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SHRINES OF ROYAL SAINTS
All the canonised kings are, however, of the Saxon era, and since St. Edward the Confessor none of our monarchs have received such a distinction.
Charles I. has been numbered among the saints in a half-hearted manner by the Church of England ; but however fervently he might have been invoked, no visible tomb or monument exists to be considered among the
shrines, though five churches are dedicated to his memory.
Of all the
kings of the
murder his body was secretly buried in the forest where the tragedy had
occurred until, it was said, the crime was revealed in
The news was
sent to the different provinces of
The relics were carried to the Benedictine monastery of Winchcomb, and buried in the east part of the church, close to the tomb of his father King Kenulf.
Many were the pilgrims to the shrine of St. Kenelm, and a special “pilgrim’s sign” was struck, for fastening to the cloak or hat of the devotee.
No description of the tomb-shrine is left, the abbey was demolished, and St. Kenelm forgotten.
During a search among the ruins an 1815 excavation around the eastern wall of the church disclosed two stone coffins, lying side by side, beneath the side of an altar ; one was the size for an adult, the other long enough only for a child. The larger contained the bones of a man, in the smaller were the skull and a few of the larger bones of a child, which also contained a very long-bladed knife, thoroughly corroded.
Here then, without doubt, as Fosbroke the antiquary, who was present, concluded, were the coffin and the relics of St. Kenelm, together with the instrument of martyrdom, the larger coffin being that of his father Kenulf.
The relics of the saint and the dust of the king were thrown to the ground ; the shrine and the coffin were afterwards sold and placed in the grounds of Warmington Grange.
not confined to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The Reformers and Rebels left something to be
desecrated as late as 1815 by people who had no such excuses as our
forefathers, yet outstripped them and looked to the ancient Danish and
pagans for example.
The arms and
head of the dead king were impaled on stakes until St. Oswald’s
removed them to various localities. His
head was buried at
The arms of
St. Oswald were enshrined in silver at Bamborough, while the body,
been buried on the field of battle, was afterwards translated to
Bardney. In those days of Norse piracy all
expedients were resorted to for the preservation of treasure, and the
of St. Oswald was saved from the marauding Danes by the Prior Athelwold
secreting it in the straw of his bed. In
909 it was again translated by Ethelred, earl of
death in 651, St. Oswin was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary, at
of the river
de Mowbray built a great church at
was the son of Alcred, king of
was first buried at Lilleshall,
19th (the day
of his translation) with great devotion as patron saint of the town. Alban
It is said
that when the body of St. Alkmud was being brought into Derbyshire its
guardians halted a few miles north of the county town, at Duffield,
crossing the Derwent, whilst one of their number went on to inquire as
reception. On the site of the halt the
East Anglia produced two canonised kings, who have received greater attention than the last mentioned, and are more widely known even to the present day, which is explained by their patronage of larger ecclesiastical foundations, by the cathedral dedicated to St. Ethelbert being yet preserved, and by the shrine of St. Edmund, having been painted by a contemporary in a beautiful manuscript which is now in the British museum.
The one great crime of a king who otherwise bore a
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character, and the following penitence of Offa, were the cause and
appears to have been quietly buried at Marden, but his body was shortly
translated to the chapel of Our Lady at Fernlega—or Saltus
since been known as
relic of the king which is known to have been preserved at
The reliquary of Limoges enamel, which is in the treasury of Hereford cathedral, has been assigned to St. Ethelbert ; the scenes upon it, however, in no way represent the passion of that king, but the martyrdom and entombment of St. Thomas of Canterbury, and probably contained some relic of that prelate.
1295[sic] great lists of relics, jewels, vestments, etc., pertaining to
The shrine of St. Edmund is utterly demolished, yet we know its former appearance better than any other which
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existed in this land, thanks to the art of Lydgate the monk, who has left us several illuminations of the shrine as it stood in the days of glory.
After decapitation of the head of St. Edmund was flung into a dense part of the wood at Eglesdene. The body had been buried at Hoxne, but a minute search had failed to find the head until, as legend relates, a voice repeatedly calling “Here” directed the English to a spot where they found a wolf was guarding the head between its paws.
In 903 the relics were dug out of the grave and carried to Betrichesworth —the name of a village afterwards known as Bury St. Edmunds—and deposited in a wooden church.
invasion the place was again menaced by the too-well-remembered Danish
atrocities, and in 1010 the “Ioculus,” or chest, containing the relics
A rich shrine was erected in the new church, which had been built at Bury and consecrated on St. Luke’s Day, 1032, when King Cnut offered his crown to the Saint.
