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St Mary the Virgin, Ingleton, Yorkshire, West Riding

(54°9′13″N, 2°28′6″W)
SD 695 732
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Yorkshire, West Riding
now North Yorkshire
  • Rita Wood
30 April 2010

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Feature Sets

Ingleton is a large village between Settle and Kirkby Lonsdale, about 19 miles from Kendal. The church overlooks the river Doe just above its confluence with the Twiss; these two streams have many waterfalls which are a major attraction. The building consists of an aisled nave, chancel, and W tower. The only sculptural feature of our interest is a cylindrical font carved with figures arranged in an arcade.


In Domesday Book, 'Inglestune' and other towns belonged to Whittington (6 miles W, S of Kirkby Lonsdale). In 1066 its lord Earl Tosti had 6 carucates, while in 1086 the king held it; no church is mentioned here. There may have existed a connection of Whittington and its dependencies to the Augustinian priory of Cartmel (Cumbria) in the late 12thc, through a grant of Robert son of Gilmichael, lord of Whittington at the time of King John.





The building was largely rebuilt in 1886-7 by Cornelius Sherlock of Liverpool. The siting of the tower on the edge of the bank, and the church itself being on unstable deposits, has long caused stresses within the building.


Morris (1923), 282, says that the church ‘retains… a very fine old Norman font’ and he suggests that, apart from the obvious subject of the Massacre, it might picture the Entry into Jerusalem or the Flight into Egypt. Nikolaus Pevsner (1967), 280, considers it as ‘One of the best Norman fonts in the West Riding’: this, given his usual attitude to things of our period, suggests that the font might not be ‘Norman’ at all. The cutting of the figures is very competent, with consistent depth and size. The appearance of the soldier and David are particularly advanced, while the cloud pattern in bay 9 is of a kind used in the 13thc. Two features are, however, unusual: Joseph as a smith, and Herod joining in the slaughter. Joseph is described as faber in some passages of the Gospels (Mattew 13:55, Mark 6:3), but usually this term was taken to mean carpenter rather than smith.

The series of heads and patterns at the rim continues 12thc conventions, and resembles a corbel table with an alternation of heads and (mostly) star patterns. As this part of the font has suffered most damage and wear, it is not clear if any of the animals are bestial, that is, malevolent, but this seems unlikely, given that they are arranged within an arcade. The prominent heads are likely to represent souls, and the patterns may depict paradise and heaven: baptism is a pre-requisite for entry into heaven.

The Massacre of the Innocents features on the font at Cowlam (East Riding) to the extent that there is a carving of a seated Herod with an armed soldier. That font also has the Visit of the three Kings to Mary and the Child. The transition from death (the slaughter in bays 6 and 7) to eternal life (bays 9 to 13) takes place around the Tree, that is, the Cross. The change is emphasised by the contrast between the child immediately on either side of the trunk. There is a total of five slaughtered children in bays 6 to 8, and five living young adults in bays 9 to 13. The rising child and the first horseman would be the same individual shown in the process of rising from the dead and ascending into heaven. The rider turns and raises his hand to acknowledge the power of the Tree to give him resurrection. The five slaughtered children thus rise to become the five young adults at the peak of maturity; they are now kings and queens in heaven. This interpretation of the massacre is paralleled by plays about the Holy Innocents which survive from the 13thc.

The ‘corbel’ above David is of a lion with teeth: this lion may be God or Death, but since all the intervening patterns are stars, cross-interlaced patterns or foliage, it seems likely that this too is a positive image, symbolising both the strength and the kingship of God. The rim pattern of ‘souls in heaven’ continues unperturbed even over the Massacre. David killing the lion is depicted as a type of Christ defeating Death by his Crucifixion and Resurrection. Perhaps here was no available room to carve David’s lamb (one in Samuel 17:34-35), but there was no need to carve it as the infants and young adults fill that role. The shepherd-boy David and all the other subjects on the font involve children or infants, making all the teaching relevant to the baptism of children. This in turn would seem to suggest that infant baptism was the norm at the time the font was carved, despite the dimensions of the basin. The pastoral emphasis in the design might have arrived through the association with the Augustinian priory of Cartmel, which is hinted at by documents.


St Mary the Virgin, Ingleton, guide, Welcome to St Mary’s church Ingleton, Low Bentham before 2003, 5.

P. Leach and N. Pevsner, Yorkshire West Riding: Leeds, Bradford and the North, Yale 2009, 350.

J. E. Morris, The West Riding of Yorkshire, London 1923, 282.

N. Pevsner, revised E. Radcliffe, Yorkshire: West Riding. The Buildings of England, Harmondsworth 1967, 280.

J. Raine, 'The Dedications of the Yorkshire Churches', Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 2 (1873), 180-92.

Victoria County History, County of Lancaster, II, London 1908, 143-8.

Victoria County History: Yorkshire, II (General volume, including Domesday Book), London 1974, 209.