Knights of Bolton Church, Cumbria

All Saints', Bolton, Cumbria, has to be one of those most enigmatic churches I have visited. Dating back to Norman times or even earlier, there is a range of curious features, chief of which are built into the outside, north face. A stone carving of two jousting knights is set high into the wall. Next to it is another stone with illegible writing. Evidently, something happened close to this church nearly 1000 years ago, about which we can determine little.

Helpfully, a modern replica of the stone exists inside the building, which helps us to better comprehend the scene. Both men wear the pointed, conical helmets common to the early twelfth century, as well a using the long ‘kite shields’. As  Cumberland was not formally part of England before 1157, the carved stone likely comes from the time when the Scottish kings controlled the territory, or it was semi-independent.

The more successful of our knightly jousters is man of humbler rank, for he has no banner attached to his lance. The man of nobler stock is found raising his shield, though it looks like he is too late- his opponent’s lance is already at that vulnerable spot beneath the helmet but above the top of the chainmail. I suspect that it did not end well for him. The victor likely commissioned the stone to celebrate his achievement and his mightier rival's fall. Whether it was a tournament or a battle, one cannot say.

We rather like a humbler man besting a greater; we like Goliath to fall and David to win; we like rags to become riches and a small-town-guy excelling the city slickers. Such things are unusual; the strong usually beat the weak and the rich exploit the poor. Yet in Christ, weakened, dying sinners are more than conquerors through Him that loved them; the devil roars, the world persecutes and the old, sinful nature drags down, but

Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. James 1:12, NKJV