Heaven and Earth

Without wishing to state the obvious, this blog is called Lichfield Lore. Sometimes I’m worried that I might go too far (in a geographical rather than controversial sense) but although I’ve overstepped the Lichfield boundary from time to time, I have at least remained in Staffordshire. Until now.

Last month, a group of us from Lichfield Discovered, crossed the border into Derbyshire to visit Repton which, between the seventh and ninth centuries, had been one of the main residences of of the Mercian royal family. In 653AD, Peada, son of the pagan King Penda converted to Christianity in order to marry Alhflæd (sp?), the daughter of King Oswy of Northumbria. To help him to convert the rest of the kingdom, he employed four monks from Lindisfarne  – Adda, Betti, Cedd and Diuma, the latter of whom would become the first Bishop of Mercia (1). However, Peada and Alhflæd do not appear to have been a match made in Heaven nor Neorxnawang. The Venerable Bede reported in his Historia Ecclesiastica that Peada was murdered in 656AD “wickedly killed by the treachery, as is said, of his wife during the very time of celebrating Easter”. 

Church of St Wystan, Repton. Photo by David Moore

Church of St Wystan, Repton. Photo by David Moore

Rather fitting then that it was death which brought us to the ‘cradle of Christianity in the Midlands’. Although Peada is not buried here, the eighth century Anglo-Saxon crypt beneath the church was used as a mausoleum for later members of the Mercian royal family, including King Æthelbald ( ‘treacherously murdered at night by his own bodyguards’ says Bede), King Wiglaf (cause of death unknown) and his grandson Wigstan (murdered by a family member, who he objected to marrying his widowed mother. Seems his concerns were well-founded). The exact place where Wigstan was scalped is not known (Wistow in Leicestershire and Wistanstow in Shropshire both have claims) but wherever it was, it’s said that on the anniversary of his death each year, human hair grows from the earth at the spot where his blood was spilt (2). This supposed phenomenon and other miracles, led to the canonization of Wigstan, who became known as St Wystan. The crypt became a place of pilgrimage and the church above it took his name.

The crypt at Repton. Photo by David Moore.

The crypt at Repton. Photo by David Moore.

In the early eleventh century, King Cnut ordered the holy bones to be moved to Evesham Abbey and in the centuries which followed, the entrances to the crypt were sealed and its existence forgotten until 1779, when someone digging a grave for the headmaster of Repton School broke through the vaulting and fell into it. We made our entrance in a rather more conventional way.

crypt stairs

Down to the crypt and into the eighth century. Photo by David Moore.

From Repton, we headed to the Anchor Church, four connected caves alongside the River Trent, which both nature and humans had a hand in forming. I confess that the time I should have spent on the logistics of the trip was instead spent at the Whippet Inn, and so it took a bit of finding with just a postcode to guide us. However, when we did finally arrive we were pleased to see that, although thick with mud, the often flooded path that would take us to the ‘church’ was just about passable.

Inside the caves. Photo by Andy Walker.

Inside the caves. Photo by Andy Walker.

Legend has it that in the sixth or seventh century, the caves were occupied by a hermit, who spent his time here going to the river to pray. Later, the caves were supposedly inhabited by a monk called Bernard who spent his last days here, repenting for his part in the deception which persuaded returning crusader Hugh de Burdett that his wife Johanne had been unfaithful. The story goes that Hugh cut off her left hand, leaving her to bleed to death over the altar cloth she’d been embroidering for him using her own hair (what’s with the hair obsession around here?).  On a more cheerful note, in the eighteenth century, Sir Francis Burdett (presumably one of Hugh’s descendants) used the caves and riverbanks as a venue for picnics, as shall we when we visit again in the Summer.

The Anchor Church near Ingleby. Photo by David Moore.

The Anchor Church near Ingleby. Photo by David Moore.

