Glastonbury and the Shroud of Christ.

In Thomas Escott’s 1908 text in Somerset: Historical, Descriptive, Biographical in the Mates County Series, a folio volume profusely illustrated with contemporary photographs, in a fairly standard retelling of the story of Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury, is to be found the following:

The staff [of Joseph of Arimathea], (or, according to another account, a fragment of the crown of thorns) that, planted by the pilgrim leader, grew up into the tree blossoming on Christmas Day, was only one of several relics that enriched the primitive oratory or its precincts. To-day, the exact point at which Prince Arviragus received the holy travellers after their exhausting journey, survives in Wirral (Weary all) Hill. Close by rises Chalice Hill; here the new-comers first placed the cup, consecrated, not only by its use at the Last Supper, but by its having caught some of the precious drops from the Cross. That explains the ruddy tint of the waters from the adjoining Blood Spring and Holy Well. St Joseph’s portables were said to have included other articles; chief among these was the linen, which had once covered the Divine Body, and which he destined as a future covering for his own remains. In the present writer’s childhood, diminutive fragments of this material were, to Glastonbury, what pieces from the wood of the Cross are, to Continental shrines.[1]

Glastonbury’s myth-making potentiality had been relatively quiescent for most of the rationalistic nineteenth century, but as the fin de siècle approached, it began to show renewed vigour. One local stimulus was undoubtedly the establishment in 1885 of a French Roman Catholic seminary at Tor House, a former public house at the corner of Chilkwell Street and Wellhouse Lane, which contained in its grounds the ancient Chilkwell, whose iron-enriched waters, diverted west by conduit, had furnished a supply for the Abbey’s Chaingate Mill and briefly, in the eighteenth century, for a spa in Magdalene Street. The chapel of the seminary was made available for worship to local Roman Catholics. The dourly Protestant Somerset ‘locals’ were perhaps roused to speculation as to what the foreign ‘papists’ might be about there. Their curiosity could only be stimulated by a paper read to the newly-formed Glastonbury Antiquarian Society in 1886 by Glastonbury notable G. W. Wright, which first publicised the Well as a place of mystery. It is hardly coincidence that Wright had previously been the owner of the property, and was responsible for its sale to the seminarians. These occupied the site until 1912 and were only too happy to embrace the claims of holiness made for the well by Wright. We now first hear of the Chalice Well, or Blood Spring, as it was also called, as reddened by the blood of Christ, and of the concealment by Joseph, either there or on Chalice Hill above, of the Holy Grail. Wright’s romantic speculations quickly took hold. In 1887 the invaluable Mrs Boger, in her comprehensive Myths, Scenes, & Worthies of Somerset, still knows nothing of the new Chalice Well mythology. By 1893, when Charles Barrett set out on his walking-tour, sketching the illustrations for his Somersetshire: Highways, Byways and Waterways, it had already become a time-honoured tradition: ‘Joseph carried with him, it is stated, the chalice, known as the Holy Grail, and subsequently buried it at a spot near the Tor Hill, whence to this day issues the fountain known as the Blood Spring, or Spring of the Chalice.’[2]

Escott’s 1908 account contains several features of interest. He had read Mrs Boger, and the idea that the Holy Thorn grew from a fragment of the Crown of Thorns, rather than from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, as usually related, derives from her;[3] but he has also taken up the notion of the association of the Grail with the Blood Spring, and his is an early reference to its ‘placing’ on the hill, rather than at the well itself. He seems to accord the spring a current status as ‘the … Holy Well’; but mostly we note the matter of ‘the linen, which had once covered the Divine Body’, i.e. the Shroud of Christ. His assertion that this was one of the relics which Joseph of Arimathea had brought to Glastonbury appears to be a unique survival of a tradition, unknown to early twentieth century esoteric circles, which has otherwise disappeared, and its possible background deserves some investigation.

Escott’s memory may well have been jogged by relatively recent attention in the British press to the Shroud of Turin, which had been photographed for the first time in 1898 in connection with a rare public exposition. The photographic negatives, produced by one Secundo Pia, revealed for the first time the remarkable detail, indiscernible to the naked eye, that the faint image of Christ on the Shroud actually concealed. Subsequently, in 1900, a group of scientists under physicist Paul Vignon at the Sorbonne in Paris began a study of the Shroud image and their findings published in 1902, sympathetic to the Shroud’s authenticity, were favourably reported in both The Lancet and The Times. An English translation of Vignon’s The Shroud of Christ was published in London, also in 1902. Not all were impressed, however, and in 1903 the Jesuit historian the Rev. Herbert Thurston, in two articles in the Roman Catholic periodical The Month, condemned it as a forgery.[4]

