The Saxon Cathedral at Canterbury and The Saxon Saints Buried Therein/Chapter 4

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CHAPTER IV

THE CHURCH OF ST. ODO

A.D. 942-961

FROM the time of Cuthbert (741) to the advent of St. Odo (942) the Cathedral appears to have remained much in the same condition as when finished by St. Austin or his immediate successor, except that during the intervening 200 years much decay had set in, so that when St. Odo arrived at his Metropolitical City, he found the roof of his Cathedral absolutely rotten from age and resting on half-shattered timbers. We learn all this from Edmer, and also that this Archbishop was desirous of raising the walls of the church to a greater height, and took advantage of the extensive reparations required to do so. He therefore had the roof wholly removed and the walls raised. Edmer does not say to what height, he merely states the fact; but as the work occupied three years to effect completion, it is likely that they were raised to a considerable height, and possibly other improvements and enlargements were effected at the same time. The prolonged work gave occasion for the performance of a miracle, for during the whole time of the re-building no rain fell in the City of Canterbury, though the surrounding fields and orchards were rained upon as usual, the Archbishop having prayed to Heaven that the work should not be delayed nor the clergy and people prevented from attending the services of the Church, by reason of any inclemency of the weather.

The possible enlargement above mentioned is suggested by the late Sir Wm. St. John Hope[1] to have been the formation of an eastern transept to St. Austin's Church by an extension of the easternmost bay of the Saxon Church to the north and south, by removing the existing outside walls of the portici and extending the area to the required distance. This would afford more space for the exhibition of relics which had evidently been accumulating during the rule of the preceding twenty-one Archbishops.

Sir Wm. St. John Hope was of opinion that this new transept was as long as the one built upon its site by Lanfranc, rather more than a hundred years afterwards; which was 127 feet long and 3 if feet wide, practically the length and width of the present western transepts of the Cathedral.

Edmer tells the story of how St. Odo visited the deserted and ruined church of Ripon, which had been founded by St. Wilfrid; and where the saint had been buried in 709, over two hundred years earlier. Odo reverently removed his bones and dust (leaving, however, some portion of the remains so that the place Wilfrid had loved above all others should not be wholly deprived of them), and brought the rest to Canterbury, where they were deposited in the altar consecrated to the honour of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This, it will be remembered, was the altar set in the chord of the eastern apse upon the platform forming the Sanctuary; but later on in his account Edmer corrects this and says that the relics of St. Wilfrid were placed behind the Great (High) Altar which was built against the eastern wall of the apse, which he described as having been built of rough stones and cement, and having the altar of Christ set before it.

At Christ Church, the Festival of St. Wilfrid was kept on October 12, as a Black Letter Day. He is mentioned in the Christ Church Kalendar in the Monastic Register K, ff.19 and 20[2] and in the Canterbury Martyrology,[3] and also in Hollingbourne's Psalter in Lambeth Palace,[4] written by John Hollingbourne, a monk of Christ Church in the thirteenth century. He was for a time Bishop of York (not Archbishop) and afterwards of Hexham. He is mentioned by name in the thirteenth-century Collect used at Christ Church entitled De Reliquiis (see page 57) and the sacrist paid for extra music (pro sonitu), or music and bellringing, on his Day, the sum of iijd. Prefixed to "The Short Life," etc., of the Blessed Wilfrid, in the British Museum,[5] is the letter of Archbishop Odo concerning the translation of the relics to within the ambit of the Metropolitical Church.

St, Wilfrid was well known at Canterbury. His life was written by Eddius Stephanus, the Precentor of the Cathedral Church, before Bede wrote his; and a life was written by Edmer also. This Bishop and Confessor was of Northumbria; he had been educated at Lindisfarne, and had also studied at Canterbury, where he learnt the Roman version of the Psalter, before which time, in the north, he had been accustomed to that of St. Jerome. He had travelled in France and Italy. He was Bishop of York from 669 to 678, and again from 686 to 692, Bishop of Leicester 692 to 705, and of Hexham in 705. He had been consecrated at Compiegne, by Agilbert of Paris, assisted by eleven other bishops[6]; and died April 24, 709, at Oundle in Northamptonshire, and was buried in the Church of St. Peter at Ripon, which, with the monastery, was afterwards destroyed by Edred's army in the wars.

