The Strange Stepped Window Sill at Isel Church

isel-church-cumbria (Images by Alexandra Smith, all rights reserved)

In a Norman church in the Lake District, UK, stands a mysterious stone staircase leading to an unknown location. For centuries, the ‘stepped window sill’ has confounded observers – no one remembers why it’s there.

Past vicars suggested it may have given access to a minstrels’ gallery or rood loft, which was removed during the English Reformation in the 16th century. But the church’s enchanting wooden ceiling appears too low to accommodate any such platform.


The curious window sill belongs to St Michael and All Angels’ Church in Isel, Cumbria, originally constructed on a pre-Norman site around 1150 AD. It’s thought that the window overlooking the steps is a later addition to the church, but the exact age of the staircase itself is unknown.

In 1894, the Cumberland Times allegedly reported that the steps may have led to a lantern tower back in the 14th century, at a time when Scottish invaders destroyed a defence tower at nearby Isel Hall during the Wars of Scottish Independence.


In more recent times, St Michael’s battled the 2009 Great Britain and Ireland floods, when the church, which sits alongside the River Derwent, was damaged by a three-feet-high flow of water that unsettled the graveyard as well as the building. The steps, along with the rest of the church, were quickly restored.


Notably, St Michael’s is also home to the remains of an Anglo-Saxon cross. Another mystery tells of an unknown thief, who stole a Viking triskele stone from the premises in 1986. The Isel ‘Church Bells Restoration’ appeal is currently in full swing. Check out to learn more.

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