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  Return to Shrines of British Saints.

The history and description of the shrines of Sainted and Martyred Kings and Princes,
Chapter Five of J. Charles Wall's, Shrines of British Saints

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St. Kenelm
St. Oswald
St. Oswin
St. Alkmund
St. Ethelbert
St. Edmund
St. Edward
St. Edward the Confessor

For even more information about abbeys, monks and religious Orders, see my abbey bookmark pages. 

See the glossary (coming soon) for help with some of the terms used in these chapters.

Wall, J. Charles, Shrines of British Saints, Methuen & Co., London. 1905.  Chapter five.







Nearly all the Christian Kingdoms of Europe number one or more of their monarchs in the calendar of the saints.  England was by no means eclipsed by others, and from among her kings, either of the whole land or of certain provinces, are many who, by their exemplary lives, are appropriately numbered in the multitude of the sanctified, whose tombs became shrines, and whose holy reputation attracted throngs of pilgrims.

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.

Edward II., buried at Gloucester, and Henry VI., buried at Windsor, were popularly proclaimed a saints, their tombs were visited, and offerings were made, even miracles were attributed to them.  This was especially the case with the latter ; images of Henry were set up in many churches and votive tapers were burnt before them, until the ecclesiastical authorities intervened and put an end to such uncanonical veneration.  Henry VIII.’s commissioners found at Caversham, Berks, the dagger with which it was said Henry VI. had been killed in the Tower ; it was venerated as a relic.

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 province of Mercia there is but one solitary saint—St. Kenelm—the seven-years-old king.  He had been murdered by the order of his jealous sister, and was placed in the calendar of the saints, partly on account of his sad fate during an age of innocence, and partly because of the extraordinary miracles which the credulous people of hat time fully believed.           

coffin of St. Kenelm
[Illustration: Coffin of St. Kenelm]
[Download a 1,835KB JPG of this image.]

After the murder his body was secretly buried in the forest where the tragedy had occurred until, it was said, the crime was revealed in Rome, where a dove flew into St. Peter’s and let fall a strip of parchment on the high altar.  Upon it was found an inscription in letters of gold, but in a strange language which no one could read.  At last a student from the English School in Rome thus deciphered it : “In Clento cou bathe Kenelm Kynebearn lith under thorne havedes bereaved” (In Clent the cow pasture, Kenelm, the king’s child, lieth under athorn, bereft of his head).

The news was sent to the different provinces of England and the body was found.


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.

Sacrilege was 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 Saxon pagans for example.



In the kingdom of Northumbria the saints Oswald and Oswin were kings worthy of emulation by modern monarchs.  The shrines of St. Oswald were many, a natural sequence to the brutality of his conqueror Penda, who mutilated the body of his victim on the battlefield (August 5th, 642).

The arms and head of the dead king were impaled on stakes until St. Oswald’s successor removed them to various localities.  His head was buried at Lindisfarne and placed within the coffin of St. Cuthbert, in which it remains to this day, in the cathedral of Durham.

The arms of St. Oswald were enshrined in silver at Bamborough, while the body, which had been buried on the field of battle, was afterwards translated to Bardney.  In those days of Norse piracy all sorts of expedients were resorted to for the preservation of treasure, and the reliquary 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 Mercia, and Elfleda, the daughter of King Alfred, to St. Peter’s Abbey in Gloucester, where his shrine was a conspicuous object in one of the chapels until the sixteenth century.



After his death in 651, St. Oswin was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary, at the mouth of the river Tyne.  Reported miracles led to an oratory being built over the grave.  This was destroyed by the apparently omnipresent Danes, the place was deserted and St. Oswin forgotten.  The royal saint is said to have been discontented at this negligence, and called upon a monk in his sleep, exhorting brother Edmund to make it known that a saint lay forgotten beneath the pavement.  Search was made and the relics found in 1065 ; and the bishop translated them into an honourable place within the church.

