Pilgrimage Destinations in England


In England, as elsewhere in Europe, it was common for pilgrims to make good use of their time and effort by combining different shrines in a single tour. In several years of his reign, King Henry III made a pilgrimage tour during Lent which took in Bury St Edmunds, the Holy Rood of Bromholm and Our Lady of Walsingham. Two Scottish pilgrims in 1451 proposed to visit Canterbury, Walsingham and Hailes Abbey and then to go on to Wilsnack in Prussia. Churches which lay on the road from London to Canterbury would hope to benefit from the passage of pilgrims: the authorities of Rochester Cathedral had good reason to promote the cult of St William of Perth. A single city, even a single church (like Canterbury Cathedral) might offer multiple attractions.

Beverley and Bridlington

St John of Beverley.
Bolton Hours
© Dean & Chapter York, York Minster Archive Ms Add 2 f199r.
Origin/Date: England || 15th century [after 1405]

John of Beverley, bishop of York, died in 721 and was immediately regarded as a miracle worker. In the twelfth century it was believed that King Athelstan had called on his aid against the Scots and had granted great privileges to the church of Beverley. The saint's relics were carried in solemn procession around the town during the three days before Ascension Day and on Ascension Day around the church itself. These festivities were attended by many from Yorkshire and Northumbria. John was probably a saint chiefly for north-east England, but there is some evidence that he had a public further afield: in 1351 a man called John Curteys walked barefoot from Bedford to Beverley and a minister of the church of St David's in 1433 left money for a pilgrim to go to Beverley, Bridlington and Walsingham in his name.

Bridlington is only eleven miles from Beverley and became a shrine of consequence after the death of Prior John in 1379 (he was canonised in 1401). There is some evidence that the same pilgrims went to both shrines. Henry V did so in 1421 and is supposed to have called on both saints John at the Battle of Agincourt. A fragmentary pilgrim badge found in London shows them both together, clearly labelled 'Beverley' and 'Bridlington'.


Pilgrim Badge of the Holy Rood of Boxley.
© Neish Collection, Harvard House and the Museum of British Pewter
Origin/Date: Boxley, England || 15th century

In 1398 the Cistercian abbey of Boxley near Maidstone in Kent received an indulgence for the two principal feasts of the Cross: the 'Invention' in May and the 'Exaltation' in September. Presumably they sought this indulgence because they already possessed their famous Rood, which according to some accounts was carved by a French prisoner of war. Clearly the cult was in the news, for a heretic from Wokingham in Surrey was accused in 1412 of denouncing pilgrims to St Thomas of Canterbury, the Cross of Boxley or Bridlington Priory. Its fame grew; Henry VII and his queen Elizabeth of York thought it proper to offer to the Rood. Like the Blood of Hailes, the Rood of Boxley attracted the ire of the reformers, particularly as it was believed to be part of a confidence trick. The monks had another statue, of the child-saint Rumwold, which could be raised or lowered by hidden machinery, and the Rood too moved its hands and feet, nodded its head and performed other movements. It ended on a bonfire at St Paul's in 1538.

Bury St Edmunds

The cathedral of Bury St Edmunds, East Anglia. 
Wikimedia Commons
© Martin Pettitt (licensed under CC-BY-2.0)

Edmund, king of the East Angles was murdered by the Danes in 869 and came to be regarded as a saint and martyr. About half a century later his remains were translated to what later became Bury; another century after that, around 1020, a community of monks took charge of him. In the thirteenth century Edmund benefited from a growing interest in the Anglo-Saxon past; King Henry III (who called his second son Edmund) patronised the shrine and the cult. Edmund seems to have opened branches in the fourteenth century, for he did miracles at Wainfleet near the coast of Lincolnshire (where there was an image of him) and at Lyng in Norfolk. Apparently one pilgrim came to Lyng from as far away as Kent. The monks of Bury also exploited the growing late medieval devotion to the Virgin, for Our Lady of Woolpit (a church very near Bury which belonged to them) became sufficiently well known to be mocked by a Lollard heretic as 'Our Lefday of Foulpit'.


Martyrdom of Thomas Becket.
St Albans Chronicle
© Lambeth Palace Library, MS 6 f136v
Origin/Date: Flemish || last qtr 15th century

Although Canterbury possessed other saints, including St Augustine, St Dunstan and St Anselm, before Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered on 30 December 1170, there is no evidence that they attracted many pilgrims from outside Kent. In contrast, the Becket miracle stories, collected mostly in the 1170s, show that although a substantial majority of his pilgrims came from southern England, he also drew pilgrims from all parts of the British Isles and from Europe. Becket was famous for healing from a distance and pilgrims, like those in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, often came to give thanks for answered prayers.