Cnut appears to have offered his crown at so many altars and shines over the country that a question arises as to what kind of crowns they were. Was he having new crowns made and offering the old—a new style
supplanting the former? We are told he offered his own crown, that which he apparently wore on the occasion, yet we find no mention of its being redeemed.
These crowns were evidently votive crowns, made for the purpose of offerings, but instead of small models they would seem to have been made of a wearable size, a detail which would greatly raise the king in the estimation of the clergy and monks of the place when they saw him remove the crown from his head and place it on the altar of the shrine ; it would be more suggestive of self-sacrifice than a miniature crown, whatever its value might be. [It could also be that this actually happened—once. This story, after many inspirational retellings, probably lost its connection to the exact ‘where and when’ of the original instance. It became associated, maybe, with many impressive regional shrines.]
Malmesbury tells us that Abbot Leoffston was curious as to the appearance of St. Edmund’s body, and in 1050 he opened the chest and found it in a perfect state ; but he is said to have been severely punished for his temerity. The saint also visited correction on others who failed to behave with becoming reverence in his church. Osgoth, a Danish nobleman, disparaged the memory of St. Edmund and walked disdainfully around the shrine, for which was deprived of his reason until brought in contrition to the feretory.
Devotion to St. Edmund rapidly spread. King Edward the Confessor was a frequent pilgrim to this shrine, and so great was his veneration for the martyr that he was accustomed to perform the last mile on foot.
made a pilgrimage to St. Edmund’s before setting out for the Crusade,
land to maintain a perpetual light before the shrine, which was
occasion of a great catastrophe. He is
also said to have given the banner of Isaac, the king of
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When Coeur de
Lion was a captive in
From the Chronicle of Jocelin of Brakelond we learn that the “glorious martyr Edmund” was dissatisfied with the want of care bestowed on his relics, and compelled the convent to erect a more splendid shrine by extreme measures—no less than a great conflagration.
Between the shrine and the high altar was a table on which two large torches of wax were constantly burning, according to the deed of gift of King Richard. On the vigil of St. Etheldreda, whilst the guardians of the shrine were asleep, one of these torches fell upon the table and set it on fire. When the monks were aroused they found the whole shrine wrapped in flames. When the fire was extinguished it was found that much of the woodwork of the shrine was burnt, and the silver plates with which it was covered scarcely hung together. Only the golden Majesty on the front of the feretory, with the jewels set in it, remained unharmed and “fairer after the fire.”
Abbot Samson was at that time absent ; but when he returned to the monastery he told the monks that this calamity had befallen them on account of their sins, and especially because of their “murmurings touching meat and drink.” With characteristic energy he at once began the reconstruction of the shrine, which he had purposed doing, and for which he had prepared much of the marble before the fire. He himself gave fifteen golden rings, and proposed that the convent should resign their pittances[allowances/spending money] for one year. To this the monks agreed ; but the sacrist
afterwards found that “St. Edmund could well repair his shrine without any such aid.”
During the building of the fixed shrine it was arranged that the feretory should be temporarily placed on the high altar. When the monks assembled in church that night for mattins, they were astonished to find a new chest standing on the altar, covered with white doeskins, and fastened with nails of silver. After due preparation the old chest containing the relics was stripped of the linen and silken wrappers with which it was covered, when they found that on the outside, above the breast of the body, was fastened an angel of gold, about a foot in length, with a sword in one hand and a banner in the other. Over it was inscribed “Martiris ecce zoma servat Michaelis agalma” (“Behold the martyr’s body, St. Michael’s image keeps”) ; and below it was an opening in the lid through which former custodians used to pass their hands so that they might touch the relics. This chest was then placed in the new one upon the altar.
During the following night the abbot and twelve chosen brethren privately examined the holy body ; they found that it so filled the chest “that a needle could scarcely be introduced between the head or the feet and the wood.” Many coverings of silk and linen were then removed, the last being of very thin silk “like the veil of some holy woman.” The chest was again closed, covered in linen, and over all was placed a piece of silk brocade which had been offered at the shrine by Archbishop Huber Walter.
After mattins the next morning the abbot assembled all the monks before the high altar and told them what had been done. With joy at the incorruptibility of their saint, with grief that they had been excluded from the great sight, “we sang with tears” Te Deum laudamus.
The private view had not been so secret after all, for
six other of the monks stole in uninvited, and brother John of Dias with some of the servants of the vestry had concealed themselves in the roof of the church and witnessed the proceedings from a bird’s-eye point of view.
