Midwinter of the Spirit – “All roads lead to Tommy Canty”

Since a few friends have been asking me about the historical accuracy of the recent episode of Midwinter of the Spirit (and one even commented saying that when the characters on the show mentioned knowing of an expert on Thomas de Cantilupe, they expected me to turn up) I decided to make this quick blog post.

The miracle in question in Midwinter of the Spirit relates to a demon being trapped within the tomb at Hereford Cathedral; whilst this is somewhat true that there was this ‘demon’ in Hereford Cathedral, the story which was portrayed is not wholly accurate. The miracle is actually recounted in Rupert Matthews, Haunted Herefordshire on page 84, and this is the reason for its inaccuracy – the translation. Whilst translations are wholly the construction of those who do it, Lydia and I have tried to keep it as close to the document as possible. Compared with the one in ‘Haunted Herefordshire’ there are a fair few stylistic changes – unfortunately, with the literal translation, the demon was never put in the shrine, and, Thomas de Cantilupe did not physically fight this demon as made out in Midwinter of the Spirit.

The Latin is taken from:

Bartholomaei de Cotton, Monachi Norwicensis, Historia Anglicana (AD 449-1298) Vol. I-II, ed. H. R. Luard, Rolls Series (London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1859), reprinted by Cambridge University Press, 2012, APPENDIX B to page 179, pp. 427-428.

Legend of the Apparition of a Demon in Hereford Cathedral.

A.D. 1290.

Tempore sub eodem quoddam inauditum et quodammodo impossibile in ecclesia cathedrali canonicorum Herefordensi contigebat. Ubi quidam daemon, in habitu fratris canonici in choro, in choro post matutinas decantatas in quodam stallo sedebat, accessit ad eum quidam canonicus quaerens ob quamnam causam ibi sedebat, credens ipsum concanonicum cuum fore et fratrem ; qui obmutescebat nec vocem emisit. Idem vero canonicus ultra quam dici potuit perterritus, credens ipsum esse spiritum malignum, sperans in Domino, ipsum conjuravit in nomine Jesu Christi et Sancti Thomae de Cantilupo, ne ab eodem loco accederet, sed ibidem remaneret ; mox verba ex virtute remansit. Ac demum auxilio petito, ibidem accessit et ipsum invenit. Tandem eum Teutonice vapulaverunt, et demum in vinculis posuerunt. Qui taliter vinctus et ligaus, ibidem jacet coram feretro Sancti Thomae praenominati.

During the same time a certain unheard of and almost impossible event happened in the cathedral church of the canons of Hereford, where a certain demon in the habit of a canon in the choir was sat in a certain stall in the choir after Matins had been sung. A certain canon approached it; believing it to be a brother and a canon, he asked for what reason it was sitting there. The demon was silent and did not utter a sound. The same canon, more terrified than could be said, perceived it to be an evil spirit. Trusting in the Lord, he commanded in the name of Jesus Christ and Saint Thomas de Cantilupe that it should not depart from that place, but it must remain there. At first, it endured the words out of miraculous power; but eventually, after the canon had sought help, it conceded and remained there. At last they beat him and eventually bound him in chains. The demon, defeated and bound in such a manner, lay there before the shrine of the aforementioned Saint Thomas.


The shrine of St Thomas de Cantilupe in the north transept of Hereford Cathedral. This was the scene of many miracles from 1287 when his bones were translated here from the Lady Chapel.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing things for me is that Bartholomew Cotton, attributing this to 1290, makes use of Sancti Thomas or Saint Thomas when Cantilupe was not officially canonised until 1320. The miracle itself unfortunately does not appear in Exeter College Manuscript 158 which I have been studying recently in order to create a critical edition; however, we do have cases in ECMS158, the first of which is in the 1290’s, of people suffering from ‘demons’:

Mulier quedam Agneta nomine dicta Noreys filia Galfridi Noreys de Muchele Dene Herefordensis diocesis ad tumulum viri dei habens demonium et illud erat mutum.

A certain woman by the name of Agneta, surnamed Noreys, the daughter of Galfridus Noreys of Muchele Dene of the diocese of Hereford, (made her way) to the shrine of the man of God, having a demon- one that was mute.

Exeter College MS 158, f.16r.

Thousands of pilgrims passed to Hereford after word was spread that the bones had started performing miracles in 1287 when they had been translated from the Lady Chapel to the tomb. Therefore, the ‘demon’ in this miracle account of Bartholomew Cotton’s could have just been a visiting pilgrim, just like Agneta Noreys, who was branded as a ‘demoniac’ and was thus beaten and held in chains before the shrine. One can only imagine how the scene would have played out…


(Thanks goes to Hereford Cathedral Library and Archives for allowing me access to the microfilm of Exeter 158).

Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge – The Wonders of Wiltshire

In a blog about the journeys of the Medievalists through the medieval landscape of England, it might seem that there is a great deal of substance of a non-medieval nature. Lydia is largely to blame for this, being somewhat of an archaeologist, but we hope you will forgive our indulgence in including pieces on the sites we visit from other time periods. We couldn’t really not write about Stonehenge, could we? A trip to that great Neolithic site had been on the cards for a while, long before any ideas of the inception of this blog, before its writers had met even. Lydia had promised to go with a friend and, as he graciously allowed Ian to come too, it was as a party of three that we set off on this adventure. Having caught the train from Hereford to Salisbury, we had just enough time to make a whistle-stop tour of the cathedral, so the title of this blog is justified to an extent!


The great Stonehenge!

After narrowly making it onto the connection at Newport after our first train of the morning was late (literally we only had seconds left!), we made it into Salisbury with plenty of time to spare… Enough time to hunt down the cathedral there before our friend John arrived. Sure enough, upon exiting the station our attention was drawn to a glistening white spire puncturing the sky in the distance. This shining beacon was surely from the cathedral and like moths to a flame (or really, medievalists to a cathedral) we journeyed onwards!


The beacon, drawing us like medievalists to a cathedral.

After about 15 minutes we hurried onto the vast open grounds in which Salisbury Cathedral is situated, a space perfectly adapted to exhibit the cathedral’s shining brilliance. My mouth fell agape at the magnificence my eyes were beholding. This cathedral was one of the ones I wanted to visit most on our list and the outside alone did not disappoint; one can see why Ken Follett chose Salisbury and its architecture for the basis of Kingsbridge Cathedral in The Pillars of the Earth. The buttresses, the architecture, the tower and its spire and the size of the cathedral, everything around just gave Salisbury an awe-inspiring aura; it is a sight that intends to elicit a reaction.


The magnificence that is Salisbury Cathedral

The original cathedral was built just two miles north of the city of Salisbury at Old Sarum, an Iron Age hillfort which had found use by the Romans and then occupation by the Normans due to it being the meeting point of many Roman roads, holding an impressive hilltop settlement enclosed within its earthen walls. Old Sarum came to particular prominence after 1066 when William the Conqueror erected his scriptorium there, and it is believed to be where he was presented with Domesday Book in 1086. The building of the cathedral at Old Sarum had originally started in the 1070s and was finished in 1091 by Bishop Osmund. Yet, just five days after it was consecrated in 1092, the cathedral was struck by lightning. Undeterred Osmund repaired the cathedral and it remained in use for the next 100 years; however, life was not always easy with the cathedral being enclosed within the grounds of the castle, and soon the clergy were looking elsewhere.

In 1217 Bishop Richard Poore was granted permission by the pope to resituate the cathedral in a more favourable position; and so in 1220 preparations were finished and work commenced on the cathedral at New Sarum. By 1258 much of the work was done; the quire, transepts and nave were all finished in the Gothic architectural style, and in fact Salisbury is able to display all three stages from Early English to Decorated to Perpendicular. In size too, Salisbury is ambitious. Evidentially built on such a scale as to rival Canterbury, Winchester and Lincoln; in height it was only challenged 30 years later by Westminster Abbey. The Cathedral measures 135 metres (449 feet) long and was originally only 25.2m high (84 feet), but in the thirteenth century the tower was boosted massively to 123m (404 feet) from floor to tip of the gargantuan spire. Along with this came mammoth quantities of materials which the guidebook lists as 60,000 tons of stone, 420 tons of lead and 2,800 tons of oak – the oak was donated by Henry III from his estates in Wiltshire and Ireland.


The west end of Salisbury Cathedral with its 130 niches, 73 of which contain figures. Apparently based on the screen façades of Wells and Lincoln.

After picking my jaw back up off the floor Lydia and I journeyed inside. The ladies behind the entrance desk were kind enough to sneak me through as a student since I was so excited and only graduated last year and thus we were truly unleashed on the cathedral. As we entered the cavernous nave, all memories or thoughts that Salisbury Cathedral actually contained a 1215 Magna Carta were dissolved until an excited Lydia grabbed me and hurried me back out of there, into the cloisters and through to the Chapter House where we came face-to-face with the third of the four remaining 1215 Magna’s. With one more left to see… Lincoln – we’re coming for you, SOON! Salisbury Cathedral boasts that they hold the finest example of a 1215 Magna Carta and certainly that boast is not without reason. The guides standing outside of the small tent within the Chapter House kept shooting us glances as I uttered clauses in Latin under my breath as my eyes drank in the document. The realisation of the painstaking work Professors David Carpenter and Nicholas Vincent, and Dr Sophie Ambler have put in to discovering that the Magna Carta was the product of a monk of Salisbury dawned slowly on me (http://magnacartaresearch.org/read/feature_of_the_month/Jun_2015_3). Unfortunately though, we had built up quite a substantial queue… So we hotfooted it back into the cathedral with even more renewed vigour.



The gorgeous thirteenth-century Chapter House, housing the Magna Carta exhibition, and King John sculpture when you enter.

The nave in Salisbury Cathedral now measures some 60m (200 feet) long and 25m (84 feet) high, and it is within this cavernous space that Salisbury holds host to the world’s oldest clock, as well as the tomb of William Longespée (King John’s bastard half-brother). For me, it was hard to not look upwards towards the ceiling and just marvel at the cathedral’s construction, whilst Lydia made comments about the cathedral’s nifty font.



