Shrines of the Saints - In England & Wales


Book launch Friday 4 March & Friday 11th March at 6.30pm after evensong.

The shrines of the saints in churches and cathedrals were at the heart of medieval religion.  In a world of darkness and uncertainty, the saints promised encouragement and healing; no wonder their shrines became places of pilgrimage and popularity.  Shrines ensured prestige for cathedrals and the certainty of regular income – the proper housing of shrines led to ambitious building campaigns and, perhaps most important of all, enabled people from all sections of society to share in the intercession of the saints.

Amidst all that was swept away at the Reformation, the shrines fared worst of all, representing, as they did, all that the Reformers detested – wealth, indulgences and a God hedged round by ‘lesser beings’. It has always been inferred that little or nothing of the former glory of shrines remained - a very different story to the mercy shown in Luther’s Reformation. The present work seeks to challenge this view and, after a survey of the medieval shrines of England and Wales, and their background, presents evidence proposing that, in small and subtle ways, the tradition was never quite lost.

Impetus for a ‘renaissance’ of the shrines came in the nineteenth century, with the re-emerging Roman Catholic church and with the Oxford Movement.  Each tradition had its own focus and differences but, without doubt, both raised the profile of the saints in their church communities.

At the same time, cathedrals were re-discovering their own mission and in many and varied ways, seeds were being sown which would, in due course, lead to a fuller discovery of what the Reformation had lost.

Research, never before published, charts the course of this ‘renaissance’, and how both Roman and Anglican communions contributed to the development.  Of particular relevance is  material focusing on three case studies – Westminster, Chester and Hereford and how their own shrines survived in very different circumstances, during the post-Reformation period.  Important, too, is the extraordinary ‘Tooth saga’ at Canterbury (1929-31) which showed how far the Anglican church had to go, during the twentieth century,  in re-instating  shrines  of the saints with any conviction.

However, the last sixty years have seen huge developments in the cathedral world – in the theology they have increasingly embraced pilgrimage, commercialism and an inclusive agenda.  The final section of the book puts this in context, focuses on theological themes and conducts a survey of ‘restored’ shrines, together with empirical evidence and  some reflections on what this ‘renaissance’ may mean for pilgrims and visitors today.

The history of medieval shrines has been well documented, through James Charles Wall’s Shrines of British Saints (1905) and John Crook’s magisterial survey English Medieval Shrines (2011), However, no attempt has been made to analyse the fate of shrines post-Reformation and to chart their influence in the Church of today.   It is hoped that the present book may help, to some extent, in addressing this area. Inevitably, the study has focused on cathedrals and their shrines – the world I have inhabited and know best – but a nod has been made to important shrines outside this area – notably Walsingham and Pennant Melangell in Wales and inevitable, too, that I have had to be selective in the number of shrines discussed.  My apologies to my fellow deans for any omissions!

Book launch Friday 4 March & Friday 11th March at 6.30pm after evensong.

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Product Code: 408102