This delightful church at Bleasdale (or to be correct, Admarsh-in-Bleasdale) is overlooked by Parlick and Fairsnape Fells in North Lancashire. Both are in the Bowland Area of Natural Beauty. The Church has a unique dedication – that of St Eadmer.
It has baffled many as to who he was and for a long time it was thought that he was the secretary to St. Anselm of Canterbury.( An Eadmer wrote Anselm’s biography.)
Investigations proved inconclusive until another Eadmer was discovered.
When the Body of St. Cuthbert was carried by the monks of Lindisfarne to safety from the Vikings, the journey was long and arduous. Indeed, with rests it took a very long time. It involved a stay in Chester-le-Street and a journey over the Cleveland Hills now known as the Lyke Wake Walk or Coffin Walk.
The final part of the journey is to be found in a ‘History of the Church in Durham’ by a medieval monk, Symeon.
He describes the arrival of the shrine at a place on the east side of what is now the city of Durham. The vehicle on which it rested could not be moved and the bishop directed his monks “that they should solicit an explanation of this sign from heaven by a fast of three days, which should be spent in watching and prayer, in order that they might discover where they should take their abode along with the holy body of the father”. This was done and Simeon goes on to relate that “a revelation was made to a certain religious person named Eadmer, to the purport that they were required to remove the body to Durham and prepare a suitable resting place for it”.
This was done and as a result, ultimately, one of the greatest Norman Cathedrals in the world was built.
What all this has to do with the Church in Bleasdale is sheer conjecture. It may well be bound up with the fortunes of a local family, the Parkinson’s, who came to live at Fairsnape Fell and who were Christian folk. The Chapel at Admarsh fell into decay and it was rescued and restored by the Parkinson family. It was my conjecture that linked Bleasdale with Northumbria and Durham.
The Fairsnape Parkinsons claimed descent from the Featherstonehaughs of Featherstone Castle in Northumberland then in the diocese of Durham. When they were looking for a dedication for their renewed church, it is reasonable to suggest that they looked to their Mother Church of Durham which was the last resting place of the remains of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.
Possibly the Parkinson family felt that they shared the vision of Eadmer to build a church albeit a small and modest one.
Like so much of our history as a nation, facts are often shrouded in the mists of time and our stories are a mixture of truths, myths, poetic license and reasonable conjecture after sifting and weighing up the evidence.
What we do know is that in this beautiful corner of Lancashire, there has stood a church which has been cared for and used for a long time and has fed people with the nourishment of the Gospel.
An agricultural community works what is often a harsh land and with a changing lifestyle. Farming is not what it was nor is church life. The local Church of England School which provided an amazing education to children from the area sadly closed its doors in 2019. The village hall, however, still caters for a quaint but satisfying social life. Lancashire Hot Pot Suppers were, in my 10 years ministering there, a treat beyond measure and where else could you end each evening’s entertainment with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, played lustily on the hall piano!
Worship still takes place in the serene church and placing oneself in God’s hands means lives continue to be consecrated.
This morning, my friend Helen send me the photo along with others of the fells. It opened up memories but also I was reading about the state of the Church of England as recorded in The Guardian newspaper. It’s radicalism often tries to engage its readers with negativity about Christianity, when it isn’t busy with its other preoccupation, that of undermining the Monarchy!
This isn’t an easy time to keep churches going in small, rural places and logic might well suggest that we should close more of them down and reorganise ourselves into bigger and more manageable units. A large local Scout camp often uses St Eadmer’s as a shelter when their night hikes are interrupted by rain. Where would they go?
For the faithful Christians who find faith and God’s love in their little church, this is more than an act of survival. It is an act of belief and a witness in a God who converted a world with a motley crew and goes on doing so still.
Each of our churches are ‘waymarks’ – cairns- on our way to heaven.
We lose those pointers and the sharing of discipleship at our peril.
We may say that we have to be realistic but thankfully, the Parkinson family of Bleasdale and other places like them, including, and especially, today, didn’t understand a realism which was fatalistic and devoid of hope and determination to claim divine footsteps to heaven. Cairns are built when wayfarers add a stone or a pebble. The Way to Heaven needs not so much stones as visionary people.
Father, as you gave Eadmer the vision to build a church to your glory:
and kindled that vision anew in the hearts of those
who built the Church in this land,
so guide all who meet you in our places of worship,
to go on building your Church in the hearts and lives
which are wholly dedicated to you. Amen
[Thank you to Helen Smith for sending me the photographs
and thus reminding me of the importance of the waymarks of faith in our journey of life]