When Robert de Mowbray built a great church at Tynemouth, St. Oswin, at last had a sumptuous shrine.




St. Alkmud was the son of Alcred, king of Northumbria.  In 774, when a mere youth, he was obliged to fly with his father from the hands of his rebellious subjects, who contracted a league with the Danes.  For upwards of twenty years both father and son lived among the Picts, when his people, growing tired of the tyranny of the Northmen, prayed him to return.  Alkmund put himself at the head of this party and won several battles.  There is some confusion among his chroniclers as to the mode and the date of his death ; but it seems most probably that he was treacherously slain by the Danes in 819.  Be this as it may, he soon earned the honours of saint and martyr.  Fuller unworthily sneers at his claim of sanctity, sneers which have been quoted and amplified by subsequent writers.  When we find so much uncertainly about the mode of his death, we may surely give our Anglo-Saxon forefathers and the Catholic Church of those days some credit for being acquainted with such details of his sanctity of life that justified them in his canonisation, which have not come down to our times.  It is not as if he had been canonised, and then soon after dropped into oblivion, as was sometimes the case with these pre-Norman saints, whose memory was not hallowed by the conqueror.  Alkmund was evidently held in high honour by the devout of his countrymen, and remained honoured until the time of the Reformation.

St. Almund was first buried at Lilleshall, Shropshire, where a church was either built over this relics, or else his body was placed in a church that had preciously existed.  Not long afterwards, through fear of an incursion of the Danes, his remains were hastily removed and translated to Derby, where he was honoured on March


19th (the day of his translation) with great devotion as patron saint of the town.  Alban Butler states that an old MS. sermon preached in St. Alkmund’s church, Derby, about the year 1140, has a particular account of the removal of his relics to that town, where his shrine became famous for miracles and the resort of pilgrims.  Situated close to the side of one of the most important roads between the north and south of the kingdom, the fame of this shrine appears to have been maintained in all its freshness up to the time of its destruction.  Its fame even long survived the time of sacrilege.  Mr. Cantrell, vicar of St. Alkmund’s, writing to Dr. Pegge on this subject in 1760, said : “Fuller in his Worthies reports of miracles here, I add that the north countrymen inquire for this tomb, and set their packs upon it.”1  A well a short distance to the north of the church goes by the name of St. Alkmund’s Well ; the old custom of decking this well with flowers has of late years been revived, when the clergy and choir of the parishes visit it in procession.  There is still a belief in the virtues of the water of this well.

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, before crossing the Derwent, whilst one of their number went on to inquire as to its reception.  On the site of the halt the parish church of Duffield, still bearing the dedication of St. Alkmund, was afterwards erected.  When the townsfolk knew that the relics of the saintly prince were outside their walls, they received them with joy, and the church of his name was soon built for the special reception of the shrine.  This church stood on the royal demesne[properties], and in the time of the Confessor was served by a college of six priests.


The old church of St. Alkmund,2 Derby, was completely destroyed to make way for a successor in 1844.  Several well-carved pre-Norman stones were brought to light during the work of demolition, which were undoubtedly of the date of the original Saxon church.  Most of them pertained to a tall upstanding churchyard cross.  Two of them may have formed part of the original shrine.3  In the churchyard near the vestry door is another memorial on the old church found in the chancel foundation. It is a massive stone 6 feet 6 inches long, with the sides carved with arcades of plain Norman arches.  This eleventh-or twelfth-century stone is sometimes described as “St. Alkmund’s Shrine” ; but it tapers in size and seems to have been the substantial stone lid of a coffin intended to stand up above the pavement.  It is of course just possible that it may have been placed over St. Alkmund’s remains in Norman days.



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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Feretrum of St. Edmund
[Plate XXIII: Feretrum of St. Edmund.  Being translated from its temporary refuge in the church of St. Gregory-by-St. Paul to bury St. Edmunds. Harl. MS. 2,278.]
[Download a 4,042KB JPG of this image.]

