The Saxon Cathedral at Canterbury and The Saxon Saints Buried Therein/Chapter 5

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A.D. 759-765

THERE are early lives of St. Breogwine in Anglia Sacra by Edmer, the Precentor and Historian of Christ Church; and by Osborn, also Precentor and afterwards Sub-Prior of Christ Church. There is a life also in the Acta Sanctorum (Bollandists) under date August 25.

Breogwine was by birth a Saxon of Old Saxony in Germany, and born of noble parents. As a youth he had travelled much, and came to England for the purpose of study. His country had been christianized by Willibrord of Ripon, and Winfrid, or Boniface as he was called, of Crediton. These early missionaries had been joined by others of their own country, and great success attended their efforts. So much so that persons occupying high positions in Germany were accustomed to send their sons to England for the purpose of attending the schools established by Archbishop Theodore and Abbot Adrian, which at this time had a reputation for learning, recognized throughout the west.

Amongst lads attending these schools was Breogwine, who was already noted for the piety of his life, his readiness to learn and his aptness to teach, in which he had great success. The writer in the Flores Historiarum describes him as "a prudent man and of great acquaintance with literature." On the death of Archbishop Cuthbert in 758, the king, Ethelbert II (748–760), made choice of Breogwine as the one most fitted to succeed to the Archbishopric, on account of his modesty, integrity and great learning. He prevailed upon the Chapter of Christ Church to elect him and he therefore became the twelfth Archbishop of Canterbury. He was consecrated on Michaelmas Day, 759, and "ascended the pontifical chair to rule this Church of God amidst the exultations of all." Ethelbert II had recognized the humility, discretion and consistency of life of the new Archbishop, as well as his great theological learning, but he died during the second year of Breogwine's archiepiscopate, and according to Edmer the Archbishop himself died the following year. There is some confusion of dates here; most historians agree that the correct date of the death of the Archbishop is four years later, viz., in 765. This is the date given by Stubbs[1] and is probably the correct one, as the Archbishop is known to have signed Charters as late as 764.

Breogwine's episcopate was absolutely and entirely uneventful. There is a mention some thirty years after his death of his having held a Synod at which complaint was made that certain land which had been granted by Ethelbald of Mercia to Christ Church had been unjustly withheld.

We have already told the story, in Chapter III, of the way in which the clergy of Christ Church outwitted the monks of St. Austin's, on the death of Breogwine (see page 28); and how, when the armed party from St. Austin's, headed by the Abbot himself, came to claim his body, they found that the Archbishop was already buried in the Church of St. John, at the east end of the Cathedral, near the body of his predecessor, Cuthbert. "His tomb was flat, of decent workmanship and a little raised above the pavement." But yet another attempt was made to abstract this saint's body from the Cathedral, though not by the Augustinians. It will be best to tell the story here, though it relates to a time 350 years afterwards—it is given at length in Edmer's "Life."

"Not long before the death of Archbishop Ralph (1114-1123) a certain Teutonic monk, named Lambert, came into England from Louvain under the patronage of the Queen of Henry I, Adelaide by name, who also belonged to that city. Lambert was staying in Canterbury, residing with the fraternity of Christ Church. He constantly frequented the places where relics of the Archbishops were kept, to pray there, and to celebrate Mass before them: and was wont to ask all manner of questions as to whom this or that one had been and what might be the name of the one whose remains rested in this or that coffin; at length he conceived a vehement desire to obtain the body of St. Breogwine, and take it to his own country, intending, as he said, to found a monastery under the Saint's patronage. He had even obtained the consent of the Archbishop, and was making interest with the King through the Queen, for this purpose. The Archbishop at last thought better of the matter, and repented of his treason to Christ Church; thereupon the monk started to go to Woodstock to complain to the Queen but, on his journey, became ill and died in London. The monks at Christ Church were, however, now on their guard and to make such an attempt more difficult in future, they removed the relics of St. Breogwine and also those of Archbishop Plegmund (who had died in 914) to the south part of the Church and there decently entombed them behind the southern altar (St. Gregory's) in the South East Transept."

It is remarkable that though there were relics of this sainted Archbishop in the Cathedral, and he is mentioned in the Canterbury Martyrology,[2] his name does not occur in the thirteenth-century Kalendar to be found in Register K,[3] fol. xix., of the Cathedral records; nor is it in the Kalendar of the Archdeacon of Canterbury's Black Book,[4] which is a secular Kalendar of early fifteenth-century date. Neither is it entered in either of the kalendars to be found at Lambeth, that in the Psalter of John Hollingbourne,[5] a monk of Christ Church of the thirteenth century, nor in Archbishop Chichele's copy of the Sarum Breviary.

The relics of St. Breogwine rested behind the altar of St. Gregory, from about the year 1121 till the Dissolution.[6] They are mentioned as "Bregwyn; modo jacet in altari sancti Gregorii ex australi parte chori" in a list of relics in a manuscript of the time of Archbishop Warham preserved amongst the Parker MSS. in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (MS. 298).

  1. Stubbs, Registrum Sacrum Anglicanum, 1897.
  2. British Museum, Arundel MS. 68.
  3. Christ Church Cathedral MSS., Case F.I.
  4. Ch. Ch., Cant., XYZ Cabinet.
  5. Lambeth MSS., 558.
  6. Inventories of Christ Church, Canterbury, Legg and Hope, p. 60.