Gaye Mack’s Blog

IS ST. PATRICK BURIED AT GLASTONBURY ABBEY?

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Writer's Work Leave a comment

Was St. Patrick ever at Glastonbury Abbey in the early 5th Century?  Legend says he was but then, as is the case of many of ancient stories, we’ll never know for sure.  There is however, a document known as the Charter of St. Patrick believed to have been written by Glastonbury monks in the late 13th century.  The exact purpose isn’t clear, but it does purportedly narrate in his own words,  the account of Patrick’s arrival at Glastonbury in 430 A.D.  Clearly the gap in time makes the authenticity of the Charter’s narrative  suspect and begs the question, why would the  monks produce such a document 900 years after the fact?  One explanation could be that it was a PR stunt.

Leading up to the catastrophic fire of 1184 which took Britain’s wealthiest abbey to ground, Glastonbury was in a state of political chaos, the circumstances which I write about in my historical mystery, A Conspiracy of Ravens(represented by Peter Miller-unpublished).  However, despite King Henry II’s support in the abbey’s rebuilding immediately following the fire, down the road the monks needed to sustain pilgrim traffic in order to keep the coffers topped up.

Along with the Arthurian legends which include the re-internment of Arthur and Guinevere at the foot of a black marble high altar during the state visit of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile in 1278,  it didn’t hurt to add St. Patrick into the mix.  Nevertheless, whether legend, myth or fact, allegedly St. Patrick’s bones are believed to have been buried under the floor of the small chapel shrine that bears his name and stands among Glastonbury’s remains–a claim the Irish understandably, strongly contest.

The Charter of St. Patrick(excerpt)

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I Patrick, the humble servant of God, in the year of His Incarnation 430, was sent into Ireland by the most holy Pope Celestine, and by God’s grace converted the Irish to the way of truth; and, when I had established them in the Catholic faith, at length I returned to Britain, and, as I believe, by the guidance of God, who is the life and the way, I chanced upon the isle of Ynsgytrin, wherein I found a place holy and ancient, chosen and sanctified by God in honour of Mary the pure Virgin, the Mother of God: and there I found certain brethren imbued with the rudiments of the Catholic faith, and of pious conversation, who were successors of the disciples of St Phagan and St Deruvian, whose names for the merit of their lives I verily believe are written in heaven: and because the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance, since tenderly I loved those brethren, I have thought good to record their names in this my writing.

And they are these: Brumban, Hyregaan, Brenwal, Wencreth, Bamtonmeweng, Adelwalred, Lothor, Wellias, Breden, Swelwes, Hin Loernius, and another Hin. These men, being of noble birth and wishing to crown their nobleness with deeds of faith, had chosen to lead a bermit’s life ; and when I found them meek and gentle, I chose to be in low estate with them, rather than to dwell in kings’ palaces. And since we were all of one heart and one mind, we chose to dwell together, and eat and drink in common, and sleep in the same house.

And so they set me, though unwilling, at their head: for indeed I was not worthy to unloose the latchet of their shoes. And, when we were thus leading the monastic life according to the pattern of the approved fathers, the brothers showed me writings of St Phagan and St Deruvian, wherein it was contained that twelve disciples of St Philip and St James had built that Old Church in honour of our Patroness aforesaid, instructed thereto by the blessed archangel Gabriel.

glastonbury

Remains of one of the giant piers of Glastonbury’s Majorum Ecclesia 

Photography©Gaye F. Mack, Inc.

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WHOOOO ARE YOU?… MEDIEVAL MORTUARY CHESTS HOLD THE ANSWERS

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work Leave a comment

On my recent trip to the UK as noted in my last post, I spent the better part of a day in Winchester Cathedral.  Although I’ve visited this magnificent structure many times in the past, I’ve learned there’s always something new for me to discover and this visit was no exception.

 Back in Chicago in preparation for writing my next book, A Watch of Nightingales,’ I’d been grappling with making sense of historical reporting versus practicality surrounding the tomb of Henry II’s ‘fair Rosamund’ at Godstow Nunnery.  From past research and experience I was aware of and have seen the many elaborate tombs created for persons of prominence as the United Kingdom’s churches and family chapels are full of them.  For Arthurian enthusiasts, there even exists a detailed description of the massive black marble tomb created for the April 1279 reburial ceremony of Arthur and Guinevere at Glastonbury during the state visit by King Edward I and Eleanor of Castile.