In consequence of materials being so advanced—marble shafts for supporting a new base being already polished before the disastrous 17th of October—and by hastening the work, the shrine was finished that same year—1198.
Queen Eleanor had given many exceedingly valuable jewels to the shrine, but her son John, after he succeeded to the crown, came as a pilgrim to Bury, in 1201 and again in 1203, when he offered great gifts to St. Edmund and then “prevailed” on the abbot to grant him the use of the jewels, presented by his mother, during his lifetime. It is not difficult to imagine what King John’s prevailing would be, or whether those jewels were ever returned.
rumoured by his French biographers that Prince Louis, when he returned
The insurrection under Wat Tyler and Jack Straw was responsible for many sacrilegious outrages. Shrines were robbed of their jewels, and amongst them St. Edmund’s suffered ; and Abbot Cratfield, to pay for certain concessions he obtained from the pope, took £30 from the shrine.
III. had a new shrine constructed of “admirable workman-ship,” into
relics of St. Edmund were translated on
When Edward I. went with his family and court to attend the feast of St. Edmund at Bury in 1285, he caused
an inspection to be made of all the weights and measures in the town, and the profits accruing from that and future inspections he granted for the repair and decoration of St. Edmund’s shrine.
This king made other pilgrimages to St. Edmund in 1292 and 1294, and at each visitation left the shrine richer than it was before.
Henry VI. came as a pilgrim to the threshold of the royal martyr in 1433, and in one of Lydgate’s illuminations that king is seen kneeling by the relics. It is the book containing these pictures which Lydgate presented to the king, a Life of St. Edmund,4 which is our authority for the representation of the shrine as it stood in the fifteenth century.
Among the many miracles recorded is one which suggests that offerings of coins to this shrine were laid in the niches around the base ; for there was a woman who often visited the shrine of St. Edmund under the mask of devotion, not with the design of giving, but of taking something away, and it was discovered that while she bowed in apparent veneration to kiss the shine she licked up the money and carried it away in her mouth. This was detected only by the said miracle, for one day whilst thus stealing, it is said that her tongue and lips adhered to the stone and remained in that attitude the greater part of the day.
A MS. of
Abbo’s Life of St. Edmund, in
In the Cottonian Library5 is the following letter to Lord Crumwell :—
“Pleasith it your lordship to be advertised that wee have been at Saynt Edmonds-Bury where we found a riche Shryne, which was very comberous to deface. Wee have takyn in the
seyd Monasterye to golde and sylver MMMMM marks and above, over & besyds aswell a rich crosse with emereddes, as also dyvers & sundry stones of great value.
* * * * * *
The total spoils of plate taken from the abbey in 1538-9 amounted to 1,553 oz. of gold and 10,433 of silver.
To St. Edward the Martyr a noble and precious shrine was raised in the abbey of Shaftesbury. It was once of the great shrines, but it has already been dwelt upon in the introductory remarks (page 28).
the Confessor, the last of
In the abbey
is of material assistance in enabling us to determine the form and
of the numerous monuments to the sanctified which once abounded in
to St. Edward, which preceded the one that is now extant.
by crosses. To grasp this it must be observed that it is represented in elevation in the tapestry, and the accompanying perspective sketch may assist in more vividly picturing the saint’s coffin.
The feretory is decorated with either painting or goldsmiths’ work, most probably the latter, and the embroiderers have left part of the side open to expose the embalmed body of the king.
It is here shown on the way to burial in the newly finished church which St. Edward had built.
At the coronation of William the Conqueror in this abbey, he offered two palls or precious hangings where-with to drape the monument ; he very shortly erected a
sumptuous monument of stone to the saint, and employed the art of the goldsmith to enrich the monument with precious metals. It is said that he was especially moved to this action by the miracle of St. Wulfstan’s staff ; when the Saxon prelate had been commanded to resign his see by William, the aged bishop of Worchester laid his
crook upon the tomb of the late king from whom he had received it, and it is said that no one could remove it until St. Wulfstan picked it up with ease, and was allowed to retain his bishopric.
The tomb was
opened in 1101 by the abbot Gilbert Crispin, and the relics found
corruption, after which the sanctity of St. Edward was enhanced and
veneration rendered at his tomb. Although
not yet canonised at
of Thomas à Becket, King Henry II. had a magnificent shrine
made, into which
St. Edward was translated on
Again are we
fortunate in having representation of this new tomb, the first shrine
now formally canonized saint. In a
manuscript Life of St. Edward in the University Library,
Another illumination gives the elevation of one of the ends of the feretory. Here a number of pilgrims are venerating the relics, while one of them creeps through an aperture in the base—similar to that seen in the crypt tomb of St. Thomas of Canterbury (page 155)—hoping thereby to receive relief from some infirmity.