The nave, its ceiling, and the font (designed in 2008).

We made it to the quire which contains the largest complete set of carvings on the stalls; apparently all 106 date back to 1236, being part of the earliest gifts of Henry III to the cathedral, displayed alongside a magnificent kathedra. Eventually we came around to the Trinity Chapel and the resting place of St Osmond, second bishop of Salisbury, who was subject to the longest canonisation process in history – he died in 1099 and was not canonised until 1457. However, there was a service on which meant that I could not get close to yet another saint who had featured (albeit in footnotes) in my MA dissertation.

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Top Left, the ceiling in the quire and crossing; Top Right, the kathedra.               Bottom Left, left side of the quire stalls and organ; Bottom Right, the right side.

Picking up our pace as we explored the cathedral, we discovered the Audley Chapel with its stunning ceiling; the chapel was built originally for Edmund Audley, bishop from 1502-1524, and it still has traces of its original colour.

Audley Chapel ceiling

Finally, noticing the time, we began to hunt for a place to hug the cathedral before we were to go on to our next destination. Lydia chose a spot in the north transept, whilst I ended up in the Nave.


Dutifully hugging Salisbury!

Being half dragged out of the cathedral by Lydia to meet John, we stopped at the tomb of William Longespée who had the honour of being the first person to be buried in the new cathedral at Salisbury. He had stayed loyal to his half-brother throughout the First Barons War and was consequently heralded with many rewards by John. Once John died and the French Prince, Louis, had left the country, William joined Henry III, holding an influential place in his council. His ship was almost lost in a storm whilst returning to England in 1225, and he spent some months being tended to by French nuns. Dying shortly after his return to England, Roger of Wendover alleged that William had been poisoned by Hubert de Burgh; curiously enough, when his tomb was opened in 1791 the examiners found the well preserved corpse of a rat in his skull, containing traces of arsenic…



William Longespée’s tomb and shield with three lions heraldry.

And finally we were out of the building into a gloriously sunny day with the rest of what Salisbury had to offer us still very much within our grasp; and, finding John we marched ever onwards towards the bus stop for our next destination for which I’ll hand over to Lydia…


“Don’t go towards the cathedral Ian…” “But it’s so beautiful!”

We caught the bus from Salisbury to Stonehenge; a thirty minute trip through beautiful countryside on a wonderfully sunny day. Once there, the visitor centre provides quite an introduction to the site to prepare and titillate the eager visitor before they are ferried on buses to see the wonder itself. The exhibition at the Centre is a smooth affair with models of what Stonehenge probably looked like in each of its various stages along with displays of Neolithic and Bronze Age artefacts found at nearby pre-historic occupation sites. There is also information to fit the site into the context of the wider prehistoric landscape and immersive digital displays showing Stonehenge from every angle. Outside the centre are some reconstructed huts from the nearby Neolithic occupation site at Durrington Wells. This site is believed to have housed the workers who laboured in Stonehenge’s construction, probably on a seasonal basis. Each house, made of woven hazel covered with daub and covered by a thatched roof, contains a large central hearth, surrounded by low beds on wooden platforms on which the inhabitants would have slept.


Behold! Neolithic man!


Reconstructed huts from Durrington Wells


A picture that definitely needs no caption!

I found it a great shame that the public are no longer allowed to walk among the stones of the site, unless one is willing to endure the heaving throngs of neo-druids and other curiosities at the times of the solstices. This is ostensibly to protect any archaeology under the stones (although, one would think that the hundreds of years of gatherings and excavation, botched and otherwise, would have done its best to destroy anything that does remain). Knowing this, I was a little apprehensive about what the experience of coming face to face with such an iconic site would actually be like. I was very pleasantly surprised. While it is still painful to be tantalisingly close to the stones and yet not be able to touch them or get near enough to view them in any detail, visitors are free to wander on a path around them at their own leisure, attaining a view of the stones from every angle. It really is a majestic sight. Much of the appeal of the site is the enigma of its identity. It is a monument to a period that has been made mute through the lack of a written history. Yet, one senses a great connection to the past at Stonehenge, even through the busy bustle of other excited tourists happily snapping selfies. At this site perhaps more than others words and pictures cannot give an adequate sense of the profundity of the site. The best one can do (as currently demonstrated) is to sound wistfully hyperbolic… We sat and picnic-ed on the grass with this impressive monument providing a glorious back-drop, soaking it all in.


Er, guilty as charged!