When the Saxon Church at Canterbury was destroyed by fire in 1067, and the old High Altar taken down, the body of St. Wilfrid was found and placed in a coffer (scrinium), but after some years the brethren became of opinion that it ought to have a more permanent resting-place, and accordingly a sepulchre was prepared for it on the north side of an altar in which it was reverently enclosed on the Fourth Ides of October (October 1 2), above the vault of the north transept.[7] On the completion of the New Choir by Ernulf, the tomb was transferred to the north side of the altar of the Holy Trinity in the rectangular chapel at the extreme east end of St. Anselm's Church; and after the fire of 1 174 it was again transferred to the north side of the altar of the Holy Trinity, in the newly built round chapel called the Corona, where the Crown or tonsure of St. Thomas was kept in a silver reliquary. The site of the tomb of St. Wilfrid is still marked by a step beneath the window with sunk quatrefoils on its face within this chapel.

About the same time that St. Odo brought the relics of St. Wilfrid to Canterbury, he acquired those of St. Audoen (or Owen), who had been Archbishop of Rouen and died in 686. They were first wrapped carefully in their shrouds and placed in a costly and beautiful coffer, or shrine, which he had made to contain them. St. Audoen's festival was kept at Christ Church as a Black Letter Day on August 25. He is mentioned in the Monastic Kalendar in Register K, in the Canterbury Benedictional[8] and in the Kalendar in Hollingbourne's Psalter at Lambeth (see above), where his day is fixed for August 24, the same as it was kept at St. Austin's Abbey. His name appears in the thirteenth-century Collect used at Christ Church in De Reliquiis (see page 57) and the sacrist paid for extra music and bellringing on his Feast Day the sum of vd. According to the chronicler Gervase, he had an altar dedicated to him in the Cathedral, but this was after the fire of 1067, when Lanfranc's Church was enlarged by Ernulf (1096–1107). This chapel of St. Audoen was in the crypt, in the south-eastern transept beneath the Chapel of St. Gregory, now part of the Black Prince's Chantry.[9]

There were six altars in the Saxon Church mentioned by Edmer, and all were provided with relics in his day; at what date the earliest were brought to Canterbury Cathedral it is impossible to say now, but the first notice we have is that of Archbishop Plegmund (890-914) who, it is said,

"journeyed to Rome and bought the blessed martyr Blasius for a great sum of gold and silver. He brought the body with him when he returned to Canterbury and placed it there in Christ Church" (Gervase).

The Christian usage in the matter of relics dates from very early times, but it was not till after the Conversion of Constantine (307) that relics were placed under altars, nor till after the second Council of Nicea (787) that the possession of relics was necessary to the consecration of churches. Rather less than midway between these dates must have seen the birth of St. Austin, and it was probably fifty years afterwards when he was in France, he found some persons "worshipping a body which they supposed to be that of St. Sixtus." He wrote to Rome asking Gregory for some genuine relics of the martyr, who, granting his request, gave him this direction:

"The relics which you have asked for are to be buried by themselves, that the place in which the aforesaid body lies may be altogether dosed up, and the people not suffered to desert the certain and worship the uncertain."[10]

This advice was given on account of certain spurious relics which from the beginning of the fifth century had fraudulently begun to be practised upon the people. [11] Constantine had been the first who ventured to move the bodies of saints, contrary to the spirit of the AnteNicene Church, and within five hundred years afterwards we find the practice universal. It must be left a matter of uncertainty in view of absolutely no evidence whatever existing as to when the relics mentioned by Edmer were placed in the altars of the Saxon Church, or from whence they were obtained.

