(image reproduced with permission from Gary Toneguzzo)
Kendal Parish Church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, is one of the widest Parish Churches in the country and dates from the early thirteenth century, though it occupies the site of a much earlier Church. A record in the Domesday Book, and the shaft of an Anglian Cross, housed in the Parr Chapel and dated at approximately AD 850, suggest a very early beginning.
The present building originally consisted of a nave, chancel, two aisles and the tower; the six nave pillars. lower part of the tower, pillars and the West Wall surviving to the present day. It is thought that some of the sandstone from the Saxon Church is incorporated in the present building.
At one time, there were several Chantry Chapels in the Church, where Priests held Services for families or communities.
The Parr Chapel was built by the Parr family in the fourteenth century, and the family coats of arms are to be seen on the ceiling. The large tomb in this Chapel is believed to be that of William Parr, grandfather of Katherine, the last wife of King Henry VIII.
The rest of the South Aisle was added later in the fifteenth century, to accommodate the Flemish weavers when they came to start the woollen industry in the town, hence its name – the Flemish Aisle.
The font dates from the fifteenth century, and is of black marble believed to be from North Yorkshire. The first font was placed in the porch on the South wall and baptisms took place outside the Church.
The Strickland Chapel is the family chapel of the Stricklands of Sizergh Castle, and nearby the Beckett, or Chambre Chapel was the family Chapel of The Chambre or de Camera family, who held the post of Chamberlain to the Castle.
The Chapel to the north of the Chambre Chapel was the Bellingham family chapel and dates from the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century and is now the Memorial Chapel for the Border Regiment, housing the colours of the 55 Westmorland Regiment of Foot.
Originally, this Chapel was independent of the Church, with its own entrance, and there is a theory that a priest may have lived above the Chapel. The Sanctus Bell hung in the north-east corner at one time, calling the Grammar School boys to the nearby school, and in the seventeenth century, a glazier was employed almost full-time to replace windows broken by boys on the way to school.
The helmet hanging above the Vestry door could have belonged to a member of the Bellingham family, but tradition has it that it was the helmet of Robert Philipson (Robin, the Devil) knocked off his head after riding into the Church one Sunday on his horse in pursuit of his enemy, Colonel Briggs, and being chased out of a lower door by the congregation.
The North Aisle was added to the Bellingham Chapel in the sixteenth century, thus making the Church one of the widest in the country, and most unusual by containing five aisles. The ceiling is decorated with painted angels.
During the seventeenth century, a painter from Lancashire was employed to disguise the poor state of the building by painting the walls with cherubs, dragons and texts, and the entire woodwork was painted green.
Public penance took place in the seventeenth century, the guilty party being obliged to stand under the pulpit, attired in a white sheet, for up to three Sundays, according to the crimes committed. The parson then read out all the sins to the congregation.
Early in the nineteenth century, it became obvious that action should be taken to restore the Church from its state of disrepair, so a great restoration began. While cleaning the plaster from the Chancel pillars, a niche filled with rubble was discovered in the pillar at the south-east of the Chancel and above this was a stone arch on which was carved the date 1201. This is almost certainly the date at which the Church was built or enlarged. When the pulpit was removed, a piece of parchment, bearing the date 1226, was found. The pillars in the Chancel were leaning badly and had to be replaced. This restoration of the Chancel was financed by Trinity College, Cambridge, to whom the Church was given by Queen Mary, after the death of Henry VIII, in an attempt to atone for his sins.
The Church was closed for two years in 1850 while the Nave was re-roofed, new pews put in to replace the old selection of high- backed pews, and the floor flagged. A number of other changes have been made since this great restoration and in 1969, the Father Willis organ was removed to its present position in front of the west window. Also, the Altar was brought forward and the Chapels restored and beautified.
The tapestry in the Bellingham Chapel is the work of Thea Moorman, who was inspired by a visit to Brimham Rocks, near Harrogate, where she saw the blue sky framing a cross between the rocks. It depicts the cross thrusting its way through blood, tears and sweat. The stainless steel Corona was a gift in memory of Bernard Gilpin, the `Apostle of the North’, who was born in Kentmere, but spent much of his time travelling about the country, preaching the Gospel.
This building is the heritage of the people of Kendal. It continues to be a living place, where local people come to worship and learn about God, to find space and to mark important events in their lives. It is a building which speaks of the past, present and future presence of God’s love and blessing in this town.