GwyneddNANTPERISStPeris(sarahcrossland)2

Mountain churches

International Mountain Day celebrates the wonder and importance of mountains. Here are ten of our favourite mountain churches. But there are many more. Sheltered in hidden valleys underneath our highest mountains, offering places of comfort after a day exploring the surrounding fells.

CumbriaBOOTStCatherine(ptrimming)1

Final journey on the corpse trail

A magnificent setting among the dales at the upper end of Eskdale with the backdrop of Scafell Pike, St Catherine’s dates back to the 12th century.

Before St Olaf’s in Wasdale received its licence to bury the dead, bodies were carried by pony and cart over the mountains and along the coffin route to St Catherine’s.

On one such journey, the pony transporting a young man’s body bolted. A search was made, but neither the pony nor body was found. A few months later the young man’s mother died and she too was taken along the coffin path. The pony pulling her coffin bolted at the same location. A pony and coffin was found, but it wasn’t the mother’s; it was the son’s, lost months before. The mother’s body was never found.

St Catherine, Boot
CumbriaWASDALEHEADStOlaf(andrewhill)1

I lift up mine eyes

One of England’s smallest churches, standing at the head of Wastwater, England’s deepest lake, and near to its highest mountain; Scafell.

One of the church’s plain diamond shaped windows contains an etching of Napes Needle, a rock formation on Great Gable, with the words; ‘I lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my strength’ (Psalm 121).
The surrounding churchyard contains the graves of local families as well as those who have died on the fells. A memorial commemorating members of the Lake District Fell and Rock Climbing Club who died in WWI was recently removed from its position on Great Gable and repositioned on a stone plinth in the churchyard, a constant reminder of the special bond between the church and the mountains.

St Olaf, Wasdale Head
CumbriaBASSENTHWAITEStBega(alexanderkapp)2

Ancient & enchanting

Novelist Melvyn Bragg was born in Wigton, Cumbria. His words, seen inside St Bega’s church, speak for themselves:

‘When I was at school, I used to cycle with friends into the Lake District, usually to the most northerly of the Lakes, Bassenthwaite. There we would hire a boat and row across to a small, dramatically isolated church on the western edge of the lake. I did not realise that such lonely churches had often been built on the site of a hermit’s dwelling or the settlement of a holy man or woman. It has become one of my favourite haunts in the whole of the Lake District. Even today it is not at all difficult to spend hours around and about the church in virtual isolation. Certain places do have an undeniable spirit; life in such a place seems to reach into the past, to be mysterious and yet, somehow, quite open and accessible. St Bega’s by Bassenthwaite has that for me’.

St Bega, Bassenthwaite
CumbriaWYTHBURNWythburnChurch(boaden)1

Abandoned on the shores

‘Humble it is and very meek and low, and speaks its purpose with a single bell’ wrote Hartley Coleridge of the little whitewashed building on the shores of Thirlmere, at the foot of Helvellyn, England’s most climbed mountain.

It frequently provides shelter from torrential rain and a place to sleep for those caught out on the fells. Standing outside the church, headstones are evidence that people once lived nearby. In the 1890’s, the valley was dammed as the population moved out and the water allowed to rise and cover Wythburn village so that Manchester should have a drinkable supply of water.

Wythburn Church, Wythburn
HighlandFORTWILLIAMDuncansburghMacIntosh(ddixon)1

Mountains shape our environment

Hitting the Nevis range, weather systems from the Atlantic make Fort William one of Scotland’s wettest corners, so many tourists look for shelter at Duncansburgh Macintosh church in the town of Fort William.

The mountains also have a darker side. Casualties airlifted from the hills are brought to the Belford hospital, 100 yards from the church, and occasionally the church has had to carry out funeral services for those caught by avalanche or by falls.

Duncansburgh Macintosh, Fort William
GrampianBRAEMARStNinian(gentrygraves)1

Journey’s end on the Lairig Ghru

This mountain pass is probably the most celebrated high level trail in all of Scotland. Once a drovers road, the 28 mile long Lairig Ghru takes you through the heart of the Cairngorms, home to four of Scotland's highest munros which soar over 4000 feet. Near the end of the trail, on the Mar Estate, can be found the chapel of St Ninian.

Built for the 1st Duke of Fife who married Princess Louise, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, it was used privately by royalty for 60 years. Today, its awe inspiring surroundings offer a sense of peace and tranquillity.

St Ninian, Braemar
HighlandKINTAILStDuthac(genii)1

End of a pilgrim route

The ruins of St Duthac’s rest with the Clachan Duich burial grounds on the shore of Loch Duich, underneath the serrated edge of the massif Beinn Fhada in the Scottish Highlands. St Duthac was a beloved saint of Scotland. Educated in Ireland, he was a great missionary walker and covered a lot of ground in his efforts at conversion.

The St Duthac Way meanders through Glen Affric via Chisholm’s Pass and it is believed that the path follows the original route that he took when travelling between parishes whilst he was a bishop. Modern day pilgrims are invited to follow in this saints footsteps, walk the 40km trail beneath the soaring Highland munroes before finding peace and contemplation at the medieval ruins of the church.

St Duthac, Kintail
GwyneddNANTPERISStPeris(awilcox)2

Mountain rescue neighbours

A true mountain church with Snowdon and its neighbouring mountains towering above it on all sides. The Llanberis Mountain Rescue team having its base next door, with the search and rescue helicopter having a designated field close by for landing and taking off. The graveyard is a constant reminder of the dangers of walking these beautiful but sometimes treacherous mountains, it holds two gravestones commemorating individuals from the end of the 19th century who died by falling from the mountains above the village.

The special relationship between church, the mountains and the brave people who risk their own lives to save others was highlighted in a dedicated service of thanksgiving for the mountain rescue team, which as one would imagine, was very well attended. Held in the little side chapel, the clear window above the altar enabled all to witness the splendour and majesty of the mountains above.

St Peris, Nant Peris

Modern day place of healing

Hidden under the Black Mountains near Abergavenny is the tiny church of St Issui, an early hermit believed murdered by a passing traveller to whom he had given hospitality.

His holy well still has strong connections with the healing power of God himself as Kathy Priddis discovered. She would often visit St Issui with her husband when seeking peace and quiet. In 2009, a year after having major surgery on her foot, which sadly left her in considerable pain, Kathy visited the church with friends and was helped down the steps to the well. She felt drawn to soak her bad foot in the water and felt a great sense of peace. After a few minutes she returned back up the steps, and realised that she had done so with no difficulty. At her next appointment, her consultant discovered he could find no trace of anything wrong with Kathy’s foot, it had been ‘miraculously cured’.

St Issui, Patricio

Threatened closure to cultural icon

Built in 1822 to serve the people of the mountain sheep farms, the chapel nestles in the valley of the river Camddwr in the Cambrian mountains.

The congregation had fallen to 2 in 1968 and Soar was threatened with closure in 1973, but public support against this proposal has meant that its status has been secured. Since its formal reopening in that year, a service now takes place on the last Sunday in August annually.

The chapel now also attracts artistic attention; it was painted for example by Welsh artist, Ogwyn Davies in 1933 and has featured in poems by Harri Webb and Iwan Llwyd.

Soar y Mynydd, Tregaron

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