Kirkbampton Church: Piety & Truth

St Peter’s Church at Kirkbampton, Cumberland, was founded in 1194. A rounded Norman doorway leads into the church and the similarly dated chancel arch has an impressive carving of a green man. This is an ancient fertility motif, below, a dim memory of the ancient paganism that Christianity sought to replace, with varying degrees of success. I would not be surprised if superstitious medieval women would touch the carving ahead of sexual congress in order to conceive.

In the 1870s, plaster was removed from the chancel, which revealed carved Roman stone, almost certainly purloined from Hadrian’s Wall, which was but a mile from the church's site. Upon it is inscribed VEX, LEG P.F.FEC – which local historians translate as:

The troops of the 6th Legion, the victorious, pious & faithful did this work.

Pious towards Mars and Emperor Hadrian, no doubt, who claimed to be a god on earth.

Even the design of the church presumed to honour the altar, upon which the consecrated wafer was held aloft by a priest. Merely glimpsed from the back through that narrow chancel arch, the villagers could only wonder at the rites performed in that obscured part of the building.

Devotion to the old Celtic gods, devotion to the classical gods, devotion to the Roman Mass, were all sincere, all well-meaning, all borne from a deep sense of piety. And all wrong. As Paul advised the deeply religious Athenians:

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent

Acts 17:30 (NKJV)

Piety, sincerity and even forms of godliness are not enough: Christ is what and who we need.

My heart is fixed, eternal God,

Fixed on thee;

And my unchanging choice is made,

Christ for me.

He is my prophet, priest and King,

Who did for me salvation bring,

And while I’ve breath I mean to sing:

Christ for me.

-Richard Jukes.