The parish church in Kirkby Stephen is known as the Cathedral of the Dales. A place of worship was built here during Saxon times and another by the Normans about 1170. The nave of the present church was constructed in 1220.
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The church was added to and altered beginning in the 14th century and carrying on through the 19th century. The piscina, sedilia, and angel corbels are from the 13th century and were reset in the 1800s. The church tower dates from 1550 and once rang a curfew bell. There are eight bells, cast in 1878.
The church's entrance from the market square is through cloisters built in 1810 as shelter from the weather and for use as a butter market. The upper part of the cloisters rests on eight stone pillars. In 1315 the vicarage was valued at £5.
The Hartley chapel is named after Sir Andrew de Harcla (1260-1323) who was the 1st earl of Carlisle. He lived at Hartley castle. He met his death by being declared a traitor and was hanged, drawn, and quartered. The Musgrave family came into his estates and their tombs and heraldic shields are in the same chapel. An unusual object in the chapel is a bushel wheat measure. It belonged to the earl of Thanet who used it to bring his tithe of wheat to church. The chapel roof bosses and parts of the screen are medieval. An engraved panel above the Hartley chapel shows the stoning of St Stephen. The Wharton chapel has a tomb with effigies of Thomas, the first lord Wharton, his wife Eleanor and his second wife Anne. He founded the local grammar school in 1566.
The pulpit, dating from 1871, is made of Shap granite and Italian marble. There are two fonts in the church. One is Victorian and the other earlier. The earlier one has an oak cover designed by James Dent of Ravenstonedale. The organ was built in 1888.
In the church is a Loki stone, an Anglo-Danish cross shaft carved into the figure of a chained devil. It represents the old Norse god Loki. A Norman coffin was discovered in 1980 during building work.
Kirkby Stephen is on the A658 B6259, 9 miles (14km) SE of Appleby-In-Westmorland.
Photos © by Barbara Ballard and courtesy Graeme Dougal