On our way back to the cars, there was a blood-curdling scream. Had one of our party met with the ghost of Johanne searching for her lost hand or had they lost their footing and fallen victim to the mud?  No, Carol just had something in her shoe. One of those funny at the time but you really had to be there moments admittedly, but I mention it because this is what I remember first and most fondly when I think of our trip. I love places for their stories and their connections to the people of the past, but even more so for the memories made by visiting them with people in the here and now.

repton group

Looking for pirahanas in the River Trent. Photo by David Moore.

Notes

(1) In 669, Chad, brother of Cedd and the fourth Bishop of Mercia moved the See from Repton to Lichfield (phew, it is relevant to Lichfield after all!)

(2) There’s another Lichfield Discovered trip right there. Who is free on the first of June? We’ll have to split up though, gang….

(3) Another Lichfield link – in 1364 an armed mob at Repton attacked the Bishop of Lichfield and the Prior. Actually, finding places with a tenuous link to Lichfield could be a whole blog post in its own.

References

http://www.reptonchurch.org.uk/

Repton and its Neighbourhood by F C Hipkins

The Oxford Dictionary of Saints by David Hugh Farmer

http://jimjarratt.co.uk/follies/page57.html

https://lichfieldlore.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/anchor_a3.pdf

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Pilgrims' Progress

In trying to find out more about the ferry that may have taken pilgrims across the water to the Cathedral, I came across an interesting description of what they may have found there on their arrival.

A document described as an ‘indenture chirograph’ (1), two feet five inches long and eleven inches wide, lists the goods found in the sacristy in 1345. A transcript of the original Latin is included in the ‘Collections for a History of Staffordshire 1886, Part II, Vol VI’, edited by the William Salt Society. Thankfully, there is also a translation alongside, so that I don’t have to fumble my way through using google translate! (2)

A tile and a simple portrait mark the place where Chad’s shrine once stood.

The first part of the inventory lists the various relics owned by the Cathedral, including of course those of Saint Chad. Chad died in 672AD and around 700AD his bones were moved to a new church, on or near to the site of the present Cathedral. It’s thought that the Lichfield Angel, discovered in 2003 whilst work was being carried out on the nave, may have been part of the original shrine, and that it may have been destroyed by Vikings. By the time the inventory was made in 1345, the holy bones seem to have been kept in several different places within the Cathedral. Chad’s skull was kept in the thirteenth century Saint Chad’s Head Chapel ‘in a painted wooden case’. The Cathedral website describes how initially pilgrims would ascend a staircase in the wall, walk around the head, and then exit down a second stairway which still exists today.

Staircase which pilgrims may have used to exit St Chad’s Head Chapel

An old photograph of St Chad’s Chapel

Eventually, due to the volume of traffic, one of the staircases was closed and the relic was shown to pilgrims from the balcony outside the chapel.  There is also mention of an arm of Blessed Chad, and other bones in a portable shrine, as well as the great shrine of St Chad. The latter was described as being decorated with statues and adorned with precious gifts and jewels and stood in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral until the reformation. It’s believed that some of the Saint’s bones are now kept in the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Chad’s in Birmingham, enshrined on 21 June 1841, the day that the Cathedral was consecrated. (3)

An old photo of the Lady Chapel

It wasn’t just the relics of Saint Chad that were owned by the Cathedral. Other items recorded in 1345 include:

Some of Mount Calvary and Golgotha, a piece of the rock standing upon which Jesus wept bitterly and wept over Jerusalem, some of the bones of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, part of the finger and cowl of St William, some of the bread of St Godric and some of the wood of the cross of St Peter

There were also said to be some of St Lawrence’s bones, part of his tomb and a piece of the gridiron he was executed on. (4) Interestingly, it’s said that at number 23, The Close, different coloured bricks have been used on the south wall to depict this this symbol of St Lawrence’s martyrdom. Since I read about this, I have a look every time I walk past, but as of yet, have not managed to spot it!