A view from another angle

While the stones themselves are awe-inspiring to see in their physical magnitude and solidity, much of the wonder of Stonehenge for me lies in the bits that are hidden from sight. While we can theorise on the various arrangements of the stones with some accuracy, how they were actually brought to the site, or what processes were used to raise the heavy monoliths to rest on the supporting stones can only be hypothesized. Perhaps the biggest mystery remains the question of for what purpose the site was created in the first place. Why expend such effort and resource in erecting it? Most theories centre on the idea of religion, the accurate alignment with the summer and winter solstices proving highly suggestive to most authorities. It certainly must have been a vast community effort. Unfortunately though, we have to admit that we simply do not know enough about the religion and society of Neolithic man to be able to sufficiently answer the question of ‘why?’ Perhaps, indeed, the best answer to what Stonehenge ‘means’ is simply to link it to what it has come to mean in the present day, or as Siegfried Sassoon eloquently put it: ‘what is Stonehenge? It is the roofless past’. So, what do we think we know about the site? The site developed from c.3000 BC. The first manmade structure on the site was more like a causewayed enclosure than a henge, a circular ditch and bank still visible at the site today. In this, the very earliest phase of the site, the two entrances were aligned to the solstices. Inside this enclosure were 56 pits known as ‘Aubrey holes’ after the individual who first excavated them. These may have originally held wooden post or small upright stones, but cremated remains were deposited in many of them at a later date. In around 2500 BC the first of the huge sarsen stones were transported to the site and erected. In all, 75 sarsens were set in a circle, with an inner horseshoe shape of other trilithons. Then, Blue Stones from the Preseli Hills in Wales were transported to the site and arranged within the circle, although somewhat differently to their positions today. The site was last modified in c.2200 BC, although at some point between 1750-1500 BC various anonymous individuals carved axe heads into some of the stones. Finally, in the 20th century the site was restored to an extent when some of the fallen sarsen stones were re-erected and set in concrete.


The monumental trilithons

Stonehenge has provoked curiosity throughout the historical period. Recent excavations have uncovered evidence of Roman activity at the site and it has even been theorised that the site may have functioned as a Roman shrine. Geoffrey of Monmouth felt certain that he knew the origins of the site, stating confidently that the stones came from an Irish stone circle and were transported to their current location and magically re-erected by Merlin. A convincing theory, I think. The erroneous but pervasive theory that Stonehenge was built by Druids was suggested by the 18th century antiquarian William Stukeley, the first individual to document the cursus monument.

merlin building stonehenge

14th century illumination of Merlin building Stonehenge (from British Library, Egerton 3028)

I wrote that the stones were calling out to me to touch them, and I make the confession that I yielded to the temptation after we had traversed the full course of the stones. A good archaeologist even when transgressing, I planned my steps to not take me over any of the archaeology, but hopped the fence to walk around and then behind a stone that is positioned separately from the main stone circle, the so-called Heel Stone. As I walked by I put out my hand and touched the stone. Call me a sentimental archaeologist but it really was thrilling to be able to touch the work of man 5,000 years ago and sense the connection to that past. This thrill had a price however; an eagle-eyed sentinel spotted me and I was swiftly escorted off the site. For the nerdy archaeologist in me it was definitely worth it and I accepted the consequences gracefully. Still, at sites such as these rules are there for a (usually) good reason and I certainly do not advocate that readers of this blog do the same! Heh.


A rather incriminating photo… The Heel Stone looks very disapproving.

Stonehenge sits in a heavily manipulated prehistoric landscape. On the bus journey in we passed dozens of burial mounds, of all types and sizes. On our walk back to the visitor’s centre we were able to pass by some of these impressive Bronze Age barrows. This time, mindful of my telling-off, I kept to the designated paths. Our path back took us through the Stonehenge cursus. This is monument that predates Stonehenge, a long rectangular enclosure consisting of a bank and ditch. It really was a pleasant walk on a beautiful late summer’s day, and we definitely advise anyone visiting the site to walk at least one of the ways; the approximately two mile walk took less than thirty minutes and takes you past some beautiful monuments which remind you that Stonehenge, like all of the impressive prehistoric structures, were just one aspect in a much wider landscape, albeit in the case of Stonehenge, a particularly extraordinary aspect.


The barrows

Siegfried Sassoon so beautifully encapsulates the timelessness of Stonehenge in his poem about the site, I couldn’t resist quoting the whole thing here. The poem is far too good to remain obscure:

What is Stonehenge? It is the roofless past;

Man’s ruinous myth; his uninterred adoring

Of the unknown in sunrise cold and red;

His quest of stars that arch his doomed exploring.


And what is Time but shadows that were cast

By these storm-sculptured stones while countries fled?

The stones remain; their stillness can outlast

The skies of history hurrying overhead.


The Journey Begins!


After last year’s seemingly successful 100 Days of History the better half and I have decided to set up a blog charting our journeys out and about around the Middle Ages. Most of the time entries will be about the various churches, castles or abbeys that we visit, with a few other interesting items. I imagine we shall also post about our work and research on occasions; I may post about some miracles and related things and Lydia may post about Anglo-Saxon runes! There may also from time to time be guest articles by friends of ours who visit the shire and come and see these awesome places with us.

Another part of what this blog revolves around is our mutual challenge to visit and hug (Lydia’s idea!) every cathedral of medieval origins in the UK. This part of our mission is already well under way; we have already visited (and hugged, of course!) the cathedrals at Hereford, Gloucester and Ely, and spent a couple of wonderful days driving around the little parish churches and other historical monuments of interest around Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire; these will be retroactively added. We shall endeavour to fill the blog posts about each of these sites with as much relevant detail about their histories as we can uncover, as well as any other particularly interesting facts.

