Surrounded by open fields near Sockbridge in Cumbria lies a squat church with a massive central tower, dedicated to St Michael and All Angels.  There are only a couple of farms in the vicinity, so why is this ancient church located in this relatively remote spot?

Barton Church once covered a huge parish, extending from Eamont Bridge to the top of the Kirkstone Pass, taking in Martindale, Patterdale and Glencoyne, so it was clearly a significant site of worship in the area.

If we consider its location in respect to nearby ancient structures, we can see that it lies in the middle of a prehistoric landscape.  To the southeast, Moor Divock is littered with ancient cains, burial chambers, along with a stone circle and a ceremonial avenue.  Eamont Bridge to the northeast once had three henge monuments (only two now survive); and several prehistoric rock carvings can be found in Patterdale to the south.  There are also Iron Age structures on nearby Dunmallard Hill and Maiden Hill.

If we look at the setting more closely, we can see that the church sits on a low mound and is contained within a roughly circular churchyard.  There is also a spring (possibly two) that emanates from under the mound.  Local legends suggest there was a Roman well here (possibly adapted into a baptismal pool) and other  unexplained structures.

Another significant clue lies in the Norman dedication to St Michael – the Warrior Archangel – a dedication often associated with churches on ancient prehistoric sites.  The church was largely rebuilt around 1150 by William de Lancaster, who was the Baron of Kendal at the time.  Did he demolish an earlier Anglo-Saxon church, and what was there before that?

There are numerous unanswered questions about the significance of this site.  Does the church stand on a long-vanished prehistoric monument?  Was the spring once used for pagan worship?  Was this a site that early Anglo-Christian saints chanced upon, and did they try and convert ancient Britons to Christianity at this site?  There are all sorts of possibilities, and we will probably never know the real reason why St Michael’s Church at Barton was founded on this spot.