The village church, St James, is one of the oldest is the Carlisle Diocese dating in part to pre-norman times, and stands on a hill beside the River Eden.
In the churchyard is an ancient cross socket dated 1643, and it is here that the Ormside Bowl was found in the early 19th century. The bowl is made of silver and gold and set in gems and richly decorated with vine scrolls, birds and animals; it an outstanding piece of Saxon metalwork dating from the 9th century, which is now on show in York Museum.
The bowl of the font is Norman, as are the walls of the Nave and the two arches between the Nave and the Hilton Chapel.
The nave has a combination of 11th, 12th and 14th century masonry. A North Aisle was built about the middle of the 12th century supported by a double Norman arcade which was taken down and rebuilt as part of a victorian restoration project. The chancel was lengthened at the same time and the hagioscope (or Leper’s Squint) was constructed in the north wall. In the early 17th century the chancel was widened to the south, a piscine, aumbreys and a priest’s door were included in this reconstruction.
The massive, squat West Tower, built in the 13th century, clearly had a defensive function. It has small slit windows with no external door, the angled buttresses were added later. Also known as the Bell Tower it is believed that this part of the building could have been a dwelling for the priest who served the church. It consists of a basement and two internal floors and houses two bells of which only one can now be used.
The Hilton Chapel to the left of the nave was built in the 17th century. A copy of an original will of the Black Prince, son of Edward III is displayed on the wall. This is believed to have been written by John de Grote in 1376, at one time a priest of Ormside, who later became attached to the royal household
Three tomb brasses lie in the Hilton Chapel. The first belonging to Sir Christopher Pickering (5 times High Sheriff of Cumberland and who died in 1620 aged 76) the second to Cyprian Hilton aged 12, and the 3rd is to another Cyprian Hilton who died in 1693 (after whom the chapel is named)
A South Porch was added to the church in the 16th or 17th century but was originally slightly further east. It was taken down and reconstructed in its present position in the 1880s.
The roof of the chancel is probably of early 16th-century date consisting of three bays with moulded tie-beams, curved braces, king-posts and raking struts.
To the south of the church there was once sited a stone cross, known as the Preaching Cross. It is believed that this cross was destroyed during the civil war and remains of this can be found in the churchyard, in the form of a broken sundial which is thought to have been made from remnants of the old stone cross.
A sycamore sapling was planted on the site of the old cross in 1693 by Cyprian Hilton of Ormside Hall, making the “Cross Tree” 320+ years old.
Until recently this interesting corner of the village was also the site of a popular cheese and butter market.