Category: Parish

Bewcastle Benefice Newsletter – May 2024

The benefice newsletter for May 2024 is now available to view or download here

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A Liturgy of The Rood

Benefice of Bewcastle, Stapleton, and Kirklinton with Hethersgill

Bewcastle Cross – Good Friday

This is the liturgy we used around the Bewcastle Cross on Good Friday for the first time in 2024, which includes a recital of the Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Dream of The Rood’. However, it almost certainly isn’t the first time it has been read around this cross – I suspect it was recited on Good Friday every year in the 700s when the monastic community existed at Bewcastle. The liturgy is reproduced here for those who might be interested in praying through it themselves.

A recording of the service (excluding the hymn), including the reading of ‘The Dream of the Rood’ can be found here:

The Service

The Welcome

Welcome to this ancient and holy place where, for over 1300 years, our Christian forebears have gathered to worship, meditate on the cross, and pray. Today we join with them.

On Good Friday, the Church focuses on commemorating the Passion and crucifixion of Jesus. Since the fourth century, the ritual of the Veneration of the Cross has been part of this tradition. During the service, we listen to readings that focus on the events of this day, and towards the end, you are invited, if you wish, to come forward and show reverence to the cross, the climax of our salvation, perhaps by touching it, kissing it, bowing before it, or just sitting silently at its feet.

The encounter we have with God on Good Friday is the most profound of the year and the act of veneration one of those moments when we respond in a very individual, personal way. Today we meet God at his most vulnerable and most powerful – a day of paradox in which defeat is really victory and where one man’s death leads to life for all.

Let us pray.
O thou whose supreme devotion did not refuse the burden of bearing crucifixion,
by whom the sins of the human race were taken away as so heavy a burden,
when you were uplifted by your own arms like a pure lamb to sacrifice:
I beg you to extend the hand of your mercy towards my sins,
and to erase all my crimes completely,
O noble and resolute Lord Jesus Christ.

Behold the Cross on which was hung the Saviour of the world.
We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee because by thy Holy Cross thou hast redeemed the World.


We pray together
O Height of humility and Fortitude of the week,
By your humility you have raised up our fallen world.
You permitted the cruel hands of sinners to raise you on the rood.
I offer thanks, and pray that, by this, you will lead me from all wilfulness.
Draw me from earth to heaven:
Do not forsake your lost sheep, but carry me in your arms
that I may be found within your fold,
blessed Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel Reading

Let us pray
Almighty God, Lord Jesus Christ,
You stretched out your pure hands on the rood for us,
And redeemed us with your holy and precious blood;
Enable me so to feel and understand this mystery
That I may attain true repentance and unfailing perseverance
All the days of my life.

The Dream of The Rood

Listen! I will tell the best of dreams
Which I dreamed, the middle of one night
While, far and wide, all speech-bearers slept.
It was as though I saw a wondrous tree
Towering in the sky, suffused with light.
Brightest of beams; and all that beacon was
Cased with gold. Jewels studded lovingly
At its earthen base, just as there were five
Upon the cross-beam: all those beautiful through eternity
Beheld there the angel of the Lord.
No felon’s gallows that, but holy spirits,
Mankind throughout the Earth, and all this marvellous creation, 
Gazed on the glorious tree of victory.
And I with sins was stained, with guilt stricken. 
I saw this tree of glory brightly shine
In gorgeous raiment, all bedecked with gold.
The Ruler’s tree was with gems 
Worthily adorned; yet I could see beyond that gold
The ancient wretched strife, when first
Upon its right side it began to bleed.
I was with sorrows all disturbed, affrighted
At the stunning vision. I saw that brilliant beacon
Then change its clothes and hues; sometimes it was
Bedewed with blood and drenched with flowing gore, 
At other times it was with treasure all adorned.
So there I lay gazing on the Saviour’s tree,
In spirit grieving for a long, long while,
Until I heard it utter sounds. The best
Of woods began to speak these words to me:

“It was long ago – yet I remember still –
That I was hewn down at the grove’s end,
Stripped from my roots. Strong foes there took me,
Command me hold aloft their felons,
Made me a spectacle. These men bore me
Upon their shoulders, till on a mount they set me,
A host of fiends there fixed me.
And then saw I the Lord of all mankind
Hasten with eager zeal that he might upon me
Mount. I durst not against God’s word
Bow down or break, when I saw tremble all
The surface of the earth. I might then
Have felled those foes, yet stood I fast.
The young hero (who God Almighty was)
Disrobed himself, resolute in heart and strong.
He climbed the lofty gallows-tree,
Bold in the sight of many, 
For his intent was mankind to redeem.
I trembled as the warrior clasped me.
But still I dared not to the earth bend down,
Fall to the ground. Upright I there stood firm,
A rood was I, raised up; I held on high
The noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I durst not stoop. With dark nails they pierced me;
The scars still clearly seen upon me,
The open wounds of malice. Yet for him
I dared not harm them. They mocked us both together.
All sodden with blood was I,
Which from his side poured out, when forth
He sent his spirit. Full many a cruel fate
On that hill have I endured.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler’s corpse with clouds,
His brilliant brightness; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. Weep all creation,
Bewail the King's death; Christ was on the cross.
And yet saw I men coming from afar,
Hastening to the Prince. I beheld it all.
With sorrows I was grievously oppressed,
Yet willingly I bent to those men's hands,
Humbly. They took up there Almighty God,
And from the heavy torment lifted him.
The battle-warriors left me standing steaming in his blood,
Wounded all over with spears was I.
They laid him down limb-weary; 
And at the corpse’s head they stood, beheld
The Lord of heaven, as there he rested 
For a while, weary from his bitter agony.
Hewed they then a sepulchre for him
In sight of his tormentors. Carved it of the brightest stone,
and set therein the Lord of victories.
Then, wretched in the eventide, they sang
a dirge for him; and when away they went,
Wearily from that glorious Prince, there he stayed, alone.
Yet remained we there fixed and weeping in our places
A good long time after the warriors’ voices
Had from us passed away. The corpse grew cold,
The fair abode of life. Then to the earth men
Felled us down. That was a dreadful fate.
In a deep pit they buried us. But friends
And servants of the Lord learnt where I was,
And girded me with gold and silver.
Now may you understand, dearest warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And sorrows grievous. Now the time is come
That far and wide on earth all shall honour me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offer prayers. On me
The Son of God once suffered; so glorious now
I tower beneath the heavens.
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became of tortures the cruellest,
Most loathsome to all nations, till opened I
For mortal man the right way of life.
Listen! The Prince of glory honoured me,
And heaven's King exalted me above
All other trees, just as Almighty God
For all mankind raised up his mother Mary 
Above all other women in the world.
Now, my dear warrior, I bid you
That you this sight shall say to all,
Reveal in words, this is the tree of glory
On which Almighty God once suffered torments
For mankind’s many sins, and for the deeds
Of Adam long ago. He tasted death
Thereon; and yet the Lord arose again
By his great might to come to human aid.
To heaven he rose. Again the Lord himself,
Almighty God, and all his angels with him,
Will come onto this earth to seek
Mankind at the day of doom, when he, the final Judge,
Will give his verdict upon every man,
What in this fleeting life he hath deserved.
Nor then may any be free from fear
About the words to him the Lord shall say.
Before the crowd he shall ask where that man is
Who for God’s name would suffer bitter death
As formerly did he upon the tree.
Then will they be afraid, and few will know
What they may say to Christ. But there need none
Be fearful if he bears upon his breast
The best of beacons. Through the rood each soul
May to the heavens journey from this earth,
Who with the Ruler thinks to go and dwell.”

Then prayed I to the tree with joyous heart
And eagerness, where I was all alone,
Companionless; my spirit was inspired
With keenness for departure; I’ve lived
Through many hours of longing. Now my hope in life
Is that the tree of triumph I may seek
Alone more often than all other men,
Well it honour; my wish for that is great
Within my heart, and my plea for support
Is turned towards the rood. I have on earth
Not many noble friends, but they have gone
Hence from earth’s joys and sought the King of glory,
With the High Father live they now in heaven
And in glory dwell; and I wait each day
For when the cross of God, which here on earth
I formerly beheld, may fetch me from
This transitory life and carry me
To where there is great bliss and joy in heaven,
Where the Lord’s host is seated at the feast,
And it shall set me where I hereafter
May in glory dwell, live in lasting bliss
Among the saints. May God be friend to me,
He who suffered once on the gallows tree
Here on earth for the sins of men. He us redeemed
And granted life and heavenly home.
Hope was renewed with glory and with joy
For those who suffered burning in the fires of hell.
The Son was mighty on that fateful journey,
Happy and victorious, when
The one Almighty Ruler with him brought 
A multitude of spirits to God's Kingdom,
To joy among the angels and the souls
Of those who already in the heavens dwelt 
In glory. Then almighty God had come,
The Ruler, where his dwelling was.

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Bewcastle Benefice Newsletter – April 2024

The April 2024 edition of the benefice newsletter is now available to read or download here.