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noble character, and the following penitence of Offa, were the cause and means of Hereford’s renown.  Ethelbert, the king of East Anglia, was murdered in the palace of the Mercian king in 793, while enjoying his hospitality as the suitor of Offa’s daughter.

The victim appears to have been quietly buried at Marden, but his body was shortly translated to the chapel of Our Lady at Fernlega—or Saltus Silicis—which has since been known as Hereford.  The whole event—a lover on the eve of his betrothal murdered under the roof of the princess’s father, and said to have been at the instigation of the royal mother solely to annex the contiguous territory of the Mercian crown—was a deed that could not be hidden.  In the public mind such a injured innocence was enveloped in a shroud of romance, from which emanated a flood of miracles, depending not on the former life of the slain king.  His death became a martyrdom, and the wonders reported as taking place at his grave caused Offa to send two bishops to Hereford to ascertain the facts.  It was an opportunity not to be neglected, and the prelates used the occasion to impress upon the king the heinousness of his crime, and to exhort him to give of his substance for the good of the Church.  An elaborate monument was built over the grave, and on the site of the chapel there soon arose the first cathedral of Hereford.  The relics of the saint were enclosed in a magnificent shrine by Bishop Athelstan II. (1012-1056), which stood but for a short period ; yet notwithstanding that the relics are supposed to have been nearly destroyed when the church was burnt in 1055, a shrine of St. Ethelbert continued to draw many pilgrims until the time of the Reformation.

The only relic of the king which is known to have been preserved at Hereford, after the fire, was a tooth, which was given to the cathedral by Philip de Fauconberg,


Canon of Hereford and Archdeacon of Huntingdon during the episcopate of Hugh Foliot (1219-1234).  The form of St. Ethelbert’s shrine is unknown, and the records of the cathedral are strangely quiet on the subject, while frequently mentioning the other great shrine of St. Thomas Cantilupe, which stood beneath the same roof.

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.

In the 1295[sic] great lists of relics, jewels, vestments, etc., pertaining to St. Paul’s Cathedral, prominent mention is made of the “portable wooden feretory of St. Ethelbert” ; it was plated with silver, and adorned with precious stones, coins, and rings.  This feretory probably only contained some small relic of the martyred king, for it is stated that many other relics were in the same case.  In addition to this feretory St. Paul’s claimed to have the head of St. Ethelbert in a silver-gilt chef, having a crown thickly studded with jewels ; and also the separate jawbone of the same king with four teeth, in a silver-gilt case encrusted with precious stones and crystals. 



On the 20th November, 870, the Danes in the most barbarous manner gave a young king a celestial crown and England a saint.  By the martyrdom of King Edmund of East Anglia they provided for their victim such fame as his memory would never have received under other circumstances.

The shrine of St. Edmund is utterly demolished, yet we know its former appearance better than any other which


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Shrine of St. Edmund
[Plate XXIV: Shrine of St. Edmund. From Lydgate’s Life of St. Edmund.]
[Download a 4,657KB JPG of this image.]

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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.

By Turkil’s invasion the place was again menaced by the too-well-remembered Danish atrocities, and in 1010 the “Ioculus,” or chest, containing the relics was taken to London for safety by Bishop Alfun and Ailwin, the custodian of the shrine.  In the church of St. Gregory, by St. Paul’s Cathedral, the relics found an asylum for three years, when the danger being overpast, the chest was again translated to the town of the saint, this time in gorgeous procession, provision being made for its reception on the way.  One memorial of this is with us still—little Saxon church of wood at Greenstead, near Ongar, in Essex ; and in the register of St. Edmund’s Bury it is recorded : “He was also sheltered near Aungre, where a wooden chapel remains as a memorial unto this day.”

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.

Baldwin, the first Norman abbot of Bury, translated the relics in 1095, but the inner coffin, or “theca,” was not then opened.