St. Wilfrid (709) and St. Audoen (640) have been mentioned (see pp. 33, 34 and 35); it now remains to notice those probably acquired before the time of St. Odo (942), and it will be convenient to take them in chronological order:

St. Blaise, A.D. 316, already mentioned as having been bought by Archbishop Plegmund (890-914). He had been Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia and was martyred A,D, 316. His festival, according to the Bollandists, is kept on February 3; that is the date also observed by the Christ Church monks, where the entry in the Kalendar in Register K and in that of the Archdeacon of Canterbury's Black Book (a volume of about the fifteenth century)[12] gives

"Sci Blasii mr et pontificis."

He is not mentioned in the Canterbury Benedictional or in the Canterbury Martyrology,[13] but occurs in the St. Austin's Abbey Kalendar as a Black Letter Saint. At Christ Church his relics were venerated down to the time of the Dissolution (1540). When first brought to Canterbury no statement is made as to where the relics were deposited, but after the fire of 1067 and the rebuilding by Archbishop Lanfranc, they were placed behind the altar dedicated to him in the upper apse in the north transept, and after the fire of 1174, on the rebuilding and enlarging of the church by Prior Ernulf, the shrine of St. Blaise,[14] perhaps because it contained the oldest of the relics preserved in Christ Church, occupied a place of honour behind the High Altar. It was probably set on a beam over this altar, as in Register Q, ff. 26vo. and 27ro., in the account of Archbishop Winchelsea's enthronization in 1294, it is stated that during the ceremony, the Archbishop, the Prior, and the Ministers of the Altar, made a station behind the High Altar, under the shrine of St. Blaise, before the marble chair (of the Archbishop then placed at the top of the steps where the High Altar now is); then turned towards the east, and eight monks alternately sang the song Benedictus under the shrine of St. Blaise before the Archbishop sitting in his chair. In 1315, in the time of Prior Eastry, the head of St. Blaise was kept in a silver and gilt reliquary. There was also a bone of St. Blaise kept in filacterio (a reliquary that could be hung up with a cord) of copper gilt, without gems, but with a large round crystal, through which the relic might be viewed.

Also some of the bones of this saint were kept in a large white box of wood; in a small cupboard (armariolo) behind the High Altar near his shrine, was kept the canola, or silver tube containing a relic; and in a large ivory horn hanging from the beam behind the High Altar was a bone of the saint. A tooth was also kept in a reliquary in the form of a cross of gold belonging to Archbishop Stephen Langton, with a ruby in its head and two emeralds at the sides.

The shrine of St. Blaise, the coffer and bones, etc., if not destroyed at the despoiling of the shrine of St. Thomas in the time of Henry VIII (1538), more probably disappeared under the injunctions issued by Edward VI in 1547.

St. Blaise was the Armenian Bishop who was martyred in the persecution of Licinius by command of Agricolaus, the Governor of Cappadocia; the miracles which were effected by the veneration of his relics were mostly the cure of sore throats. There is a legend that St. Blaise cured a boy at the point of death from choking owing to swallowing a fish bone, by praying and touching his throat. In Roman Catholic churches, on February 3, is still observed the custom of blessing the throats, and the prayer certainly dating from the thirteenth century, is used: "Through the intercession of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr, may the Lord deliver thee from all evil of the throat, through Christ Our Lord, Amen." He is the titular Patron of the Woolcombers, and his day is still kept at Norwich amongst the fraternity.