The custodian of the shrine meanwhile reads aloud the miracles of the saint.
At the two
corners of the shrine, on slender shafts, stand the figures of
Edward, to explain which it is necessary to recall another legend which associated these two saints one with the other.
Edward’s lifetime a beggar came to him beseeching assistance. The king had already bestowed all his money
to charity, but sooner than turn a needy brother empty away he drew
finger a ring which he gave to the beggar. This
That ring had been buried with St. Edward and at this translation it was taken from his hand and preserved as a separate relic in the sacristy. The two figures were erected at the new shrine to impress upon pilgrims the virtue of making offerings. (That the legend was not known before the ring was found on St. Edward’s finger in the twelfth century in no way affects or subject or the design of the shrine.)
On this occasion the archbishop made an offering to St. Edward of an image of the Blessed Virgin wrought in ivory.
At the marriage of Henry III. with Eleanor, in 1236, he ordered that an image of the queen should be made to decorate the shrine.
manuscript above mentioned was written by a monk of
In 1241 King Henry III. caused a new shrine of the
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purest gold and the most costly jewels to be made entirely at his own expense, employing “picked workmen” for the purpose, to whose credit Matthew of Paris pays the tribute of saying that the workmanship exceeded the materials.
The work was
begun and we have the king’s mandate for
certain payments :—
our treasures to our beloved clerk Edward, the son of Otho, 258l. 9s.
3½d. for the acquittance of the works
done by our order at
To provide for the completion of the work in the event of his own death, Henry left five hundred marks of silver in a will made in 1253.
In the rebuilding of the abbey church Henry overshadowed the patron—St. Peter—by honouring St. Edward. For him was the plan so arranged that it provided a special chapel on a raised platform behind the high altar to contain his shrine.
The abbot of Westminster—Richard de Ware—had gone to Rome, where he saw the magnificent shrines in the churches of the Eternal City, and to this visit of two years’ duration must be attributed the influence brought to bear on the design of St. Edward’s shrine, and the materials used in its construction.
Abbot Ware returned to England in 1260 bringing with him rich porphyry stone with other material, and two workmen—Peter and Oderic—who were skilled in mosaic work, to beautify the shrine, on which the name of one “Roman citizen” can still be read.
While yet in the course of construction, Henry became
financially involved, and took from the shrine some of those jewels he had given to it, and pawned them for his own necessities ; he however bound himself to restore them under pain of having his own chapel laid under an interdict, and this he did within two years.
From the document6 containing a list of those jewels appertaining to the feretory which the king borrowed, the following may be quoted as revealing the riches, and the mode of decoration, of the feretory :—
Six gold kings set with precious stones varying in value from £48 to £103 each.
The value of the whole list comes to £1,234 11s. of the money of that day, or about £29,630 of the present time [in 1905].
The shrine was at last completed in 1269, and on October the 13th—the feast of the first translation—the body of St. Edward was again translated from the shrine in which Henry II. had laid it before the high altar to the more eastward position which it has occupied—except for one short interval—ever since.
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attending the ceremony was unsurpassed even by the similar function of
An inscription round the cornice of the shrine, recording both the name of the royal donor and the workman, is covered by more modern plaster, except those words in italics, which are exposed by the partial destruction of the material veil.
“ANNO MILENO DOMINI, CUM SEPTUAG ENO(?) ET BIS CENTENO, CUM COMPLETO QUASI DENO HOC OPUS EST FACTUM QUOD PETRUS DVXIT IN ACTVM ROMANVS CIVIS, HOMO CAUSAM NOSCERE SI VIS REX FUIT HENRICUS SANTI PRÆSENTIS AMICUS.”
It is thus translated by Rapius :—
“In the year of our Lord 1270, this work was finished by Peter, a Roman citizen. Reader, if thou wilt know how it was done ; it was because Henry was the present saint’s friend.”
Many were the valuable offerings made at the shrine. Henry III. gave a golden vessel containing the heart of his nephew Henry. Edward I. presented a piece of the True Cross set in gold and precious stones ; to St. Edward he also offered the Stone of Destiny from Scone and the Scottish crown and sceptre ; and had three marble columns made and placed around the shrine. Edward II. at his
gave gold from which to fashion two figures of
It was a rich booty that Henry VIII. obtained from this invaluable shrine, the upper part of which was totally destroyed. The lower part of marble was left standing in a mutilated state, and the chest containing the relics of St. Edward was buried near by.
