Thursday, October 14, 2010

What did the Normans think of Saxon and Celtic Saints?

When the Norman Invasion of Engand and Wales took place the invaders found lands steeped in the traditions of Celtic and Saxon Christiasnity. The following passage describes some of the consequenses of  Norman influence on Herefordshire and the Welsh Marches.

Sometimes dedications were changed when a church was rebuilt or enlarged. At Llanwarne, for instance, John the Baptist became the patron saint after Dyfrig and Teilo (another British saint).

The changes introduced by the Norman Conquest reached into all aspects of life. As the Church was such an influential part of people's lives, the Normans were particularly keen to impose their form of Christianity onto the local population, and this included the veneration of saints. One Norman abbot went so far as to burn the bones of the Saxon saints Credan and Wistan to test their sanctity (the bones withstood the test) and Archbishop Lanfranc wrote:

"These Englishmen among whom we are living have set up for themselves certain saints whom they revere. But sometimes when I turn over in my mind their own accounts of whom they were, I cannot help having doubts about the validity of their sanctity." (Trevor Rowley, The Welsh Border: Archaeology, History and Landscape, Tempus, 1986, p. 119)

The Normans favoured dedications to continental saints such as St. Denys (dedications at Harewood and Pencoyd) or biblical ones such as Mary Magdalene (with eight dedications in Herefordshire).

[Original author: Toria Forsyth-Moser, 2002]

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