The Other Miraculous Archbishop's picture
Created on Wednesday 24th June 2015 by:
Dr John Jenkins

John is a historian who works primarily in the field of late-medieval English society and religion. His doctoral work was on the impact of rural monasteries on society in medieval Devon. He has... [Read more...]

Despite the massive golden shrine of St Thomas Becket being the focal point and main attraction of Canterbury Cathedral in the middle ages, new figures of devotion could spring up within the church at any time. In the fourteenth century alone, three archbishops of Canterbury buried in the cathedral were said to be performing posthumous miracles at their tombs. Perhaps they were seen as more accessible than the great and grand St Thomas. Some of Archbishop Robert of Winchelsey’s miracles were recorded and placed on boards around his tomb in the south transept, and his cult appears to have been popular for most of the late medieval period. A detailed example of a miracle involving a local Canterbury family in c.1317 took pride of place in the archbishop’s deeds:

A depiction of medieval brain surgery (early 14th C, BL Sloane 1997 fo. 2r.) (click to enlarge)

William the surgeon of Canterbury testified that John Scot, of the parish of St George, accidentally struck his three-year-old son Henry on the front of the head above the brain, giving him a large wound. The skull and the membranes of the brain broke open and a large part of the brains were hanging out, which William the surgeon threw to the ground. As such it was against nature that Henry should live, and he lay dead for six days. Because of the death of his son, John Scot was afraid and fled the kingdom. Henry’s mother, however, knelt and called on the late Archbishop Robert of Winchelsey to pray to God that the boy would be able to recover, and she vowed that she would go to Robert’s tomb in the cathedral if he did. This vow being publicly broadcast, the child, through the merits of the late archbishop, revived, recovered, and is currently alive. Hearing this, his father returned to the country. One of the shattered bones that had been stuck in the child Henry’s brain was extracted and his mother fastened it to the archbishop’s tomb as a mark of the miracle. This is public knowledge and famous throughout Canterbury and the region.

Neither the surgeon nor the fleeing father come out of the story with much credit!

Others came from much further afield, in this case a man brought back to life after drowning for almost a day and a half(!) travelled the 200 miles from Ross-on-Wye to Canterbury with his friends in thanks for the miracle, and to donate a special candle to Archbishop Winchelsey for his deliverance:

Henry of Eaton Tregoz, near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, came naked to the tomb, reporting that he had been drowned in a certain river called the Wye, and lay under the water from the first hour of Monday until the ninth hour of the following day had passed, and when he was retrieved from the water his circumference was measured and a candle of that length pledged to the holy father Robert of Winchelsey, and at once by the grace of God he revived. And six men of worthy faith had come with him to the tomb, who presented the above testimony and affirmed that it was true, and this is public knowledge and famous in those parts.

Archbishop Winchesley was never officially canonized, but his name was invoked and his tomb remained popular right up to the Dissolution. His was the only holy site in Canterbury, besides those associated with Thomas Becket, to be demolished by Henry VIII’s commissioners, presumably as it was too popular for the new, saintless, Protestantism.

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