Richard I. made a pilgrimage to St. Edmund’s before setting out for the Crusade, and gave land to maintain a perpetual light before the shrine, which was afterwards the occasion of a great catastrophe.  He is also said to have given the banner of Isaac, the king of Cyprus, to the shrine on his return to England.


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Shrine of St. Edmund
[Plate XXV: Shrine of St. Edmund. From Lydgate’s Shrine of St. Edmund.]
[Download a 4,864KB JPG of this image.]

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When Coeur de Lion was a captive in Germany and the ransom was being collected in England, the Church had to contribute many of her treasures. But the Abbot of St. Edmund’s refused to spoil the shrine.  “The doors of the church shall be opened,” he said ; “he may enter who will—he may approach who dares.”  The wrath of the saint was feared, and the shrine escaped spoliation.

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.

It was rumoured by his French biographers that Prince Louis, when he returned to France in 1216, carried off the body of St. Edmund.  He was disappointed in his hopes of conquest, and had not even that salve to heal his wounded ambition, for the rumour was false.

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.

King Henry III. had a new shrine constructed of “admirable workman-ship,” into which the relics of St. Edmund were translated on the 18th of February, 1269.  It is this shrine, with certain alterations and greater ornament-ation, which we see in Lydgate’s illuminations.

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 Jesus College, Oxford, is entitled, Liber Feretratiorum S. Edmundi (the book of the keepers of St. Edmund’s shrine). 

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.

                     *                  *                 *                 *                *                 *            

John Williams.
Richard Pollard.
Phylyp Parys.
John Smyth.”

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).



St. Edward the Confessor, the last of England’s sainted kings, was enclosed in one of the primary types of shrine—the only one preserved to the present day.

In the abbey church of St. Peter at Westminster stands that one great shrine which has survived the trying vicissitudes of centuries, and the various changes of religious and political opinion.  Not only the shrine, but the relics of the saint within still draw a small number of pilgrims to those hallowed precincts.

This shrine is of material assistance in enabling us to determine the form and appearance of the numerous monuments to the sanctified which once abounded in Britain’s Isle ; the details in each case may differ, but the scheme of design is the same.  This instance is exceptionally replete with interest, because of the knowledge that we have of the style of certain successive shrines


to St. Edward, which preceded the one that is now extant.

From the Bayeux tapestry we obtain a sign of the chest in which St. Edward’s body was first enclosed.  It is the ordinary form of feretory—a rectangular chest, with a gabled roof, the two ends of the gable being terminated

Coffin of Edward the Confessor 
[Illustration: Coffin of St. Edward the Confessor.  From the Bayeux Tapestry.]
[Download a 1,953KB JPG of this image.]

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

Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor
[llustration: Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor.  MS., University Library, Cambridge.]
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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 untouched by corruption, after which the sanctity of St. Edward was enhanced and greater veneration rendered at his tomb.  Although not yet canonised at Rome, Edward was accepted as a saint by his former subjects.

At the suggestion of Thomas à Becket, King Henry II. had a magnificent shrine made, into which St. Edward was translated on October 13th, 1163.

Again are we fortunate in having representation of this new tomb, the first shrine of the now formally canonized saint.  In a manuscript Life of St. Edward in the University Library, Cambridge, is a representation of the translation.  Archbishop Thomas and King Henry themselves lifted the body from the old to the new tomb, assisted by the abbot of Westminster and other prelates, the monks of St. Peter’s holding aloft the lid of the feretory.  This picture shows the decoration of the sides and roof, the shape of the ends and finials, and the top-cresting of the feretory, which stands on a stone base draped with embroidered hangings.

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 St. John the Evangelist and St.


Shrine of St. Edward
[llustration: Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor.  MS., University Library, Cambridge.]
[Download a 3,633KB JPG of this image.]


Edward, to explain which it is necessary to recall another legend which associated these two saints one with the other.