Digital visualization of the shrine of St Cuthbert, Durham.
© The Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture, University of York

Durham acquired its greatest pilgrimage attraction when St Cuthbert's relics were brought there in 995 after over a century of wandering since the Vikings destroyed Lindisfarne in 875. With him came the head of St Oswald, king of Northumbria (d.642). Cuthbert's relics were translated into the new Norman cathedral in 1104. He acquired another associate when Godric, the hermit of Finchale a few miles from Durham, died in July 1170. Analysis of Godric's miracles shows that he did over sixty per cent of them for women. This seems to have been partly because the monks of Durham fostered a legend that women could not approach St Cuthbert's shrine, and the saint himself is supposed to have encouraged female petitioners to go to Godric instead.



The Lady Chapel, Glastonbury Abbey, with chapel of Joseph of Arimathea below. 
Wikimedia Commons
© NotFromUtrecht (licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Venerated to this day as an ancient centre of English Christianity, Glastonbury remained a place of pilgrimage in the later Middle Ages, but experienced some difficulties, above all the great fire of 1184. Fourteen years after the death of Becket, this occurred during the period when Canterbury was rising to pre-eminence among English shrines. The monks of Glastonbury had already entered into a dispute with the monks of Canterbury, claiming that they possessed the relics of St Dunstan (d.988), who had been a monk and abbot of Glastonbury before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. Now they renewed their claim, perhaps reasoning that the Canterbury monks might be less concerned about Dunstan now that they had Becket. They also claimed to possess Dunstan's king and patron Edgar (d.975) and, rather implausibly, St Patrick.

In 1191 they began to exploit a new resource, announcing that they had discovered the tomb of King Arthur and Guinevere. The kings of England were quite happy to lend their support to the idea that Arthur, the once and future king of the Welsh, was dead and that his remains were in English custody; in 1278 Edward I attended a ceremonial opening of Arthur's tomb. This  exploitation of the Arthurian and Holy Grail legends continued with the adoption of Joseph of Arimathea as the mythical founder of Glastonbury; he was supposed to have been sent to England by St Philip, bringing with him some drops of the blood of Christ. In 1345 Edward III authorised John Blome of London to dig at Glastonbury for the remains of St Joseph, but he was apparently not successful. Nevertheless, the history of the abbey, as it was explained to pilgrims, now began with him. How successful these stratagems were in attracting large numbers of pilgrims it is, as usual, impossible to say, but Abbot Selwood invested in the building of the imposing George and Pilgrim Inn around 1450.


Glastonbury provides good evidence of how monks recorded the relics in their possession and how they provided written information for pilgrims. There are several versions of the Glastonbury relic list, which had to be revised after the destructive fire of 1184. The relics were listed according to the containers, or feretories, in which they were kept and in which they could be carried in procession, but varying in order from list to list. A thirteenth-century version lists remains of almost three hundred saints; another made in the mid-fourteenth-century enumerates almost four hundred and fifty relics. This later list began with relics associated with Christ (including, among much else, fragments of the table of the Last Supper, of the column of the Flagellation and of the sponge from which Jesus was offered drink on the Cross). Then came St Dunstan (almost complete), St Patrick and St Edgar. The list included a number of Celtic and 'Arthurian' saints, including St David, and also holy virgins, notably the British princess St Ursula and her mother. There was also a good representation of Anglo-Saxon saints, such as Aidan and the Venerable Bede.

This list does not however include anything of Joseph of Arimathea. By contrast, Glastonbury's 'Great Table' (Magna Tabula),  a history of the abbey in a large wooden frame that was hung up for inspection by visitors, told how Joseph was baptised by St Philip and sent to Britain and how King Arthur was of Joseph's line. It then related how Glastonbury was founded by Joseph and his companions, and went on to deal with Patrick and the other saints whose relics the abbey claimed to possess, including Dunstan. The story is taken down to the refurbishments carried out in 1382 by Abbot John Chinnock.

Such 'tables' were not uncommon in churches in England and elsewhere, although they have almost all vanished. There were examples at York, of which two survive, and also at Durham, Lichfield, Lincoln, Ripon, Winchester, Bury St Edmunds and elsewhere. In addition, Glastonbury provided a highly summarised version of its early history on a brass plate fixed to a pillar. This and the tabula would have been of use to a party of pilgrims which had one or more literate members, which would have been increasingly common by the time they were made; many parties anyway had a priest with them. The relic lists, by contrast, were made for reference purposes and kept in the library.


