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Mystery arch in photo project identified by Church Times reader

13 January 2023


Holme Cultram Abbey (St Mary’s), Abbeytown, near Silloth, Cumbria

Holme Cultram Abbey (St Mary’s), Abbeytown, near Silloth, Cumbria

THE mystery identity of a Norman church arch pictured in last week’s Church Times (News, 6 January) has been revealed after the present incumbent spotted it on the Church Times website.

The image of the arch was one of a series of Victorian glass negatives of ecclesiastical buildings that Andy Vaines, a professional photographer, has been trying to name since 2020.

It was recognised by the Rector of Solway Plain, Canon Bryan Rothwell, as his church of St Mary’s, at Abbeytown, close to the Solway Firth in Cumbria. It was created in 1538 from the nave of the 12th-century Holme Cultram Abbey after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.

“I was on the Church Times app on my phone first thing on Friday morning, catching up with the news,” Canon Rothwell said. “I immediately saw this Norman arch, and said: ‘That looks very familiar.’ It was such a surprise.” A comparison with pictures on file on his computer confirmed it.

“Everything looked just the same,” he said. The image even matched a painting that the church had been given a year ago by relatives of a deceased parishioner. “It could almost have been the same picture.” Both include a broken stone sculpture propped up on the right of the arch. “There was no mistaking, it was the same statue,” Canon Rothwell said. “It is still in the same porch, and is now erected on a mount.”

He contacted Mr Vaines immediately. “He was quite surprised to get the call after two years of investigations. At least we have solved the mystery for him.”

Mr Vaines said: “It has definitely helped. I would never have found that abbey. Bryan sent me his pic, and if you compare the cracks on the stone on the right-hand side, plus the detailing on each arch, they are a perfect match. I am planning a visit soon to get an updated photograph of the doorway.”

Another reader from a neighbouring parish, Canon Geoffrey Ravalde, confirmed the identification (Letters, 13 January).

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