During St. 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 from his finger a ring which he gave to the beggar.  This beggar was St. John in disguise.  St. John returned the ring to Edward by the hands of two pilgrims, at the same time revealing his identity.

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.

The manuscript above mentioned was written by a monk of Westminster for Queen Eleanor, and the illustration may be regarded as true representations of the shrine shortly before it was replaced by one yet more beautiful.  The figures in the first scene of the translation would of course be imaginary, but not so the shrine, that was drawn by one who was constantly seeing it, and doubtless sat, as many another does nowadays, with board upon knees in front of the object he wished to copy.

In 1241 King Henry III. caused a new shrine of the


shrine of St. Edward the confessor
[Plate XXVII: Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor.  South-East view.]
[Download a 5,261KB JPG of this image.]

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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 :— 

“Deliver of 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 Westminster, from the day of the Holy Trinity, in the 25th year of our reign, to the feast of SS. Simon and Jude next following.  Deliver also to the same 10 marks for a certain wooden shrine for the work of S. Edward, made by our order ; and to the same 6l. 10s. for marble bought for the same shrine by our order.”

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.

S. Edmund, Crown set with two large sapphires, a
ruby and other precious stones, valued at

King, holding in his right hand a flower, with sapphires
and emeralds in the middle of the crown, and a great
garnet on the breast, and otherwise set with pearls and
small stones 

56      4          4
Five golden angels £30
Blessed Virgin and Child, set with rubies, emeralds,
 and garnets

S. Peter holding in one hand a church, in the other
the keys, trampling on Nero, with a large sapphire
in his breast

A Majesty with an emerald in the breast £200
A golden chain with cameos

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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Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor
[Plate XXVI: Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor.  North-east view.]
[Download a 5,651KB JPG of this image.]

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The pomp attending the ceremony was unsurpassed even by the similar function of St. Thomas’ relics.  The aged king, with Richard his brother, Edward and Edmund, his two sons, supported the golden feretory of the Confessor.

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.


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

Pilgrims sign, St. Edward
[Illustration: Pilgrim’s Sign : St. Edward.]
[Download a 139KB JPG of this image.]

coronation gave gold from which to fashion two figures of St. John the Evangelist as a pilgrim and St. Edward with a ring, in which is seen the desire to perpetuate the legend related above (page 228).  Henry VII. ordered that a kneeling image of himself, covered with gold plates and enamelled, should be made and set up in the middle of the crest of the shrine.

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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 :—

 “Omnibus insignis laudum vertutibus heros,
Sanctus Edwardus Confessor, rex venerandus,
Quinto die Jani moriens super æthera scandit.
Sursum Corda.  Moritur anno Domini 1065.” 

(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.

Nowhere else in England was such a combination of precious marbles and mosaic, or such forms of twisted columns or hollow spirals.  In this monument are preserved to us the fruits of Abbot Ware’s travels, the experience of the Roman workmen, and the influence of examples seen in St. John Lateran and St. Clemet at Rome.  It is an artistic union of Byzantine richness with English architectural forms.

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.




1. Pegge’s MSS., Coll. of Arms, vol. iii.
2.  There are eight old churches dedicated to St. Alkmund, viz. Derby, Duffield, Shrewsbury, Atcham,
    Whitchurch (Salop), Bliburgh (Lincoln), Aymestrey  (Hereford), conjointly to Sts. John and Alkmund ; and
    Wormbridge (Salop),  conjointly to B. V. M. and St. Alkmund.
3. Most of these stones are now at the Derby Museum.  Drawings of them  appeared in the Journal of Brit.
    Arch. Association
, ii. 87 ; also on Plate V. of Cox’s Churches of Derbyshire, vol. iv.
4. Harl.MSS. 2278.
5. Cleo. A. 4.
6. Pat. Rot. 51 Hen. III. mem. 18.
7. Machyn’s Diary.


-end chapter five-

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