So! Lydia and I hope that you guys enjoy this blog about our journey around the Middle Ages, and that it will be both interesting and informative. We hope that you will want to come along and join us at some of these places!



Medievalists in their natural habitat. This pair was spotted at Grosmont Castle.

Magna Carta Conference – King’s College London

So today kick started the beginning of a three day conference at King’s College London to celebrate the Magna Carta Research Project and the 800th Anniversary of Magna Carta. Leading historians from all over Europe (and even America) attended, with a smattering of students here and there. Professor Nicholas Vincent kicked off proceedings with an entertaining discussion of the Magna Carta Research Project website and the work Professor David Carpenter and Dr Sophie Ambler have been conducting over the past three years, along with the talks they have been giving all over the world, and a special note that Hereford still has a Royal Executioner.


Professor Nicholas Vincent in full flow.

The talks over this first day began with the use of charters and capitularies in Carolingian Europe and Anglo-Saxon concepts of liberty, with talks by Professor Dame Jinty Nelson (KCL) and Dr Levi Roach (Exeter) setting the tone of things to come. After lunch, Professors Björn Weiler (Aberystwyth) and Martin Aurell (Universté de Poiters) gave interesting talks on the concepts of good and bad kings in both medieval reality and fiction; Björn showed that other rulers, such as the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV who was forced to abdicate, were just as bad as John at times, and Martin examined how the literature of the French ‘Roman’ influenced the minds of the barons with the planted ideas of barionial councils to advise kings.

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11212774_1025887974102629_5936601655133742956_n First panel – Dame Jinty Nelson centre (KCL), Levi Roach right (Exeter). Second panel – Björn Weiler left (Aberystwyth), Martin Aurell left (Universté de Poiters)

TSD’s very own Professor Janet Burton commenced proceedings again after yet another coffee break (needed, considering one academic began snoring loudly at the back during Aurell’s talk!), examining John’s relations with the Cistercian order in a way that had rarely been done before and showing the especial case of Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire. Dr Sophie Ambler (UEA) followed, discussing the role that churchmen had in Magna Carta and its dissemination during the thirteenth century. She drew on the main headlines from Magna Carta 800, particularly the discovery that at least two of the original four Magnae Cartae could have been written in their respective cathedrals, instead of by the Royal Chancery.

Third Panel - Sophie Ambler centre (UEA), Janet Burton right (TSD)

Third Panel – Sophie Ambler centre (UEA), Janet Burton right (TSD)

Finally, a heavily intellectual ‘debate’ was held between Professors Anne Duggan (KCL), John Hudson (St Andrews) and George Garnett (Oxford) on whether or not Magna Carta followed English Common Law or Ius Commune, with all three, ironically, largely agreeing with each other.

One can only imagine that the talks which will occur over the next two days (one day at KCL and the final day at the British Library) will be just as informative, interesting and entertaining, and it is such a shame to not be able to attend them due to work! (It was also wonderful to get a lot of my academic books, which have been a huge help over my BA and MA, signed by various academics whom I admire greatly – I)


John Gillingham, David Carpenter, Ann Duggan and Marc Morris all signed various books which I have used a lot over the years!


*All photos used within this blog were obtained with the permission of Sophie Ambler of the Magna Carta Research Project from the Magna Carta Facebook page (except for the bottom one)*

The First Proper Adventure!

Due to the fact that Lydia has recently passed her driving test we decided to go for our very first adventure together! For a first meandering drive around Herefordshire’s countryside we did very well, racking up a fair few miles.

The route we took drove us to Leominster to see the priory first of all. As it stands, the beautiful church which is left to us was a daughter house of the Benedictine Abbey at Reading. The lands of Leominster had been given to Reading Abbey in 1123 by Henry I, and during the 1130s the monastery and church were re-built; possibly on the site of the Anglo-Saxon monastery which had preceded it. Of course, like all monastic buildings it suffered during the Reformation and in 1539 the east end of the church, along with the monastic outbuildings, were destroyed; however, the main body of the church survived the iconoclastic purges.




The capitals of the pillars at one of Leominster Priory’s doors. Note the swirling patterns – this is what is described as ‘Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture’

Around the church are some fine examples of what scholars have started to call ‘The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture’, with my favourite being this small version of Samson and the Lion… Or is it?


The foundation legend of the priory involves St Eadfrith, a missionary priest from Northumbria, who came to Leominster in about 660AD. The legend, according to Leominster Priory, runs thus: ‘Eadfrith, a priest and teacher, set out from Northumbria to a place in Mercia called Reodes Mouth to convert the pagan King Merwald. At sunset he sat down to prepare for supper, when a most threatening lion appeared before him. Unafraid, but assumit it was sent from heaven the holy man held out a hunk of bread to the animal. Whereupon the lion, more tame than a lamb, mildly took the bread and ate it at the good man’s feet, tumbling about like a kitten. Then suddenly it disappeared.’

