St Cuthbert’s

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We had read about the splendid Norman doorway in Simon Jenkin’s “England’s Thousand Best Churches” and added Fishlake to the list of churches to visit.

Fishlake had once been an important port on the River Don, but those days are long gone and is now a sleepy settlement surrounded by farmland to the west of the M18.

The Church is named after St Cuthbert as according to legend Fishlake was the most southerly resting point of his body during its seven year journey before reaching his final resting place in Durham cathedral.

The beautiful Norman doorway dating from around 1170 is the only part of the original church to survive. The rest of the church dates from the mid C14th, although the tower is C15th.

The tower and tops of the naves and side aisles are battlemented and have crocketed pinnacles. Set high on the west wall of the tower is a carving of St Cuthbert, holding the head of St Oswald. Another legend suggests that Oswald’s head was placed in Cuthbert’s coffin.

The later south porch frames the Norman doorway. As soon as we saw this we said “wow”. It certainly deserves the praise lavished on it by Simon Jenkins. On either side round pillars with carved capitals support four carved arches. Information leaflets in the porch explain the significance of the carvings. The carvings on the innermost arch refer to Paradise. They could be interpreted as a medieval invitation “This way to Paradise”.

The second arch has a series of heads and it is suggested this could have been inspired by texts like Luke 10 v 23-4 “Many prophets and Kings desired to see what you see”.

The third arch has a series of animal carvings. The outer arch has the seated figure of Christ at the top and represents the second coming.

Inside it is a very attractive church, flooded by light from the clear glass clerestory windows and the huge plain glass east window. This was reglazed in 2001 and the glass was designed to frame the trees in the churchyard. Beneath it is the simple altar.

An arcade of round pillars and pointed arches separates nave and side aisles. Separating nave and chancel is the rood screen, dating from 1500 with carefully carved top.

At the back is the font dating from 1350 with carved figures of bishops round the bowl. The wooden cover is Jacobean with the dove representing the Holy Spirit.

At the back of the North aisle is the Royal Coat of Arms of George II and a benefactor’s board showing gifts of money to local good causes.

The chancel is now bare apart from the priests chair. Against the north wall is a large tomb of Robert Marshall, Vicar of Fishlake 1497-1505, now minus its brass.

On the wall above is another much eroded stone memorial to Thomas Simpson, 1740.

To the right of the chancel is the Trinity Chapel. The stone altar is the original and still has the five small consecration crosses carved at the corners and in the centre. On the floor is an old tombstone still with a small brass.

This is a lovely church and well worth seeking out. It is open daily from about 9.30-3pm. There is parking near the pub a short distance from the church.

There are more pictures “here.”:

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