 However, in researching the ‘facts’ surrounding Rosamund’s placement in Godstow’s church and subsequent demand to have her remains moved by Bishop Hugh of Lincoln some 11 years later after her death, something wasn’t making any sense…until I discovered the mortuary chests at Winchester.   My timing couldn’t have been more perfect due to the preparations for an extensive research project underway for the purpose of matching preserved bones to the early monarchs and bishops of the kingdom of Wessex, i.e, early Winchester. 

 To backtrack briefly here, one of the curators with whom I met, explained that when significant people died, their bodies were often left ‘open’ to natural decomposition.  Once the process finished and the bones were the only remains, they were cleaned and then placed in ‘small mortuary chests’.  Considering the non-existence of mortuary science as we know it today, such an approach was a very efficient means of preserving and honoring those who had passed. As to Winchester, this was the custom until Oliver Cromwell and his troops arrived.  As we know from history, Cromwell and his men were ruthless when it came to destroying England’s history.  Priceless artifacts were smashed, destroyed and scattered everywhere…the sacred bones of Wessex’s early leaders were no exception.  In an effort to save what could be saved, the bones were gathered up and basically ‘dumped’ into various chests with frankly, no idea who belonged to what.

 The goal of the current research project is to identify which bones belonged to which monarch and bishop; a formidable task but with the technology available today, perhaps not impossible.  In any case this brings me back to the subject of mortuary chests; discovering their existence and how they were used solves my ‘technical’ dilemma regarding the conflict between Rosamund’s original tomb placement and the outrage of Lincoln’s very pious Hugh of Avalon.  Stay tuned.

                                       

Photography©Gaye f. Mack, inc.


GLASTONBURY ABBEY’S GREAT FIRE OF 1184–WAS PETER D’MARCY AN ARSONIST?

Posted on by Gaye Mack in Ancient Legends of Great Britain, Gaye's England, Scotland & Wales, Writer's Work Leave a comment

The Great Fire of 1184, which all but destroyed Britain’s oldest site of Christianity, Glastonbury Abbey,  is legendary.  For 900 years, myth and speculation have flourished as to the cause of this catastrophic event.  The majority speculation put forth by historians is that unusual winds on the morning of May 25, 1184 were responsible, causing an entry curtain to the ‘Holy of Holies’ in the ‘Ecclesia Vestuta’ (old church) to catch fire from burning candles.  Regardless of the cause, the initial sparks of flame combined with the high winds took the famous abbey to the ground in a matter of hours; it’s precious documents destroyed along with its treasures melted by heat and countless graves of monks, abbots and saints.

 However, when I was researching this event for my historical mystery, “A Conspiracy of Ravens”, I discovered Adam of Damerham.  Adam was a 12th century monk who wrote a history of the abbey and where the Glastonbury fire is concerned, Adam had an entirely different theory as to its cause.   Following the death of the beloved Abbot Robert in 1178, King Henry II assigned the position of ‘Custodian’ to Peter D’Marcy, a Cluniac monk who had some kind of relationship to Henry.  Despite the desires of the Glastonbury monks for Henry to name a proper abbot, the king stalled.  With no abbot in place it gave the wily monarch direct access to Glastonbury’s wealthy treasury, a resource which Henry needed to finance his wars with the French. Thus, as a compromise, he named D’Marcy to oversee the Glastonbury community.

 Unfortunately Peter proved to be very unpopular for a variety of reasons.  He nearly drove the abbey into the ground financially, was relentlessly diabolical in his scheming to manipulate his way to the abbot’s chair, not to mention the  suspicion that Peter  ‘compressed’ (as in eliminated) certain monks who were obstacles to achieving this goal. As an interim solution and effort to appease the monks, Henry then appointed Hugh of Avalon (who would later become Hugh of Lincoln, the most revered saint after Becket) to ‘supervise’ D’Marcy.  Things did not go well with this arrangement either.

 By December of 1183, the hatred of D’Marcy was beyond rampant.  In one final scheme to endear the monks to his cause of obtaining the ‘abbot’s chair’, D’Marcy, his mental state now suspect, planned a ‘faux mass’ on Christmas Eve in the ‘Ecclesia Vestuta.’  This blasphemous act was the last straw with the Glastonbury community and one can only imagine how the monks reacted.   Adam of Damerham speculates that in retaliation,  D’Marcy set fire to the abbey.  Interestingly, historians note that while he survived the fire, shortly afterwards D’Marcy died from ‘unknown causes.’

“A Conspiracy of Ravens” is the second of my planned six book historical mystery series, “Flight Through Time”, which is in production.