The legend continues of how he converted the local ruler Merewahl, prince of the Magonsaete, to Christianity after Merewahl revealed that he had been having terrible dreams about two black dogs ripping at his throat, before being saved by a priestly man bearing keys: ‘Though the black dogs, hungry henchmen of the king of Hell, would devour him for eternity, if he turned from his pagan ways to Christ the Son of the living God all would be well‘. Merewahl subsequently gave lands to Eadfrith in order to build a monasterium, or minster.

Unfortunately the original Anglo-Saxon monastery at Leominster was probably suppressed somewhere around 1050 due to a scandalous event which took place in 1046: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that:

This year went Earl Sweyne [Godwinson] into Wales; and Griffin,
king of the northern men with him; and hostages were delivered to
him. As he returned homeward, he ordered the Abbess of
Leominster to be fetched him; and he had her as long as he list,
after which he let her go home.’

This resulted in the closure of the religious house, yet the building survived as the parish church.

One last curiosity in Leominster, which caused all manner of facial expressions to be pulled, is the ducking stool. This stool was used for the last two trials in the country. In 1809, one Jenny Pipes was ducked for uttering foul and obtrusive language. And in 1817, Sarah Leeke was just wheeled around the town since when they tried to duck her the river level was too low.


Next it was on to Kingsland where we promptly lost the church… Not being deterred though, we continued on and found the wonderful church of St John The Baptist and St Alkmund in Aymestrey. The church itself dates to the 12th century, and was extended in the 14th. Wonderfully, parts of the Norman church remains, and the original chancel can be seen clearly


The small town of Wigmore came next on the journey, where a castle of enormous importance to the Welsh Marches resides. The village itself was founded in the 11th century and developed around a crossroads below the castle. By the early 14th century it was a prosperous market town with 102 tenants, a weekly market and annual fair. From 1075-1425 the Mortimer family held Wigmore, yet unfortunately it began to decline once the Mortimer family moved its administrative centre to Ludlow Castle.

The Church of St James was built in the 11th century by Ranulph Mortimer, possibly, on the site of an earlier Saxon building. The near circular shape and design of the churchyard itself, on a ridgeline with a wall around it, suggests that even that could have been built on an early, possibly even Celtic foundation.


The nave itself has some beautiful early Norman herringbone (or ‘Opus spicatum’) masonry, dating back to the original 11th century church which has been exposed for people to see. We could barely control our excitement as we examined it inch by inch, occasionally touching it and getting the rush of feeling that often happens when touching something so old and connected to the past.  The chancel was rebuilt in the 14th century, and the south aisle and tower were also added.


Wigmore Castle itself was founded in about 1070 by William fitzOsbern, earl of Hereford; however, it was not until the Mortimers came into possession of the castle that it was rebuilt in stone – the original construction would have been a wooden structure on top of the extensive earthworks.


The castle ruins from the outer bailey.

Some parts of the castle remain – notably the inner part of the gatehouse and the D-shaped east tower, though we do know that in the 14th century Roger Mortimer added more towers to create high status lodgings and a large porch to the gatehouse. This is the same Roger Mortimer who was the lover of Queen Isabella, whom he had helped to depose her husband in favour for her son, Edward III. Mortimer between 1327 and 1330 essentially became ruler of England, gaining land and power whenever he could. However, when Edward III asserted his independence, he arrested Mortimer and had him executed for treason.



Finally it was on to Ludlow for the finale of the trip and St Laurence’s Church. Orignally an 11th century foundation, it was renewed and rebuilt in 1199 on a larger scale than its early foundations. However, the church faced another huge rebuild of the nave, tower and chancel in the 15th century – all in the preferred Perpendicular style. In 1540, John Leland called the church ‘very Fayre and large and richly adorned and taken for the Fayrest in all these parts’.

The tower itself is 135 feet (41 metres) high and you can see the great expanses of this Marcher land from the top.


View from the top of St Laurence’s Church tower, down towards Ludlow Market and Castle.

Perhaps the most notable burial in St Laurence’s Church is that of the ‘heart’ of Arthur, Prince of Wales (1486-1502) who died of the ‘sweating sickness’ just months short of his 16th birthday. On April 23 1502 his body, which had been embalmed, was carried out of Ludlow Castle and into St Laurence’s, and just two days later he was sailed down the River Severn to Worcester where he is buried, surrounded by the Chantry Chapel of Henry VII.


St Laurence’s also holds boast to some marvellous late medieval misericords dating from 1425-1447 which are definitely worth mentioning. Their themes cover a wide variety of designs, although many revolve around town and private life- such as the wrestling match where two wrestlers are stripped to the waist with a horse and purse are also visible on the sides, and the man sitting by a fire with a kettle over it.


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Others include symbols of royal patronage since the castle was a royal stronghold. An antelope, which was the badge of Henry VI is vibrant and full of life. A Hart at Rest which was the badge of Richard II, and the three ostrich feathers representing the badge of Richard’s father, Prince Edward – known better as the Black Prince.




Added bonus – one of my favourite ones. A troll-esque character wearing contemporary women’s dress! – I

Finally, one of the most glorious aspects of the church has to be the large Jesse window in the Lady Chapel dating to around 1330 when Ludlow’s prosperity was at its height.