Statue of St Lawrence at the church named after him in Walton on Trent, which sits on the border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire

Saint Chad’s skull may be long gone but the pilgrims still come, and on certain occasions have their feet washed at the pedilavium, a medieval feature thought to be unique to Lichfield. There are also plenty of other heads to be found at Lichfield Cathedral. Some are scarred and defaced, whilst others have been restored. They are a reminder of the medieval craftsmen who created the church, those who tried to destroy it and those whose skills and labour restored Lichfield Cathedral to the mirabilis edificii that it is today (ok, I admit I used google translate for that one!).

The medieval pedilavium where pilgrims still sit to have their feet washed.

Notes:

1) I believe this refers to a document that would have been written in duplicate on the same piece of parchment, and then divided into two with a serrated edge, so that when both parts were brought back together and compared, you could be sure that each was genuine and not a forgery.

(2) A footnote says ‘This transcript and translation were originally undertaken for ‘The Journal of the Derbyshire Archaeological Society’, and are now reprinted after careful revision and correction. It was the joint work of W H St John Hope, FSA and the compiler of this catalogue’. Thanks very much folks!

(3) The relics of St Chad were apparently smuggled out of Lichfield after the reformation and eventually ended up in Birmingham, a journey of thirty miles that took 300 years! You can read more about that journey here. I don’t think anyone knows what happened to the other relics.

(4) In a nutshell the legend of St Lawrence is that he was a Deacon of Rome, and when asked by the Prefect of Rome to assemble the treasures of the church  for him,  he brought him the poor and suffering, stating it was they who were the true treasures of the church. The legend says he was executed by being roasted over a gridiron (but some say he was most likely beheaded).

Sources: 

Collections for a History of Staffordshire 1886, Part II, Vol VI’, edited by the William Salt Society

Lichfield Cathedral Website – http://www.lichfield-cathedral.org/History/the-gothic-cathedral.html

Lichfield: The cathedral close’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 57-67

Ferry Cross the Minster

Yesterday, the second of March, was the feast day of St Chad. In 669, Chad founded a monastery near to the site where the church named after him now stands, making Lichfield the new centre of the Diocese of Mercia (it had previously been Repton). Anyone interested in learning more about the life of Chad should read Patrick Comerford’s post here.

Statue of Chad at St Chad’s church, Lichfield

Around this time last year,  I wrote about the history of the well at St Chad’s and a little about the pilgrimage route between Lichfield and Chester. This year once again I found myself possibly following in the footstep of pilgrims, when I took a walk down Bird St.

The latest incarnation of St Chad’s Well

The view from St Chad’s. A question – why was the Saxon church built to house St Chad’s bones and later to become the Cathedral, built over there, and not at the site of Chad’s Monastery and Well?

An alley (or gully or ginnel depending on where you’re from) runs from Bird St, past the George Hotel and then takes a sharp turn towards Minster Pool. In the early fourteenth century it was called Wroo Lane, a name thought to be derived from the Middle English word ‘Wro’ meaning corner. Shortly afterwards, the lane became known as Cock Alley.  According to Thomas Harwood, this ‘new’ name came from a carpenter named Slorcock who once lived there. I’ve done my best to show the route I think the lane took but please also take a look at  it on John Snape’s wonderful 1781 map of Lichfield, which Brownhills Bob very generously shared here on his blog. Although these days it’s probably mostly used as a shortcut to the car park, the Collections for a History of Staffordshire (Volume Six) suggests that this was once an important thoroughfare, leading pilgrims to the ferry which would carry them across the water to the Cathedral.

Cock Alley. Or possibly Wroo Lane.

Looking back up towards Wroo Lane. Or possibly Cock Alley.

How did the pilgrims get over those big railings?

At present, I am unsure whether the existence of a ferry for pilgrim traffic is a theory or whether it has actually been confirmed by evidence. I shall keep looking for this and in the meantime, may I suggest that when walking around Lichfield you keep looking too. Remember, it’s not just buildings that have a history, but also the spaces between them.

 Sources:

‘Lichfield: The place and street names, population and boundaries ‘, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 37-42. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42340

The History and Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield, Thomas Harwood

Collections for a history of Staffordshire Volume 6, Part 2, Willam Salt Archaeological Society