St. Furseus, A.D. 650 (see page 19), has already been mentioned as the son of the Irish King Fintan. He was of the seventh century, and was first abbot of a monastery in the diocese of Tuam, where now stands the Church of Kill-fursa (Colgan). His two brothers, Folian and Ultan, were both known as saints; with them he travelled through England, and with the help of King Sigibert he founded the Abbey of Cnobbersbury, now Burgh-castle in Suffolk. He then went to France, where with the assistance of the French King, Clovis II, he founded the monastery of Lagny on the Marne. He acted as Deputy to the Bishop of Paris, and has thus been thought to be a Bishop. He died in A.D. 650, whilst building another monastery at Peronne. At Canterbury his festival was kept on January 16, as a Red Letter Day. His name occurs in the Christ Church Kalendar in Register K, and in that in the Archdeacon's Black Book. Also in the Canterbury Martyrology, and in Hollingbourne's Psalter,

St. Austroberta, A.D. 704, had been Abbess of Pavilly (Pauliacencis) in Caux, in Normandy. The Church of Pavilly has a chapel of St. Austroberta, and there is a hamlet of St, Austroberta a few miles north of the town. This sainted virgin, according to the Martiloge, was of the territory of Rone-Rouen. Her festival was kept at Christ Church on February 10 as a Red Letter Day and occurs in the Kalendar in Register K, in the Canterbury Benedictional, and in Hollingbourne's Psalter. Her relics are preserved at the Church of St. Audomar in Rouen except the head, which was placed in the Altar of Our Lady in the Western apse in the Saxon Cathedral (see page 22). Afterwards in the time of Prior Henry of Eastry, it is found in a silver-gilt and enamelled reliquary, which was kept in the great reliquary cupboard next to the High Altar.[15] At the time of the Dissolution this relic probably went the way of the rest, the silver-gilt container to the King's use, and the contents buried.

  1. Op. cit.
  2. Christ Church, Canterbury, MSS.
  3. Brit. Mus. Arundel MS., 68.
  4. Lambeth MSS., 558.
  5. Cotton MS. Claudius A.r.
  6. Stubbs, Registrum Sacrum Anglicanum, 1897.
  7. Willis, Arch. Hist. Cant. Cath., p. 16.
  8. This was a Canterbury Book of Benedictions written about 1025 by an Anglo-Saxon scribe. It does not contain a kalendar like the otter MSS. mentioned in the text. It was transcribed and printed by the Henry Bradshaw Society in 1916.
  9. Amongst the Opuscula of Edmer, now preserved in the College of Corpus Christi at Cambridge, is a story with the following title, "De reliquis Sancti Audoeni, et quorundam aliorum sanctorum quse Cantuariae in Ecclesia Domini Salvatoris habentur." In the time of King Edgar (A.D. 957) there came to England four clerks, who presented themselves at his court, and asserted that they had brought with them the body of Saint Audoen. And when the King refused to believe this, they appealed to the miraculous power which the relics possessed. Whereupon the King, thinking this to be a matter rather for ecclesiastical judgment than for his own, commanded the attendance of Archbishop Odo, and when he had succeeded in performing several miraculous cures by the contact of the relics in question, the truth of the story was no longer doubted; the King munificently rewarded the bearers of this treasure, and committed it to the charge of the Archbishop, that it might be conveyed to Canterbury, and worthily deposited in Christ Church. As to the four clerks, they accompanied it thither, and were so pleased with the monastery that they became monks, and ended their days therein.

    Capgrave in his Chronicles of England (edited by F. C Hingeston in 1858 for the Rolls Series) has the above in his life of St. Audoen. In tie Acta Sanctorum (Bollandists), August, Tome iv, p. 803, are some remarks on the feet that there is another entire body of St. Audoen preserved at Rouen, and detached relics of him elsewhere.

  10. Gre. M. Epist. xii. 31.
  11. Dict. of Christian Antiquities, Smith & Cheetham, p. 1772.
  12. Ch. Cn., Cant,, MSS.; Archdeacon of Canterbury's Black Book; Cabinet in XYZ.
  13. Brit Mus. Arundel MS. 68.
  14. Inventories of Canty. Cathl. Legg & Hope, p. 35.
  15. Brit. Mus. Cott. MSS. Galba E, iv.