Hailes Abbey, which formerly had a relic of the Holy Blood. 
Wikimedia Commons
© Saffron Blaze (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

A relic of the Holy Blood of Christ, personally authenticated by Pope Urban IV, was installed at Hailes in Gloucestershire, an abbey of Cistercian monks, in 1270. The pilgrimage seems to have become more popular in the fifteenth century, when the monks obtained a number of indulgences to aid them in earning money for repairs. They were permitted to hear the confessions of pilgrims, to administer the Eucharist to them and to 'bless the beads of such pilgrims as touch them against the place where the blood is preserved'. In 1533 the reformer Hugh Latimer marvelled at the numbers who came out of the West Country to see the Blood of Hailes and deplored their ignorance, for they believed that the mere sight of the relic would cleanse them of sin. Under the last abbot, Stephen Sagar, the Blood was subjected to chemical examination and was pronounced to be 'honey clarified and coloured with saffron'.

St Albans

St Alban and St Amphibalus

The shrine of St Alban in St Alban's Cathedral. 
Wikimedia Commons
© Diliff (licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Pilgrims were drawn to the Abbey Church of St Albans by not one, but two major shrines. The most important of these was dedicated to St Alban, an early Christian martyr believed to have been killed by the Romans c.230 A.D, though some scholars place his death later c.304 A.D. The earliest record of a pilgrim venerating the tomb of St Alban is that of the visit of Bishop Germanus of Auxerre in 429. Over the centuries, the church slowly gained popularity as a pilgrimage destination with the tomb/shrine being rebuilt several times.

Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People describes Alban as a pagan living in Roman Britain who converted to Christianity after sheltering a Christian priest and was subsequently executed. Bede describes the building of a Church nearby 'in which place there cease not to this day the miraculous cures of many sick persons, and the frequent working of wonders' (Ecclesiastical History I. 7). Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his History of the Kings of Britain gave the name St Amphibalus to the priest whom Alban died to save. In 1177, his remains were said to have been found in Hertfordshire and were also placed in a shrine in the church.

The saint's relics were looted by the Danes in the ninth century but later recovered. With the threat of renewed Danish invasion after the death of King Cnut in 1035, Abbot Aelfric supposedly sent the relics for safekeeping to Ely, but in fact sent a decoy, the relics of a certain holy monk in a precious casket. Thinking they truly had possession of St Alban, the monks of Ely refused to return the relics but sent back some other bones. They continued to claim that they held Alban's relics.

Royal patronage

St Albans enjoyed considerable royal patronage. Henry III made numerous visits. For Henry, both the saint, as the first identified British martyr, and the ancient royal associations of the abbey, were undoubtedly highly significant. In 1251 Henry offered three pallia (precious cloths) to St Alban and one to Amphibalus, as well as some gold to Alban's shrine. In March 1255 Henry came to the abbey

where each day and night, with many lights and great devotion, he prayed to blessed Alban, as the proto-martyr of his kingdom, for himself, for his son Edward and for his other friends; and he gave to God and the blessed martyr two precious cloths, which we call 'baldachins' and a noble choir cope worked in gold.

Henry visited St Albans again that year on his way to London from Woodstock and returned in March 1257, when his gifts included six silk cloths, one of which was intended to cover the original 'mausoleum' of St Alban, recently discovered in the course of repair work on the east end of the church. This discovery provoked many miracles, including cures of the blind and the paralysed and the revival of a boy from the dead. Henry returned in 1258, 1264, 1268, 1270 and 1272, the year of his death. On the Feast of All Souls in 1299, Henry's son Edward I made a flying visit to St Albans to address a dramatic appeal to the proto-martyr for help in confronting the Scots. The king was inspired to greater confidence, we are told, by the promises he now received of prayers, masses and other devotions, though he also looked to St Edmund, St John of Beverley and St Cuthbert for aid. Edward II came to St Albans just before Easter in 1314. He commended himself and his family to the prayers of the brethren and paid them one hundred marks that he knew his father had intended to give for the rebuilding of the choir. Other royal visitors included Edward III, Richard II, Henry V and Henry VI.