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A Liturgy of The Rood

Good Friday 2024, 4pm, Bewcastle. Outside around the Bewcastle Cross (or in the church if the weather is inclement), a service of meditation listening to a reading of the ‘Dream of the Rood’. It will probably take around 15 mins to read, and will finish with a period of silence. The whole service will last about 30 minutes.  I’m not aware of this having been done before, but I’m sure it must have been.

For those who don’t know it, the Dream of the Rood has been described as ‘one of the greatest religious poems in English literature’ and is one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon poems in existence. A section of it is inscribed in runes on the Ruthwell Cross in south Dumfriesshire, not far from the Solway coast. In fact, these runes are the oldest Anglo-Saxon poetry anywhere in the world. The Ruthwell and Bewcastle crosses are closely-related sister crosses that both date from the early 8thC. It is likely that they were either inspired by the poem, or inspired the author(s) of the poem, as they are more or less contemporary with it – the close relation between them being evident through the runic engraving. The poem is about an elderly monk who dreams about the cross (the ‘rood’) in his sleep, and as he meditates the cross begins to speak to him about the events of that day. It is Anglo-Saxon Johannine theology, in that creation speaks of God’s presence to those who pray, and the colour, holiness, gore, majesty, wonder and awe flow back and forth through the poem as the warrior Christ climbs up to mount his victory throne, which is, of course, the rood.

We will be gathered, praying around perhaps the actual cross that ‘speaks’ in the poem. If you would like to be seated outside you will need to bring your own furniture.

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Bewcastle Benefice Newsletter – March 2024

The parish newsletter for March 2024 is now available to view or download here

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A Letter from Bewcastle – February 2024

The February 2024 edition of the Benefice newsletter is now available to view or download here

Dear Friends,

‘You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with stars.’

These words, and many more like them, were written in the mid-1600s by a young man from Herefordshire called Thomas Traherne. He died at the age of 37. His writings remained undiscovered until they were found “in a barrow of books about to be trashed” in the 1890s, rescued, and, after some doubts about authorship, eventually published in 1908, some 250 years later.

‘You are as prone to love, as the sun is to shine; it being the most delightful and natural employment of the Soul: without which you are dark and miserable.’

Traherne was a poet, a priest, and a scholar. He was described as “a man of a cheerful and sprightly Temper…  ready to do all good Offices to his Friends, and Charitable to the Poor almost beyond his ability.”  He complained that he thought he was “too open” and had “too easy and complying a nature.”

‘Your enjoyment of the world is never right till you esteem every Soul so great a treasure as our Saviour doth.’

He is now recognised as one of the great ‘metaphysical poets’, whose number include the likes of John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, and Henry Vaughan. These poets of the early to mid-1600s sought to write about the mystery of God’s presence in the world around us, his presence in the midst of us.

‘Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s Palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as Celestial Joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the angels.’

Traherne, it is thought, was the eldest son of his father’s third wife, the others probably having died in childbirth, many of his older siblings also having died in infancy. And so I find myself wondering how, amid such pain and sorrow, writers like Traherne could find such beauty, awe and wonder in the sad world around them.

And I wonder, too, what the world would be like if we were all able to see it in such a way, and to see the hidden beauty in each soul; to be filled with kindness and generosity towards each other and the world. Sometimes, when I’m on my morning prayer walk, I find myself pondering why people of different nations, races, religions, treat each other the way they do. Why do children grow up to carry on their parents’ grudges? What are these stories we tell our children? Where does all this hatred and conflict come from?

Then, sadly, I realise its already there in each of us. However much we long for peace and equity, it seems to evade us, not just in our communities, but even in our families. ‘Good fences make for good neighbours’ goes the saying. But, when you think about it, that says quite a lot about the way we relate to each other; borders, boundaries and ‘ownership’ being but one expression. For if your fences are in poor repair and your stock ends up on your neighbour’s land, angry exchanges begin and relationships sour. Or when someone receives an inequitable part of the inheritance. Or a whole host of other reasons that give rise to anger, resentment, a sense of injustice or hurt, jealousy and bitterness. And that’s the same seed that starts all the wars in the world.

Then I stumble across a couple of deer in the pasture, quietly grazing. They look up and see me, watch for a while, nibble some more grass, then trot away, nonchalantly leaping the fence, cross the lonning, over another fence and into another field. They are totally oblivious to these ‘boundaries’ that we create, have no concept of ‘ownership’, and care nothing for ‘possessing’ anything; they own nothing. And because they own nothing, the whole world is theirs and they are free. And there’s the oxymoron that Traherne (and Jesus) is talking about.

