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750th Anniversary at Westminster Abbey

This week marks the 750th anniversary of the last translation of the relics of Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey, in 1269, to the new shrine created at the direction of Henry III.

The Confessor’s shrine at Westminster Abbey

The new shrine was the centrepiece of the scheme for the elaboration and beautification of the abbey church in which King Henry had invested for more than twenty-five years.

Henry III, as depicted by Matthew Paris

The ceremony, conducted on the liturgical feast of the translation, 13 October, drew only modest attention in contemporary annals, although the compiler of the Flores historiarum reported the immediate cure of two supplicants at the shrine, Benedict, a clerk of Winchester, and John, an Irish layman, suffering from diabolical possession.

On 15 October 2019, the Dean & Chapter of Westminster led a commemorative service in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen.

Artefacts of the Abbey’s medieval history, an early witness to the Confessor’s foundation charter, and the magnificent illuminated Missal of the fourteenth-century abbot, Nicholas Litlyngton (1362-1386) were processed through the nave to the chancel steps for display at the High Altar. The Queen presented roses to be placed before the shrine of St Edward.

The Litlyngton Missal

Timed to coincide with the 750th anniversary a new history of Westminster Abbey, Westminster Abbey: A Church in HIstory, has been published by Yale University Press in association with the Paul Mellon Centre.

The book explores the origins of the monastic church, its early post-Conquest history, its Plantagenet preeminence and its successive reinventions, before the Reformation as the lynchpin of a network of Tudor chantries, subsequently its brief term as a post-Reformation cathedral, reaching right up to its contemporary role as a church for the nation and the Commonwealth. James Clark, in Exeter’s Department of History, has co-authored the chapters on the high and later Middle Ages with Paul Binski (Cambridge). The book is edited by Sir David Cannadine.

James Clark


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