Destruction and restoration

The shrine was destroyed at the Reformation but was restored and rededicated in 1993. In 2002, a bone believed to be a relic of St Alban, was presented to St Albans Cathedral by the Church of St Pantaleon in Cologne and placed inside the restored shrine.


A shrine to the Virgin Mary

The shrine within the Slipper Chapel at Walsingham. 
Wikimedia Commons
© Thorvaldsson (licensed under CC-BY-3.0)

Walsingham was the English exemplar of a late medieval European trend: the rise of shrines of the Virgin Mary to pre-eminence among pilgrim destinations. Any church, large or small, could have its image of the Virgin, and it was the multiplication of images above all that helped her cult to spread so comprehensively by providing innumerable accessible foci for devotion. Some of them acquired a miraculous reputation and many became foci of pilgrimage on a local, regional or even national scale. Even within East Anglia, there were important shrines of the Virgin to the south of Walsingham, at Woolpit and Ipswich in Suffolk, and further north in eastern England there were others at Lincoln, Doncaster and Jesmond (now part of Newcastle-upon-Tyne). London had its own, for example Our Lady of Willesden. If all of these, and many more elsewhere in England as in Europe, acquired some fame, there was a host of others unknown beyond the immediate neighbourhood. Walsingham may have had a particular significance for women.

Among all English Marian shrines, Walsingham reigned supreme. It is hard to say whether in the last century before the Reformation it did or did not overtake Canterbury in national popularity. (Precisely because the Virgin was believed to be available everywhere, Walsingham never achieved the international public that Becket did.)  It can however be confidently stated that these two shrines were more frequently referred to, for example in wills written in many parts of England, than any others; another suggestive indication of their popularity is furnished by the number and variety of pilgrim badges that both have left behind them.

Royal patronage

We must probably reckon royal patronage among the factors which assisted Walsingham's rise to this position of eminence. This started with Henry III. Henry made his first visit to both Walsingham and the Holy Rood at Bromholm (also in Norfolk) in April 1226, and thereafter he made frequent East Anglian pilgrimage tours, frequently in Lent, which often took in St Edmund at Bury and sometimes Norwich, Ely or, further west, St Albans. As his long reign progressed, his interest in Bromholm seems to have faded a little, but he was at Walsingham for the last time in September 1272, two months before his death. His son Edward I, who professed a personal devotion to the Virgin, was also a frequent visitor, as was Edward III, another Marian devotee, at least in the earlier part of his reign. One of the five golden ships that Edward III had made to commemorate the naval victory of Sluys in 1339 was sent as a votive offering to Walsingham. This interest was maintained by later monarchs and other members of the royal family, down to and including Henry VIII himself.

Westminster Abbey

Shrine of St Edward the Confessor, Westminster Abbey, London.
© Dean & Chapter Westminster

Originally a small Benedictine monastery founded c.960, Westminster Abbey underwent significant periods of development under two kings of England: Edward the Confessor (1042-1066), whose shrine it eventually became, and Henry III (1207-1277).

Edward's most lasting achievement was the re-foundation and enlargement of the abbey. He built a very substantial new Romanesque church in honour of St Peter, which was consecrated in 1065 and became known as the 'West Minster' (to distinguish it from the 'East Minster', St Paul's Cathedral. Edward himself died shortly afterwards and was buried in front of the High Altar. Later monarchs fostered the idealisation of Edward as a good king. Stories circulated of his extraordinary sanctity and of miracles performed during his lifetime. The monks of Westminster promoted his cult and he was canonised in 1161. His body was translated to a new shrine in 1163.

In the mid-thirteenth century, Henry III had the Abbey almost entirely rebuilt and Edward's body was moved to a magnificent new shrine behind the High Altar. Henry himself and other kings and their consorts (including Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Richard II and Anne of Bohemia and Henry V) were subsequently buried nearby, their tombs clustered around that of the royal saint.


Archbishop Richard Scrope's tomb, York Minster.
© Dean & Chapter York

York Minster drew pilgrims in large numbers in the later Middle Ages. They were attracted both by the wide range of relics (which were said to include four thorns from the crown of Christ, a finger of St Wilfrid and a tooth of St Apollonia) and by the shrine of the murdered Archbishop of York, William Fitzherbert. The great St William Window in the Minster shows miracles performed by St William including the healing of the sick, who collect the oil which oozes from the saint's tomb. St William's cult became connected with the later veneration of Archbishop Richard Scrope, who was executed on 8 June 1405, St William's feast day. Although never canonised, Scrope attracted far more pilgrims than William and the votive objects left at Scrope's tomb far outnumbered those left at William's.

