, st mary, st michael, the young martyr
The Young Martyr

Further down the hall is a sculpture by Anne Woods of the Young Martyr. It honours the memory of six Augustinian Canons and sixteen husbandmen, who were hanged for treason against the king in 1537.

The tragedy arose after an Act in 1536 that stated all religious houses with an income of less than 200 were to be immediately dissolved. Cartmel Priory was one of them, but after hard work by the prior and canons managed to raise it to just over 212. Despite this the priory was dissolved.

As a form of protest, the Archbishop of York took the oath of fealty for the Pilgrimage of Grace. At first the uprising appeared to be successful and the religious order returned to Cartmel Priory. However, since it was not their own prior who took the oath, it did not count. Further appeals were made, and eventually Henry VIII gave permission for them to return. Unfortunately, the common people continued to make attacks, so martial law was enforced, and the canons of Cartmel arrested.

cartmel priory, st mary, st michael, tomb
Marshall's Tomb

The Nave in the northwest corner is partially blocked off at the moment due to building work, but you can still see the tomb of the founding member of the priory.

cartmel priory, st mary, st michael, gift shop
Gift Shop

Before leaving, you can visit the gift shop, where you can buy a wide range of Christian literature, historical and local interest guides, and books about the priory.
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Why? Amazing architecture
Phone: 01539 536 261
Where: Cartmel Village
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