We hope you have enjoyed joining us on this first leg of many tours around the churches of Herefordshire and look forward to sharing more adventures soon!


Ely Cathedral

A short train ride away from Cambridge, Ely Cathedral was a perfect destination for a day-trip on a cloudy day in November. I was very excited to be visiting the final resting place of Byrhtnoth, the great Anglo-Saxon warrior who died bravely confronting the Viking forces in 991 A.D. This heroic stand-off was immortalised in the epic old English poem The Battle of Maldon:

Byrhtnoð maþelode, bord hafenode,
wand wacne æsc, wordum mælde,
yrre and anræd ageaf him andsware:
“Gehyrst þu, sælida, hwæt þis folc segeð?
Hi willað eow to gafole garas syllan,
ættrynne ord and ealde swurd,
þa heregeatu þe eow æt hilde ne deah.
Brimmanna boda, abeod eft ongean,
sege þinum leodum miccle laþre spell,
þæt her stynt unforcuð eorl mid his werode,
þe wile gealgean eþel þysne,
Æþelredes eard, ealdres mines,
folc and foldan. Feallan sceolon
hæþene æt hilde.

Byrthnoth spoke, he raised aloft a shield,
Brandished a slender spear, spoke words,
Angry and resolute, gave him back answer:
‘do you hear, sea-man, what this people say?
They will give you spears for tribute,
Deadly point and ancient sword;
Then your war-equipment will be
of no use to you at battle.
Messenger of the Vikings, deliver back again,
Tell to your people a much more hostile tale,
That here stands a noble earl with his company,
Who will defend this homeland,
Æthelred’s country, the people and earth of my prince.
We shall not fall in battle to the heathens.
(Lines 41-55)

Indeed, Byrhtnoth was a great benefactor of Ely Cathedral during his lifetime, to the extent that the Liber Eliensis records that after his death his wife had a tapestry made detailing his life, which was displayed in the cathedral. It is such a shame that such a thing does not now survive! We can only imagine what it must have looked like- something like the Bayeux Tapestry, perhaps. Byrhtnoth is not the only great Anglo-Saxon to have ended up in Ely though. In the row of bone chests in one of the Chantry chapels lie the remains of Wulstan ‘Lupus’, the eminent Archbishop, orator, legalist, and all-round polemic jack of all trades, probably most well-known for his vitriolic diatribe on the catastrophes that accompanied the Viking onslaught of Æthelred’s reign, the Sermo Lupi. Alongside these two great figures lie four other Anglo-Saxons influential in their own spheres in the eleventh century, along with one prominent Swedish churchman.


Lydia looking suitably star-struck by the bones of Byrhtnoth et alii

Certainly, Ely Cathedral was a very important place in Anglo-Saxon England. The cathedral itself was founded by an Anglo-Saxon princess, Etheldreda (otherwise known as Æthelthryth). She was the daughter of Anna, King of the East Angles (c.636-54). This was a particularly saintly family; up to five of Anna’s children were canonised, including the wonderfully named Seaxburgh who succeeded her sister as abbess of Ely. Following the practice of many royal princesses of this period, Etheldreda forsook her royal heritage to found a double monastery in 673 A.D. She ruled (if that is the right word!) as abbess for seven years before dying of a tumour. Prior to her entry into the religious life, the holy woman is said to have remained a virgin through two marriages, the first to Tonbert of the South Gyrwas, the second to Egfrið of Northumbria. This latter relationship seems to have been a tumultuous one; while the various accounts of Ethedreda’s life do not agree in the details (and were written a long time after the events they describe), Egfrið did not take Etheldreda’s commitment to chastity very well and is said to have pursued her, the saintly woman only escaping through divine aid. This fascinating founder of the Cathedral has not been forgotten; there is a statue of her stood prominently in the chapel dedicated to her, and the story of her life is recorded in a series of stone carvings on the pillars of the octagon. Ethedreda’s body was moved into the cathedral during her sister’s abbacy. Then, in 1252, in the presence of Henry III, Etheldreda’s relics were moved into a highly elaborate shrine. Unfortunately, this new shrine shared the fate of many ornate monuments of the early period and was destroyed during the Reformation, its position now only marked by a simple floor plaque.


Etheldreda in the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, (BL Additional 49598, folio 90v)

It is not difficult to understand why so many royal woman ended up holding high ecclesiastical position in the Anglo-Saxon period. Various scholars have explored the phenomenon, coming up with interesting theories about what this says about the importance of royal control of both the pagan and Christian belief systems. Certainly, as abbess, Æthelthryth and her sisters held a position of power unobtainable for females in Anglo-Saxon society generally.