Small shrines

There were innumerable small shrines in late-medieval England. Indeed we can be sure that we do not know the names of all of them. Sometimes we owe our knowledge of their existence to a single surviving mention. A complaint to Edward III in 1347 reveals that there were pilgrims to St Theobald at the church of Colaton Ralegh in Devon, which belonged to the dean and chapter of Exeter.

A complaint by master Richard de Brayleigh, dean of the church of St Peter's Exeter, and parson of the church of Coleton, that Peter de Ralegh, knight, Benedict Sparke, Henry Batyn, John Wygor and others, confederate together, coming armed contrary to the statutes of the peace to the chapel of St Theobald, Coleton, and by grievous threats demanding, nay extorting, toll and other unwonted customs from men coming to his chapel for the cause of pilgrimage and devotion and veneration to St Theobald, to do oblations and other works of devotion, and from others selling victuals in the cemetery and sanctuary of the chapel and in the fee of the church of Coleton, have by force prevented those and others who would have carried away his goods and assaulted his men and servants, whereby he has lost the profit and emolument of the said oblations and the service of his men and servants for a great time.
November 13 1347 Calendars of Patent Rolls Ed III 7, pp. 464-5.

How long this shrine lasted, how many pilgrims it attracted and where they came from, we have no way of knowing. The images of the Virgin which proliferated in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries generated many such essentially local pilgrimages, and so did Holy Roods. A request to pope or bishop for the grant of an indulgence may reveal that a shrine's proprietors wanted or hoped to attract pilgrims, but they do not tell us how successful they were. In principle any church could be a pilgrim destination; Margery Kempe, who had been all over the Christian world, went on pilgrimage one day to a church of St Michael 'two mile' from her home in Kings Lynn.

On 15 August 1349 John Brimylham, Richard Parget, William Kaynesham, Thomas Mowle, Henry Umfrey, William Heyr, Peter Davy, Robert Cliverden and Thomas Clyve were in the church of Box, Wiltshire and saw Walter fitz Waryn baptised. This they know because the church is dedicated to the honour of the Assumption, and they were there on that day in one company as pilgrims, and saw how Walter de Paverley, the heir's godfather, lifted him from the font.
Calendars of Inquisitions post Mortem, 13, n. 288

There is at Box a small chapel (Chapel Plaister) thought to have been for the use of pilgrims, possibly to Glastonbury. Was it to Glastonbury that this goodly company were going?  Or was this a very local pilgrimage indeed, to Box itself?

Unofficial pilgrimage

Saints Thomas Cantilupe (left) and Thomas Becket (right), main light window, St Mary's Church, Credenhill, Herefordshire.
© David Griffith
Origin/Date: Herefordshire || mid-14th century (1330?)

It can be difficult to classify pilgrimages as 'official' or 'unofficial', in view of the fact that they were rarely the result of official policy. Pilgrimage to the shrine of a canonised saint might in a sense be described as 'official', but unless pilgrims were prepared to come there would be no pilgrimage. Much pilgrimage was to saints who were never canonised because they were saints by common consent (for example, the Apostles) or simply had lived before the age of canonisation (like Cuthbert or Edmund). Pilgrimage to Becket began before he was canonised in 1173; Thomas Cantilupe of Hereford did almost all his recorded miracles before the enquiry into his canonisation even began. Henry VI was never officially investigated, but brought numerous pilgrims to his shrine at Windsor late in the fifteenth century.

It might be said that if a pope or bishop granted an indulgence he was implicitly approving of the cult in question, but the initiative in seeking indulgences came from elsewhere, from the proprietors of shrines. Thomas More thought that bishops were disinterested as far as pilgrimage was concerned and that pilgrimages were mostly in the hands of monks or 'poor parishes'. Certainly, it was not usually the bishop who directly benefited from pilgrim offerings, but the cathedral monks or clergy. There are some recorded instances of English bishops attempting to suppress pilgrimages they regarded as illicit, particularly around the year 1300. Archbishop Greenfield of York, for example, was troubled by the cult of a supposedly miraculous image of the Madonna which was finally installed in Bridlington Priory, but it clearly persisted despite his concern.

