Shrines of Britain: Glastonbury Abbey


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The Holy Shrines of Glastonbury in Somerset, Part 1
By David Nash Ford

SHRINES OF
GLASTONBURY

Controversy Reigns Supreme

Glastonbury Abbey was well known for its vast collection of holy relics, but most prized amongst its possessions were the complete (or near complete) bodies of various holymen: local saints, abbots and early Celtic missionaries attracted by the monastery's fame. These were kept, for the most part, in magnificent feretories within elaborate shrines. They brought prestige to the great abbey and, more importantly, pilgrims and their offerings.

With pilgrimage being such a lucrative business in Medieval Britain, it is not surprising to learn that Glastonbury claimed to house some twenty-two complete saintly skeletons. The odd finger or tooth may have found its way into relic collections elsewhere but the major part of these holy bodies apparently lay at Glastonbury. Yet some of the names listed seem unlikely candidates. Some are Irishmen who are supposed to have crossed the Irish Sea and ended their days at the monastery, while others are said to have been conveniently translated here during the confused period of Viking raids in the North. The Abbey had to fight hard to fend off competition as a pilgrimage centre, especially from Canterbury where most of the eighteen saintly archbishops of that city had been interred. So was, perhaps, the West Country's Ecclesiastical Propaganda machine working overtime?

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