At the accession of Mary the ruins of the Confessor’s shrine were repaired, though evidently by unskilled workmen—“the Shrine was again set up, and the Altar with divers jewels that the Queen sent hither.”
“The xx day of Marche (1557) was taken up at Westminster again with a hondered lights, Kyng Edward the Confessor in the sam plasse wher ys shryne was, and ytt shalle be sett up agayne as fast as my Lord Abbot can have ytt done, for ytt was a godly shyte to have seen yt, how reverently he was ared from the plasse that he was taken up where he was alid when that the abbay was spowled and robyed ; and so he was cared and goodly syngyng and senssyng as has been sene and Masse song.”7
The shrine had again been set up by the 21st of April, and the chest of St. Edward placed in position.
The shrine of St. Edward stands on a base of one step, deeply worn by the knees of pilgrims, but this step having been relaid, these hollows are now on the inner instead of the outer edge. The substructure of marble, porphyry, and mosaic has three trefoiled niches on either side and one at the east end ; they are separated only by a thin tracery, which Peter the Roman filled with glass mosaic. Into these niches it was customary for pilgrims to ensconce themselves for the healing of their infirmities. Each niche is framed on the surface by a pattern in mosaic, that on the north differing from that on the south, the two patterns incongruously meeting on the east end. Above the arcade are a number of panels of serpentine and porphyry set in intricate mosaics and surmounted by an
entablature, around the architrave which ran the inscription in letters of blue glass recording the artist and the donor already mentioned. This was plastered over by Abbot Feckenham at the Marian restoration, but at the east end where the plaster has fallen away the words Duxit in actum Romanus civis can be deciphered. In place of this Feckenham had another inscription painted :—
(In all virtues worthy of praise a hero, St. Edward the Confessor, a king to be venerated, dying on the fifth day of January, ascended above the skies. Lift up your hearts! He died A. D. 1065.)
The cornice is considered to be the work of Feckenham, but a fragment of the original was found in 1868 built into the wall of the school, and has been restored.
At the west end a thick vertical slab of stone, originally covered with mosaic work, formed a reredos to the altar of the saint. This stone is now supported by two twisted shafts, but they are not in their original position. When Sir Gilbert Scott excavated at this spot he found the shafts to be the same length as the two at the easternmost corners of the shrine, those parts below the ground-level retained the tesseræ, while in those parts above ground they had all been picked out ; in order to show this he had them reversed. The two half-buried, twisted columns are larger in diameter than those at the east end ; they may formerly have stood at either side of the tabulum, or reredos, and supported the architrave in a similar manner to those at the east ; or they may have supported the golden figures of St. John and St. Edward
given by Edward II. in 1308, in the same positions as former figures occupied in the preceding shrine.
The wooden canopy which would cover the inestimable riches of the feretory was quite destroyed and nothing remains to enlighten us as to its appearance. Yet in the unfinished Renaissance canopy of Feckenham it is probable we see the general character of that which was destroyed ; only twenty years had passed since the desecration, and the recollection of the former covering must have been retained in the minds of many of the people. No doubt the abbot intended this to be finished with a gabled roof, while we know that it was decorated with gilding and colour to harmonise with the mosaics of the fixed shrine, for the remains are yet discernible.
This canopy was considerably damaged when the scaffolding was being removed after the coronation of James II., at which time the top of the iron-bound chest containing the relics of St. Edward was broken, making a hole about six inches long and four broad over the right breast of the saint’s body.
A choirman of that time mounted a ladder and, putting his hand in the hole, turned the bones about ; he drew the head down so that he could view it, and calmly tells us that it was very sound and firm, with the upper and nether jaws whole, and full of teeth, and a band of gold above an inch broad, in the nature of a coronet, surrounding the temples. He also drew out a richly adorned and enamelled
crucifix on a gold chain twenty-four inches long, which, after passing through various hands, was sold at a public auction in 1830 and is now entirely lost.
James II. stopped a recurrence of such sacrilege by ordering the chest to be enclosed within another of very great strength, each plank two inches thick, and bound together with strong ironwork.
Again has an altar been raised on the old site at the head of St. Edward’s shrine, on which the sacred rites were performed in preparation for the coronation of King Edward the Seventh.
MSS., Coll. of Arms, vol. iii.
-end chapter five-
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