[MR] Shrewsbury Abbey

Garth Groff and Sally Sanford mallardlodge1000 at gmail.com
Mon Nov 5 03:13:45 PST 2018

Noble Friends,

Another dull day in history, except for Guy Fawkes, but that's out of our
period. I decided to say something about Shrewsbury Abbey. I can't remember
ever commenting on the abbey itself, though I've talked about it in
relation to Saint Winifred (more on her in a moment).

The abbey was an early Norman Benedictine house, pledged by Roger de
Montgomery in 1083. The abbey was open for business, so to speak, around
1087 under abbot Fulchred of Sees. The abbot was a French import, as were
the core of the monks. In time the Abbey Church of Saint and Saint Paul,
Shrewsbury, became one of the more important monastic houses in England:

The abbots of Shrewsbury were keen to get into the lucrative pilgrimage
business. Lacking any relics of their own, around 1137 they turned their
attention to Winifred of Gwytherin, an obscure (and potentially available)
Welsh saint. Under the leadership of Prior Robert, permission was secured
to dig up the saintly bones and move her to Shrewsbury. A number of
conveniently timed miracles, including healing a crippled youth, quickly
made the abbey a popular pilgrimage destination. Prior Robert apparently
wrote the all-important vitae of Saint Winifred, which elevated her status
thanks to many alleged miracles.

Saint Winifred was a 7th century Welsh woman from a local noble family.
Under the teaching of her uncle, Saint Beuno (
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beuno ), Winifred had pledged herself to life
as a nun. A neighboring noble lusted after Winifred. When she refused his
advances, the man cut off her head with his sword. Saint Beuno, hearing
Winifed's cries, arrived too late to stop her murder. He replaced her head,
and after prayers, Winifred revived. Where her blood fell, a holy spring
gushed forth, later to became the famous shrine at Holywell:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Winefride%27s_Well . O.K., that's what the
vitae says. Winifred later became abbess of a foundation in Gwytherin,
where she died peacefully after a full life as a nun:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Winifred .

Although not mentioned in the Wikipedia articles cited above, according to
some accounts the Shrewsbury monks weren't happy with just one saint. They
wanted a complete set, and returned to snatch Saint Beuno as well, this
time without permission. To be sure they hung onto their prizes, most of
the two saints were entombed within the walls of the Shrewsbury Abbey.
Churches stealing relics from one another was not uncommon. Shrewsbury also
collected (with approval) some secondary relics of St. Thomas Becket of

The abbey was dissolved in 1539 under Henry VIII's attacks on church
property. The next year, the two transepts were torn down and the relics of
the saints were destroyed (a bone fragment of Saint Winifred survived in
Rome, part of which is again held at Shrewsbury). The nave and tower were
retained as a local parish church. The rest of the monastic buildings
disappeared over the years, with just a few fragments now remaining. The
Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul remains an active church, and
though truncated, the building retains much of its medieval character:
http://www.shrewsburyabbey.com/default.html .

Probably many of you are familiar with Shrewsbury Abbey from the Brother
Cadfael novels of Ellis Peters (aka Edith Parteger). A MORBID TASTE FOR
BONES is her highly fictionalized account of Saint Winifred's translation
to Shrewsbury. In a later volume, a lame youth is healed. A fictional
version of Prior Robert features in the stories as Cadfael's nemesis, and
the two abbots are based on the historical Abbey leaders.

Yours Aye,

Mungo Napier, Laird of Mallard Lodge  🦆

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