Bassenthwaite has two churches. The much larger St John built in 1878 is, to quote Pevsner “expensive ill-proportioned of pinkish rock-faced stone with yellow dressings”. I shan’t be troubling you with it on this site. St Bega is an altogether different kind of church. In truth, ancient as it is, it is of little architectural importance. Its location, however, on the banks of Bassenthwaite Lake and overlooked by the mass of Skiddaw, England’s fourth highest mountain at 3041 feet, makes this little church a quite enchanting place to visit.
A clue to the age of this church lies in its dedication. It is one of only three churches in England - all in Cumbria - that celebrates St Bega. Bega was, so legend has it, an Irish princess promised in marriage to a Viking chieftain. She fled over the Irish Sea in the seventh century. She lived in Cumbria until, frightened of raids by pirates, she moved east to Northumbria leading a life of piety and even founding Hartlepool Abbey. Unfortunately, none of this holds together historically. The Vikings were not raiding mainland Britain in the seventh century. Modern thinking is that she was a legendary figure, a composite of characters in Anglo-Saxon literature.
There was probably a pre-Norman church here. There are claims that the chancel arch is from that period but Pevsner puts it as possibly twelfth century. You don’t have to take his word for it because he offers no justification and, contrary to received wisdom, God and Pevsner are not synonymous!