The original Church in Grasmere was built in 642AD by the then King of Northumbria Oswald. Oswald's Church was built either on the present site or nearby the well which bears his name on Red Bank Road. The present Church is visited by between 120,000 to 140,000 people each year and is at the heart of a lively worshipping community.
Oswald was born in 604 and was reputed to be the twelfth generation descended from the pagan God Woden, (Odin) and ‘Oswald’ means ‘divine rule’. He was not the eldest son though of the king, his older brother was Eanfrith and his younger siblings were Oswy and their sister Ebba. The kingdom of Northumbria was created by Oswald’s father, Athelfrith and his father had created a kingdom from basically his own extended family/clan. Athelfrith took over the kingdom of Deira to the south creating a kingdom spanning the Tyne and Tees on the east coast but not over the Pennines to the west. So Oswald and his siblings knew life as royal children, even in that society a more privileged life. Athelfrith was a pagan though and there is no evidence that Oswald would have known anything of the Christian faith in Northumbria. His father was a man of his time and could be ruthless, Oswald’s grandfather was known as ‘The Flame Bearer’ due to his way of dispatching his enemies. In 616 life changed suddenly, Athelfrith was killed battle by Raedwald, (the East Anglia King buried at Sutton Hoo). Edwin was made king with Raedwald as overlord, the children of Athelfrith fled north to the safety of the Picts, as Eanfrith had married a Pictish princess. It appears that for some reason Oswald, Oswy and Ebba soon moved to Iona to be educated in the kingdom of Dalriada. Oswald was to stay there for the next 16 years, from the age 12 to 28, and although he fought in battles alongside his brother his home seemed to be Iona.Edwin ruled until 632 and then was killed in battle against Penda of Mercia and Cadwallon of Gwynedd. Eanfrith claimed his father’s throne and sought to break up the southern alliance by making peace with Cadwallon; unfortunately he was tricked and killed by Cadwallon, together with all the leading thanes of his new Kingdom. Oswald then claimed his father and brother’s throne and raised a new army in December 632. The battle took place near Hexham, and the site became known as Heavenfield. Oswald and his men were outnumbered and as he slept before the battle he had a vision of Columba who according to Bede quoted from the book of Joshua, promising that he too would successfully win his kingdom. In a manner like Constantine, Oswald set up a cross in the dark before dawn and made his army kneel to the cross as he prayed. Having prayed they advanced under cover and as day dawned attacked Penda and Cadwallon’s army in their camp. The battle was a complete success Penda fled and Cadwallon was killed. Oswald then ruled his kingdom for ten years and in his time it extended across the area north of the Ribble and Humber, across the present Borders into Dumfries and including much of southern Scotland. Bede regarded Oswald as the model of a Christian King, someone who regularly led his people in prayer, inviting the community of Iona to set up schools and to heal the sick; he led a simple life without excess and was know for his generosity. It is noted that he had an unusual way of praying, sitting with his hands resting on his knees and palms upturned. This is how he got the nickname, ‘Oswald the Open Handed’. Despite the failure of the first mission from Iona, the coming of Aidan saw the conversion of Northumbria and Oswald would often accompany Aidan to act as a translator. Often he himself preached, as in the story of the founding his church in Grasmere. A generous and kindly man, the most famous story of his kindness is of Easter at Bamburgh and for this act Aidan blessed his right hand, which is the reason that often his symbol is a hand.
Oswald’s reign though was beset by continual raids from Penda in the south and eventually in pursuing the pagan King; Oswald was killed in 643 on the borders of Wales, (Oswestry). In death though he became for the Anglo-Saxons the ideal of a Christian King and by the ninth century as Alfred battled against the Vikings, Oswald became his patron, (perhaps the first patron saint of England)
The Rushbearing is ancient tradition serving a practical purpose in creating a floor covering for the Church. Since the introduction of pews and the slate floor in 1841, the tradition has had no practical purpose but has been continued as a village celebration. Originally Rushbearing was kept on 20th July being the old celebration of St Peter, but with a change in the Church calender Rushbearing was changed to 5 August, St Oswald's Day from 1885 onwards. In 2003 the date was again changed back to July to coincide with the last Saturday of Grasmere School's summer termin order to include all the children in the celebration. The date of Rushbearing can be found under the notices.