'Political' saints come into a special category. Thomas Becket was an important and enduring role model, remembered as one who had resisted royal tyranny. Several of the English bishops who were venerated in the following centuries were esteemed for similar reasons. Archbishop Winchelsey of Canterbury (d.1313) was associated with resistance to Edward II and enjoyed a cult at Canterbury, doing a few miracles, although he was never canonised. More striking were the laymen who opposed the monarchy and won a saintly reputation. Simon de Montfort, hacked to death after the Battle of Evesham in 1265, was acclaimed as a martyr and did numerous miracles at Evesham Abbey. He attracted pilgrims from a wide area of England, but the cult faded away after about 1280.

More enduring was Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who was associated with Archbishop Winchelsey in opposition to Edward II. Executed after the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322, he brought pilgrims from as far away as Kent and Essex to his tomb at Pontefract. Attempts to have him canonised were unsuccessful, but so were attempts to suppress the cult, and it was still quietly flourishing on the eve of the Reformation. The same happened to Archbishop Richard Scrope of York, executed by Henry IV in 1405. For a few years the king tried to suppress the cult which grew up around Scrope, but the archbishop continued to be venerated alongside St William in York Minster. Thomas of Lancaster and Scrope were both 'political' saints in origin, but both ended as 'ordinary' saints, whose pilgrims wanted help with their everyday problems.
Diana Webb


In origin a Germanic word meaning a chest or reliquary, this term describes something which contains a sacred object. It can thus be applied to an elaborate tomb around the body of a saint, a cabinet containing a relic or to the whole architectural complex where such a body or relic rests.

St Edmund

(d. 869) Anglo-Saxon king and martyr whose shrine at Bury St Edmunds attracted many pilgrims.


An event evoking wonder, in which a person is believed to be the agent of God's power. In the Bible. miracles tend to be associated with key people at critical periods of history, such as the Exodus. the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles.  


Remains of a saint or articles which have been in contact with a saint and in which some of the saint's power is believed to reside. 


Process of examination of the claims of an individual to sainthood culminating in official recognition by the Papacy.


From the Greek ‘martus’ meaning ‘witness'. One who suffers death on account of faith.


Church which contains the throne of the bishop and hence the mother church of the diocese, from the Latin ‘cathedra' meaning ‘throne.' 


Term given to the movements of church reform which in the 16th century resulted in Protestantism. The Reformation took different forms in different parts of Europe, sometimes being promoted by rulers, as in Germany and England, sometimes expressing itself as a popular movement. While different reformers promoted different doctrines. They were united in their rejection of pilgrimage and visual images which were viewed as idolatrous and superstitious, their emphasis on salvation through faith rather than the sacramental systems, masses and good works and their desire to promote the study of the Bible and the conduct of worship in the vernacular. The origins of these reforms can be traced to religious movements in the Middle Ages, such as the English Lollards. The criticisms of Protestantism provoked a time of reform within the Catholic Church usually known as the Counter-Reformation and expressed in the pronouncements of the Council of Trent (1562-3).  

Thomas Becket

 English Archbishop (Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162) and martyr, famously murdered by knights at Canterbury Cathedral after a dispute with Henry II. Miracles were soon recorded at his tomb. Canonised in 1173, his shrine became one of the most popular pilgrimage centres in Christendom. Patron saint of London with St Paul.


Forty-day season of penitence and fasting leading up to Easter from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. Reflects Christ's forty days in the wilderness (Luke 4: 1,2).

Holy Rood of Bromholm

A Byzantine cross said to contain a relic of the True Cross (on which Jesus was crucified) arrived at the Cluniac Priory of Bromholm in Norfolk sometime between 1205 and 1223. Medieval images and descriptions suggest that the relic took the form of a patriarchal or double cross with a lower second transverse beam. This became a famous focus of devotion and pilgrimage.


In the New Testament this applied to all Christians. Later used of those who were martyred or showed exceptional holiness and whose status was confirmed by the church. The practice of venerating the saints and their relics and asking for their intercessions (prayers) can be observed from the second and third centuries onward and played a central role in popular medieval religion.


In an abbey. the second in command after the abbot. In a religious house that was not an abbey (e.g., in a priory), the head of the house.


Grants (usually in the form of documents) allowing the reduction of time to be spent atoning for sin in purgatory, gained through pious acts such as pilgrimage or through particular prayers.


Instrument of torture and execution used in the Roman Empire. The means by which Christ was put to death and therefore the primary symbol of the Christian faith, representing the means by which he is believed to have won forgiveness for humankind. The Cross may be represented as Tau-shaped (like a capital T), with a shorter cross-bar, or with a circle enclosing the upper intersection (Celtic). In medieval art a cross made of living branches signifies the Tree of Life. St Helena mother of the Emperor Constantine. is said to have discovered the True Cross (i.e. The Cross on which Christ died) in 326 during a visit to Jerusalem.


