Kentmere Church, The Northern Apostle

St Cuthbert’s Church at Kentmere in Cumbria is a rather stark, austere sort of a place. Rendered in a grey concrete, the exterior building sports little or no ornamentation. This is a disappointment to lovers of ancient ecclesiastical structures, but one might suggest that the beauty of the Kentmere valley in which it stands more than compensates. Indeed, the natural beauty of the planet might be deemed a church or temple in which man can commune with Maker. Nevertheless, this dour, frumpy structure may have been known by a great man of God- Bernard Gilpin of nearby Kentmere Hall (below). The building is sixteenth-century, so a man living between 1517 and 1583 is likely to have known it, and even worshipped within. One of the yews in its yard is reckoned a millennium in age, so that he would certainly have known.

Gilpin was called the Apostle of the North, preaching in the poor, backward places of Northumberland, Westmorland and Yorkshire, generously supporting the poor and bringing gospel light to places which were covered by ignorance and superstition. Yet it was not always so. He was educated at Lancaster from where he went onto Oxford. In those heady days of the early reformation, he sided with conservatives against the likes of the great John Hooer, but his mind appears to have been changed by the reformer, Peter Martyr. Henceforth, this once loyal son of Rome would be Christ’s apostle, taking his great learning and gospel message to the furthest parts of England:

Preaching he made his chief Business; and that the Gospel might be both thoroughly believed and practised, he frequently preached as well in the remote Towns as near, insomuch that he was called, The Northern Apostle. His Alms also were so frequent, equal, and constant, that he was called The common Father of the Poor; and because a good Education of poor Children is one of the greatest Charities... he abounded in good Deeds, so he was careful not only to avoid all Evil, but all Suspicions of it, so that he was accounted a Saint by all that knew him, for Enemies he could have none. He died 4 March 1582, in the 66th Year of his Age, and came to his Grave like a Shock of Corn in its Season. He was buried in the Church of Houghton, and by his Will dated Octob. 17, 1582, he left Half his Goods to the Poor of his Parish, and the other Half for Scholars and Students in Oxford. He hath written several Things, but has nothing in print but a Sermon on St. Luke 2. 41, 48, preached before the King and Court at Greenwich on the first Sunday in Epiphany in 1552"

Magna Britannica et Hibernia.Volume 6: 1731

Grim churches and remote valleys may still produce the most lively and shining Christians. May our plain little meeting house in the Ribble Valley make men and women of Mr Gilpin's stature.