Medieval English Hagiography

Saint Kenelm

9th century English saint | 14th century, Middle English, British Museum, London, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

'This tree was fair and noble enough, and shone bright enough, full of blossom and fruit and with many a rich bough.'

'Old pagan beliefs are probably reflected in some of the Medieval Christian tales,' said Quintin. 'It was common practice that local pagan legends should be incorporated into Christianity wherever possible – like sacred wells assigned to Christian saints. Saint Kenelm had a spring named after him. It was supposed to have sprung into being as a miracle for the thirsty coffin-bearers, when they laid his body down for a rest after carrying it all the way from Worcestershire, when they were half a mile outside Winchcombe, in Gloucestershire.

'Before he died, Saint Kenelm dreamed that a tree was standing beside his bed. "It spread its branches widely above him and reached to the stars. It was fair and noble and its boughs were filled with blossom and fruit and among its branches shone such a light from lamps and candles that no tree can ever have appeared so beautiful." Kenelm dreamed that he climbed to the very highest bough of this tree and looked over the entire world, "and all its vanity". And whilst he was gazing from its topmost branch, he thought that one of his closest friends, the one whom he trusted the most, was standing on the ground beneath this tree with an axe. The tree fell and Kenelm turned into a little bird – he dreamed – and began to fly joyfully towards Heaven.'

'And he was murdered in the Clent Hills in Worcestershire,' said Quintin, putting down his copy of the fourteenth century South English Legendary, 'by the very man he'd dreamed was standing at the bottom of that fruit tree. There was a church built near where the body was originally discovered, near the village of Romsley, just north of Bromsgrove, and every year people used to have a fair and throw crab apples at the vicar. They called it crabbing the parson.'

The Medieval story of Saint Kenelm from: D'Evelyn, Charlotte, and Mill, Anna J, (Eds), 1956. Reprinted 1967. The South English Legendary. Published for the Early English Text Society by Oxford University Press. Saint Kenelm, Volume I, pp 279–91. Middle English text of SAINT KENELM from Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS 145.

See for yourself

Saint Kenelm – Wikipedia

St Kenelm's Way and Trail – The British Pilgrimage Trust

Clent Hills – Wikipedia

Complete text of the 14th century South English Legendary, edited by Charlotte d'Eveyln and Anna J Mill, 1956, reprinted 1967 (3 volumes, volume 1 contains the story of Saint Kenelm, reprinted 2004) available through the Early English Text Society (EETS)

…or direct from Oxford University Press

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