The term, taken from the Latin for 'to come across' applied to the finding, often miraculous, of a relic. The most famous application of this term is the 'invention of the Holy Cross', a phrase which refers to the 'rediscovery' of the True Cross under the patronage of St Helen (d.330).

Rood Cross

Name given to the large cross often placed on the screen which divided the sanctuary of a medieval church from the nave.


The term which describes a religious house which is presided over by a prior or prioress. A conventual priory was an autonomous religious house, while in a dependent priory the head of the house was subordinate to the abbot or abbess of another religious institution. The religious houses of Benedictine monks and mendicant friars were commonly organised as priories. Note that Cluniac houses tended to be called priories, even when they were quite wealthy.


Member of male religious community.


Religious sect, considered to be heretics in England in the 14th and 15th centuries, whose beliefs evolved from the earlier teachings of the Oxford theologian, John Wyclif. Central to Lollard theology was belief in the primacy of Scripture and its accessibility to all people in the vernacular to study and interpret. As literal interpreters of the Bible, Lollards strongly opposed religious practices that were not grounded in Scripture, such as the use of images, indulgences, prayers for the dead, pilgrimages, auricular confession and clerical celibacy. The Lollards were also dissatisfied with the Church hierarchy based in Rome and the corruption and wealth of the Church. They opposed clerics holding secular office and the Church maintaining worldly possessions. Their most distinctive belief was their rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation; the Lollards argued that the Eucharist was a symbolic act and not a real miracle. Originally a member of any one of a number of different radical and heretical groups in Continental Europe in the early 14th century but then applied to followers of Wyclif from the early 1380s.

Augustine of Canterbury, St

(d. 604/5) Sent from Rome by Gregory the Great to convert the English. First Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dunstan, St

(c.910-988) A monk and abbot of Glastonbury. Archbishop of Canterbury.

Anselm, St

(c.1033-1109) Archbishop of Canterbury, theologian and philosopher. Writings include Monologion, Proslogion, Cur Deus Homo.

Cuthbert, St

(d. 687) Celtic monk and hermit. Bishop of Lindisfarne 685.

Oswald, St

(604-642). King of Northumbria who encouraged the spread of Christianity during the 7th century.


Person who has retired from society to follow the spiritual life in solitude. Unlike anchorites not confined to one spot. From Greek ‘eremos’ meaning 'desert'.

Patrick, St

The son of a town official on the west coast of Britain in the last days of Roman rule, St Patrick was abducted as a boy and taken to Ireland, where he lived as a slave for six years. He spent this time in prayer and on his return received some training for the priesthood. He returned to Ireland in 435 as bishop and was one of the most prominent figures in the conversion of that country beyond the Roman Empire to Christianity until his death in about 461. Some of St Patrick's writings survive, including an autobiography. He is generally regarded as the Apostle of Ireland and legends attribute many miraculous powers to him.

Joseph of Arimathea

Member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council) and a secret follower of Jesus. He took no part in Jesus' condemnation and arranged for the burial of Jesus' body in his own tomb. Later legends associated him with the Holy Grail - the cup used at the Last Supper - and with the founding of the monastery at Glastonbury in the south west of England. The holy thorn there was supposed to have sprung from his staff and it was said that he had brought relics of Christ's blood and sweat to England. He was also supposed to have been the maker of the miraculous crucifix, the 'volto santo', revered at Lucca in Italy.

Last Supper

The Passover meal Jesus ate with his Disciples before his betrayal and arrest, at which he instituted the Eucharist/Holy Communion/Mass.

Aidan, St

(d. 651) Monk of Iona, missionary to Northumbria and Bishop of Lindisfarne. 

Bede, the Venerable

(c.673-735) Anglo-Saxon historian and biblical scholar. Sent to study at the monastery of Wearmouth at seven; later transferred to Jarrow. Renowned in his lifetime for his learning, Bede wrote treatises on poetry, time and cosmography. Historical works include History of the Abbots, prose and verse versions of the Life of St Cuthbert and Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

Cistercian Order

The order of White Monks (named from their clothing of undyed sheep's wool) was founded at Cîteaux in 1098 in Burgundy with the aim of returning to the Benedictine ideal. Simplicity and strict adherence to the Benedictine Rule were emphasised. Following the admission of St Bernard of Clairvaux, the order spread rapidly, choosing remote locations, such as Rievaulx (1132) in Northern England. The order also expanded to included female houses. Medieval England had 62 abbeys of Cistercian monks, two official abbeys of Cistercian nuns, and numerous unofficial houses of nuns. Cistercian monks and nuns still exist today.


