Westminster Abbey – King Edward the Confessor – 1042-1066

In 1993, perhaps one of the most amazing documents to come into my possession was a series of extracts from the records of The Abbey. One concerned the remains of Edward The Confessor and recalls how in 1102 (the King died in 1066) the tomb was opened by Abbott Gilbert in the presence of Henry i and a Norman chronicle relates how ‘the body was found entire, the joints as flexible as if it was a body asleep’. ‘Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, strokes the yellow beard whence his wishes to draw an hair but he cannot draw it from the beard’. In February 1161, Pope Alexander III issued the Papal Bull of Canonization and in 1163 the body was transferred to the new shrine in the presence of Henry ii and of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Eventually, Henry iii built a golden shrine to contain the Saint’s coffin and on 13th October 1269 the chest containing the Confessor’s body was brought to its new resting place. It remained undisturbed until the Dissolution during which the body of the King was removed for safety, to ‘an obscure place’.  Under Mary i the coffin was restored to its place and the shrine rebuilt. After the coronation of James ii in 1685 one of the ‘singing men espying a hole in the tomb and seeing something glisten, put his hand in and took the object to the King. Through the hole, the same Charles Taylour saw the Saint’s head, sound and firm, the upper and lower jaws full of teeth … and all his bones and much dust. The old coffin was then enclosed and strongly clamped with iron where it has remained undisturbed to this day’.

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