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Big Business in Medieval
- When holy men or women died, people thought that touching their
grave, their dead body or their possessions would cure them of all
sorts of diseases and afflictions. Some Christians still believe this.
- The church where they were buried could apply to the Pope to have
them made into a saint.
- A saints' bones and belongings they once owned were called 'relics'.
They were usually each kept in a beautiful casket of gold or silver
called a 'reliquary'. This might be shaped like the relevant part of
the body: a foot, an arm or a head!
- Most of the abbeys
in Berkshire had big relic collections. Parish churches might also
have a single small relic: like at Sonning
or Stanford-in-the-Vale. Bridge Chapels usually had relics too: like
at Caversham or Maidenhead.
- Reliquaries containing major relics or whole bodies were placed on
an elaborate & brightly painted stone monument called a 'shrine'.
- This had holes or niches into which people could climb to get as
near as possible to the saint's body.
- There were several important shrines in Berkshire: St. Vincent at Abingdon
Abbey, St. James' Hand at Reading
Abbey and King Henry VI & John
Schorne at St. George's Chapel in
Windsor Castle. Though the last two
were not officially saints.
- Individual bones were often swapped with other churches. There was a
great trade in buying and selling relics. Many of them were probably
- Churches with relics or shrines were visited by lots of people
hoping for cures. They are called 'pilgrims'.
- The visit is called a 'pilgrimage'. Pilgrims often travelled
hundreds of miles on foot to visit shrines. They would stay at the
abbey's hospitium when they arrived.
- In return, Pilgrims gave money to the monks or bishop who looked
after shrines. They became very rich.
- The Pilgrims took away 'pilgrim's badges' made of pewter as
- Pilgrims visited other places associated with saints too: like the
chapel in Abingdon built on the site of
St. Edmund's birthplace or 'Churn Knob' where St.
- Holy wells were also popular: like at Caversham, Finchampstead,
Frilsham, Speen & Sunningwell.