Shaped like a Roman basilica, St Mary’s Church was built and paid for by local amateur architect, Sara Losh, in 1840-42. Sara was the daughter of a forward-thinking industrial chemist, a friend of William Wordsworth. Her brother being disabled, she was brought up as her father’s heir and received a well-rounded education – something which she put to good use when designing the church in memory of her sister. The highly original building features crocodile gargoyles, an Italian green marble altar, an apse surrounded by an arcade of 14 pillars, and a multitude of carvings. Prominent in the churchyard are a mausoleum of Sara Losh's sister, Katharine, and a copy of the Bewcastle Cross.
The church is now listed as in the top 10 of the top 1000 churches you must see before you die and the church has secured a National Heritage grant to turn the chapel of rest into an Education Centre which should be open later in 2016.
Bullen reports Dante Gabriel Rossetti's enthusiasm for this church (and Losh's other works in the village) which Rossetti described as "extraordinary architectural works" with "a church of a byzantine style and other things ... full of beauty and imaginative detail, though extremely severe and simple" and "much more original than the things done by the young architects now". The stonemason who carved the designs was William Hindson. A plaque to his memory is displayed in the church.
The carvings within St Mary’s Church tell many stories. The symbolic language of the church refers to death, rebirth and eternity, drawing upon Christian, pagan and personal references.
A family friend of the Loshes, Major William Thain, was killed in the Afghan war of 1842 and decorative arrows remind us of his death. Before he died he sent a pinecone to Sarah and the cone, a classical symbol of eternal life, is seen in many forms throughout the church from door handles to candle holders.
The chrysalis and butterfly, a favourite motif of Sarah’s, are symbols of resurrection whilst angels trampling over bats and dragons tell of the triumph of light over darkness. For more lovely imaginary and history of Sarah Losh and St Mary's church, click on the links below.