Birdoswald Fort & Carlisle Cathedral

Another fort we visited is Birdoswald Fort (Banna), the excavations of which are much smaller than those at Vindolanda. Interestingly, it is the only fort along Hadrian’s Wall that has been proven to have been occupied after the collapse of the Roman Empire, possibly by local warriors. It was occupied by Roman soldiers between 112-400AD. Again, as is the case with many Roman forts, first a fort of turf and timber was built before it was erected in stone.

In Roman times the fort was called ‘Banna’, but later it became known as ‘Birdoswald’. The latter name probably comes from the Anglo-Saxons. The Celtic word ‘buarth’ means enclosure, and this was likely combined with the Anglo-Saxon name ‘Oswald’.

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View of Western gateway of Birdoswald Fort

The outer wall of the fort was about 4.5m tall, about as tall as the Wall was. The Military Way, the main road connecting all the forts, passed right through Birdoswald fort, which made this a very busy place.

In the 1840s, this estate was bought by Henry Norman, who was very interested in the fort’s history. He was the first to hire archaeologists to study it. The building below was built by Norman. It looks much older than it is, because it was fashionable at the time to build Medieval-looking houses. Norman named his son Oswald, after the site, but his son auctioned the place off and sold many of the artefacts found to the Tullie Museum in Carlisle.

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Tower and porch at Birdoswald built by Henry Norman

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Henry Norman’s initials above the doorway

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East Gate of Birdoswald Fort

On our last hiking day, we walked to Carlisle, our final stop. Carlisle (then called Luguvalium) was established by the Romans as a settlement to supply the forts along the Wall. It was a strategic location, as Carlisle overlooks a crossing-point of the River Eden. After the Roman Empire collapsed, Carlisle soon became an important military centre, as it is so close to Scotland. This is evidenced by Carlisle Castle, a magnificent fortress overlooking the city, which I will talk about in a next post.

Firstly, we visited Carlisle Cathedral, a beautiful 800 year-old Medieval church.

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Carlisle Cathedral

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Carlisle Cathedral

The church was established in 1122. The Diocese of Carlisle was founded 1133, by King Henry I, in an attempt to stabilise the border region between England and Scotland. Until 1540, a group of Augustinian canons lived here and served the cathedral. During the time of its construction, a lot of Augustinian churches were built in England, as the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, William de Corbeil, was a member of the Augustinian order.

The church was initially built in the Norman style using local red sandstone, this style is still very visible in the south transept, with its round arches and typical Norman decorations (see picture below). In the 13th century part of the church was rebuilt in the Gothic style, which is a much lighter, expansive style. The 14th-century wooden roof of the choir is absolutely stunning and was repainted in 1856.

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South transept of Carlisle Cathedral; typical Norman decorations can be seen over the arches and on the columns (zigzags and scallop shapes)

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14th-century wooden roof of Carlisle Cathedral

Also notable is the Cathedral’s window: an excellent example of the Flowing Decorated Gothic style in which the window is divided into many subparts of many different shapes at the arched top of the window, which branch out. It is the largest and most complex window of its type in England. This style became possible due to big advances in engineering in 14th-century England.

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East Window of Carlisle Cathedral

The cathedral also has a marvellous set of 15th-century black oak misericords. Misericords are little seats, at the bottom of the actual seat. Whenever people have to stand up during mass, the misericord can be leaned on for some support. This is particularly useful for elderly monks, who have difficulty standing for large amounts of time. Misericords were often elaborately decorated, and are easy to miss when visiting a church. I always like to peak under a few seats, and often find some remarkable works of art depicting biblical or mythical scenes.

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Example of a beautifully crafted misericord at Carlisle Cathedral

The Cathedral’s organ was built in 1856 by Henry Willis.In 1875 it was enlarged to include the large 32 foot pipes.

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Organ at Carlisle Cathedral

The Romans brought christianity to England, and by the time the Roman Empire fell, it was firmly rooted here. The Cathedral’s Treasury holds some fascinating examples of this Post-Roman time.

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Anglian cross fragment, 700AD

Next time, I will discuss my trip to Carlisle Castle in detail, because it was AWESOME. Here is a sneak peek:

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3 thoughts on “Birdoswald Fort & Carlisle Cathedral

  1. Beautiful pictures Paula and once again impressive detailed historic information!
    Wishing you a great trip together with Hans.

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