(left) statue of Etheldreda; (right) ‘Here stood the shrine of Etheldreda saint and queen who founded this house A.D 673’

The church at Ely suffered severely during the Viking attacks of the ninth century. In around 970 the monastery was refounded as part of the Benedictine reform movement. This period of the church’s history is exemplified in two chapels of the South transept, one dedicated St Dunstan and the other to St Aethelwold, although these are later designations. Little remains now of the Anglo-Saxon church: the only surviving artefact is a rather unassuming stone pillar known as ‘Olvin’s Stone’. The individual in question was a steward to St Etheldrefa herself. On the base of the pillar is a Latin inscription which reads, ‘Lucem tuam Ovino da Deus et requiem amen’ which translates to ‘give, o God, to your Ovin light and peace, amen’. Having long moved on from its Anglo-Saxon origins, the cathedral in its present state instead glories in bold Romanesque round arches and pillars. Indeed, the church was completely rebuilt during the Norman period by one Simeon, formerly prior of Winchester, who was installed as abbot by William I. It is this Norman remodelling that is responsible for the cruciform plan of the building. Ian was entranced by the Norman ‘Prior’s Door’, which is believed to date to c. 1120-1140. The imagery on the door depicts Christ enthroned in majesty at the top, while the door is framed with lavish foliage framing symbols representing the signs of the zodiac. Two jaunty little faces jut out the two top corners of the doorway. Elegantly carved, it is a beautiful thing indeed.


(left) Ovin’s Stone; (right) the ‘Prior’s Door’

The Abbey of Ely did not become a Cathedral until 1109. Adjustment, advancement and change are key themes in the life of any cathedral, and a pattern of progression can be traced at Ely. In 1322 the square Norman tower, built on unstable ground, collapsed. This was rebuilt on an octogonal plan, completed eighteen years later. Various remodellings of the cathedral would follow in the period before the reformation, perhaps the most extravagant occurring in the thirteenth century when the whole east end of the cathedral was rebuilt to make space for the sheer number of pilgrims visiting the shrine of Etheldreda. Yet, the period of prosperity that followed the transition to a cathedral in the twelfth century was not to last. Such suggestions of extravagance and utility are in cold contrast to the state of the Cathedral at the end of the 18th century, when a certain visiting architect, A .W. N. Pugin, is said to have burst into tears when walking into the Lady Chapel and seeing it cluttered with cheap box pews and thick coats of lime wash, exclaiming, ‘O God, what has England done to deserve this!’. William Cobbett, visiting in 1813, noted that the cathedral was in ‘a state of disgraceful irrepair and disfigurement.’ Fortunately this was not to last for long, however; the Victorians made many changes to the cathedral, including restoring the south-west transept, building St Catherine’s Chapel and adding a wealth of beautiful stained glass.


The Octogon

There is a small charge for entry to the cathedral but it is definitely worth paying. Once in, I made a bee-line for Byrhthnoth et alii, Ian trailing in my wake. Ian dutifully expressed polite interest in the Anglo-Saxon bone-chests (I was definitely more interested than she makes out! -I), but he was more entranced by the beautiful ceiling in the Nave; and indeed, it is a thing of awe. Painted in 1864 by two artists, the ceiling displays scenes from both the Old and New Testaments. We spent a long time gazing up at it, to the detriment of the welfare of our necks: again, a price worth paying!


The beautiful ceiling of the Nave

Walking down the South Choir Aisle, Ian and I were rather amused by the provocative posture of an effigy of a certain Bishop Peter Gunning (ob. 1684). Having visited a fair few cathedrals since, we have been struck by other examples of this monumental pose; however, the bemusement that accompanies seeing them never runs dry. Worcester cathedral in particular displays quite a collection of post-medieval posed effigies which I’m sure will feature in future posts. Watch this space!


“Paint me like one of your french bishops!”

The Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral is almost a mini cathedral in its own right; a vast space with a high roof, it is the largest of any British cathedral. The Chapel was completed in 1349, having taken twenty-eight years to build. In its prime, it would have been a thing of wonder, its former glory now only suggested by the remnants of the intricate floriate sculptures that previously adorned the walls. If you look closely, you can even see traces of paint on the walls. Now, the chapel has an eerie atmosphere; it is an empty, echoey cavern which stands but as a tragic memoria to the destruction of the Reformation. The walls display row upon row of empty pedestals and mutilated statues, stripped of their adornments and heads. Plain glass replaces the former stained glass of the windows. The only flash of colour that remains is a rather… striking.. statue of the Virgin Mary above the altar.


(left) yet another gorgeous roof, this time of the Lady Chapel; (right) the statue of Mary hovers ominously over her domain

Always an admirer of a good church organ (as readers of this blog will come to appreciate I’m sure!), I cannot end without making a passing comment on the organ at Ely. A Victorian organ case houses this behemoth, decorated with elegantly carved angels sounding trumpets. Whilst perhaps not matching the vast (although, I admit I am biased here!) regal presence of the Hereford Organ, it is an impressive instrument and one very much in fitting with the elegant sculpture that decorates the cathedral.


Ever conscientious, we fulfilled our duty to hug Ely Cathedral with relish 

Ely cathedral is a wonderful cathedral, certainly one of my favourites in the cathedral challenge thus far. Ian definitely found it hard to pull me away; we almost missed our train because I wanted to go back and hug Byrhtnoth (I’m not strange, honest…). Anyway, we definitely highly recommend it as a place to visit and hope you would enjoy it as much as we both did.



Aaaand finally, let’s have a picture of Ely Cathedral in front of a dark and foreboding sky to end!