I find my heart lifted when I see the deer; their grace, gentleness and their freedom. I want to learn something about beauty and our relationship with the world around us from them, and Traherne. Then, perhaps, we may find peace at last, with God, each other and the good earth, and the Sea, itself, will flow in our veins.

Your friend and priest,


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Journey of the Magi

The Epiphany, by its nature, is enigmatic. On the 6th January every year, the 12th Day of Christmas (depending on when you start counting), we celebrate the visit of the wise men from the east to see the baby king in the stable with his mother and father, bringing their gifts. We call it The Epiphany because it represents the recognition of God’s coming by the Gentile (that’s us) world. ‘Epiphany’, that moment of sudden awakening or realisation.

But what was realised? Who noticed? Notoriously, Herod became furious when he realised he was tricked by the magi, and sent his soldiers to slaughter all the boys aged two and under in and around Bethlehem, perhaps between six and twenty children, in the hope of killing the baby Jesus and eliminating any competition for his throne.

But apart from the magi and the shepherds, we are not told of anyone else having a clue about the significance of Jesus’ birth. Some ‘epiphany’!

TS Eliot, in his famous poem ‘Journey of the Magi’, takes up this theme of the enigmatic nature of the Epiphany, telling it as a story seen from the perspective of the magi. But it is a journey riddled with pain, difficulty, and disappointment. There are moments that flicker with hope, ‘Then at dawn…’, but they soon fade back into the grey dampness of the cold world. They wander, searching, through the valley of the shadow of Christ’s death, unknowingly, until they reach their moment of ‘epiphany’: ‘It was (you may say) satisfactory’ in the most underwhelming of climaxes.

The journey, however, is for us. We are Eliot’s magi, on what seems a hard, bitter, and foolish journey with almost nothing to show at the end, except a morsel of bread made from flour from ‘the mill beating the darkness’, and the wine from ‘the vines-leaves over the lintel’ and the ’empty wine-skins’ being kicked under the table. But the encounter changes us, and we are left having died and been born again, no longer at peace with the idolatry of the world around us, waiting, longing for the old white horse in the meadow to, at last, carry its white rider…

The Bewcastle benefice sermon for the first Sunday of Epiphany (2024) can be found here.

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Bewcastle Benefice Newsletter – January 2024

The benefice newsletter for January 2024 is now available to view or download here.

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Chocolate calendars, numbed shopping malls, new oil deals, and an unHoly Land. Dare we pray the prayer of Advent? Dare we not?

It is easy to become disillusioned, despairing almost, of the direction of travel that we, as a global species, appears to be taking. Western society seems infatuated with technological ‘progress’ irrespective of cost or consequence, and commercial interests have come to dominate most decision-making. How many sci-fi films do we need to warn us before the ultimate destination of, for example, artificial intelligence, is inevitable? But the alternative rise of so-called ‘populism’ demonstrates a dark, fear-driven revolt against the perceived threat to self-interest. The ‘other’, the ‘not us’, has become a target to rail against, to blame; exactly what happened in 1930s Germany.

There are those who work behind the scenes, refusing to give in to these seemingly insurmountable forces, whose agenda is to help bring about a better world where care and kindness towards people and environment are the measure of our action and ‘telos’, or endpoint. But their gains are hard won and easily overturned.

Prophets have rarely been popular figures. Their warnings and offers of an alternative way upset too many, especially those with something to lose. The way we have structured our societies places inordinate power, and therefore trust, in the hands of the few. Whether they be public politicians who make laws and direct policies, hoping to keep our vote, or private board-room directors who exploit human weakness and need, for power and wealth, their decisions shape our society, subtly influencing our values, often cynically, by making us feel inadequate compared to others, and then appealing to the self in us to become like them. Perhaps we need a few more David Attenboroughs who can command our respect and affection while encouraging us to walk a different path, the path of compassion and care for creation.

This ‘different path’ is the Advent calling, set, as it is, in the approach to the darkest part of the year, when the forces that would exploit us by playing to our interests of self-preservation are most powerful. The prayer ‘Come’ requires us to prepare ourselves, to be brutally honest about who we are, both in our vulnerability and in our self-interest. For when we are, terrifying as this may be, we are met by the One who loves us with a passion that will lead him to the Cross on our behalf.

Dare we pray the prayer? Dare we not?

The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for Advent Sunday 2023 can be found here.

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Bewcastle Benefice Newsletter – December 2023

The benefice newsletter for December 2023 is now available to view or download here.

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