The central act of the church's worship in which bread and wine are consecrated and consumed. The term comes from Jesus giving thanks for the bread and wine at the Last Supper. See Matthew 26: 26-8, Mark 14: 22-4, Luke 22: 17-20, I Corinthians. 11: 23-5. From Greek ‘eukharistia’ meaning 'thanksgiving'. Also known as Holy Communion. the Lord's Supper and the Mass.


1. Community of monks or nuns under the rule of an abbot or abbess. This is the higher grade of monastery, as opposed to the lower priory. 2. Building which they occupy. 

Alban, St

(d.304, or possibly 283, or earlier) Recognised as the first Christian martyr in Britain. He is said to have been a Roman living at Verulamium, who was converted by a priest who sought sanctuary in his house during a persecution of Christians, and then gave himself up in place of his guest. Miracles involving water took place when he was executed, he stopped a river's flow to allow a safe crossing, and a fountain sprang up when he was beheaded. The reputed place of his execution is where St Albans Abbey now stands.

John of Beverley, St

(d. 721) An English bishop whose shrine was renowned for healing miracles, attracting large numbers of pilgrims. His life combines the asceticism of a hermit with his role as a bishop.

Virgin Mary

Mother of Jesus and wife of Saint Joseph. She is believed to have conceived Jesus through the agency of the Holy Spirit alone, thus remaining a virgin. The Council of Ephesus (431) confirmed upon her the title of ‘theotokos’ meaning 'godbearer'. The account of Mary's life in the New Testament was amplified by apocryphal documents and doctrines concerning her person and role developed in succeeding centuries. The belief that she did not die but was taken up bodily into heaven was celebrated in the Feast of the Assumption. Faith in Mary's powers as intercessor on behalf of sinful men and women was given fresh impetus by St Bernard (1090-1153) and she was popularly regarded as the Queen of Heaven.

Pilgrim Badge

These souvenir badges, often mass-produced in pewter, were bought by pilgrims when they arrived at their destination. These badges were often worn, but could be attached to personal possessions such as books of prayers. They often depicted the relics or miraculous images visited. In many instances they are the only surviving visual record of important cult images or objects.

Votive Offering

Objects left by pilgrims either in thanks for boons granted or in supplication, hoping the saint would help them because of these gifts. The most common objects were wax images of afflicted body parts or coiled candles 'measured' to the height of the individual seeking help. Other offerings included crutches no longer needed, manacles of freed prisoners, and models made of precious metal, such as silver ships. 

Benedictine Rule

In the medieval West the most influential guide for those following the monastic life was the Rule of St Benedict (c.480-550), drawn up for his monks at Monte Cassino and promoted in England by St Wilfrid (d. 709). Benedictines (Black Monks) led a highly-disciplined life of prayer (the opus dei or 'work of God'), study and manual work.

Edward the Confessor, St

(c.1003-1066) Anglo-Saxon king and saint (reigned 1042-1066), whose shrine remains in Westminster Abbey. Son of Aethelred (reigned 978-1016, often known as the 'Unready') and his second wife, Emma, the daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy. One of only two English saints whose shrines survived the Reformation intact.

Peter, St Apostle

Originally called Simon (not to be confused with St Simon the Zealot), he was given the name Cephas (Aramaic equivalent of the Greek 'Peter', meaning rock) by Christ. His profession of faith (Matthew 16: 13-20) evoked the promise 'Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church... I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven', the passage on which the claims of the papacy have rested. His later denial of Christ (Matthew 26: 69-75) was followed by repentance and a fresh commission to feed Christ's sheep (John 21: 15-19). In Acts he emerges as the leader of the Early Church. Early traditions describe him as the first bishop of Rome and he was crucified head downwards during the reign of Nero. Often portrayed as the gate-keeper of heaven. holding the keys promised by Christ.


Originally a church with a group of clergy which served a large area. Later used to describe a church staffed by many priests or a monastic community. 


In the context of the study of the Middle Ages this phrase is used to describe the devotion which develops around and is focused on a saint or their relics. A cult may be expressed by ritual, festivals. art, architecture, prayers and writings.


Refers, in this context, to the act of moving the body or other relics of a holy person.