At first sight, Escott’s remarks might be thought to reflect no more than the kind of whimsical contemporary fancy which had made the notion of the concealment of the Holy Grail at Chalice Well into an ancient legend; but he clearly refers the particular belief concerning the fragments of linen to the time of his own childhood. The journalist and author Thomas Hay Sweet Escott, M.A., was born at Taunton on 26 April, 1844. He was the eldest son of the Rev. H. S. Escott, ‘member of a very old West Somerset family, whose seat is Hartrow Manor, near Taunton’[5]. He was educated at Somerset College, Bath, and at Queen’s College, Oxford, obtaining a second in Classics in 1863. In 1866 he produced an edition of the Satires of Juvenal, incidentally the ultimate source of the name of Arviragus, who, taken up by Geoffrey of Monmouth, and later by Glastonbury writers who cast him as the king who welcomed Joseph, figures in Escott’s 1908 re-telling of the legend of the Arimathean. From 1868 to 1872 he lectured in logic at King’s College, London, and in 1870 was also deputy Professor of Classics. He became an accomplished journalist, based in London, connected with the Standard, the World and the Fortnightly Review, which he edited from 1882-1886, and wrote some thirty books, mostly on contemporary politics, personalities and reminiscences. His most noted work was England: its People, Policy and Pursuits, 1879, in two volumes. This was reviewed by the Spectator, which found that ‘There is no great pretence to originality in view … or historical insight … In regard to matters of fact remarkable accuracy is shown.’[6] Twice married, with a son and daughter, he retired to Brighton and died in 1924. Escott’s parents were both still alive in 1908, living in Somerset at Kilve Rectory, and he dedicated his work on the county to them in gratitude and indebtedness ‘for the sustained interest in its social and personal records, as well as for much of the information enabling him to put together the present narrative of its place in English history.’ There seems, then, no a priori reason to doubt the genuineness of Escott’s childhood reminiscence of a tradition which his upbringing in an ecclesiastical household, and within an ancient family, not twenty miles from Glastonbury, would have placed him in a good position to have heard, and which must refer to the 1850’s, when Tennyson’s poetry had barely begun to rekindle widespread Arthurian enthusiasm, and long before the Shroud of Turin had achieved the kind of international renown which followed the revelations of Secundo Pia’s photographic plates.

Escott’s somewhat cryptic reference can only be interpreted to mean (a) that the ‘diminutive fragments’ were venerated in some private shrine by, in the 1850s, the presumably Roman Catholic faithful. Any cult of the Holy Shroud would be unthinkable in an Anglican context in staunchly Protestant Somerset at this date, and Escott’s diplomatic reference to ‘Continental shrines’ certainly implies a Roman Catholic background for the beliefs he describes. There was no place of Catholic public worship in Glastonbury itself in the mid-nineteenth century. Alternatively, we are intended to understand (b) that the ‘fragments’ (and note, here, the use of the plural) were actually offered for sale – presumably to gullible persons who, in matters of religion, erred towards Catholicism. In either interpretation of Escott’s words, it would seem that Glaston once laid claim to having possessed its very own Holy Shroud.[7]

Consideration of the possible origin, date, and means of transmission of this belief raises a number of problems. Escott’s account seemingly presupposes acquaintance, though not necessarily by Escott himself, with the so-called Prophecy of Melkin, embedded in Chapter XIIII of the Chronicle of John of Glastonbury, of c.1342, which offers the earliest known account of the burial of Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury. The idea that he owned a notable linen shroud would seem to represent an interpretation of its puzzling words Et iacet in linea bifurcata. It is best, therefore, to begin with a re-examination of ‘Melkin’. The prophecy, written in a difficult Latin, has been most recently discussed by Prof. James Carley,[8] who offers the following translation, in which the enigmatic phrase is rendered ‘And he lies on a forked line ..’ :

The Isle of Avalon, greedy in the burial of pagans, above others in the world, decorated at the burial place of them all with vaticinatory little spheres of prophecy, and in future it will be adorned with those who praise the Most High. Abbadare, powerful in Saphat, most noble of pagans, took his sleep there with 104,000. Among them Joseph de Mamore, named ‘of Arimathea’, took everlasting sleep. And he lies on a forked line close to the southern corner of the chapel with prepared wattle above the powerful venerable Maiden, [Et iacet in linea bifurcata iuxta meridianum angulam oratorii cratibus preparatis super potentum adorandum virginem] the thirteen aforesaid sphered things occupying the place. For Joseph has with him in the tomb two white and silver vessels filled with the blood and sweat of the prophet Jesus [in sarcophago duo fassula alba et argentea cruore prophete Ihesu et sudore perimpleta]. When his tomb is found, it will be seen whole and undefiled in the future, and will be open to all the earth. From then on, neither water nor heavenly dew [ros celi] will be able to be lacking for those who inhabit the most noble island. For a long time before the Day of Judgement in Josaphat will these things be open and declared to the living. Thus far Melkin.[9]

Melkin is introduced by John as ‘a certain soothsayer (vates) of the Britons.’ Later, the heading of Chapter XXI, in which the prophecy is repeated, says ‘This passage is found in the Book of Melkin who was before Merlin (qui fuit ante Merlinum).’ He probably represents the character Maeldin from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Life of Merlin of c.1150, of which Glastonbury possessed a copy. There, Maeldin is a companion of Merlin’s youth who accidentally eats poisoned apples intended for Merlin and becomes (like Merlin himself for a time) a wild man in the woods until Merlin helps cure him.[10] Melkin’s prophecy is cast in a pseudo-Welsh vaticinatory tradition popularised in Latin by Geoffrey in his earlier Prophecies of Merlin, originally an independent work, subsequently incorporated into his History of the Kings of Britain of c.1136. Many writers have mined the prophecy for its esoteric content. The locally quite superfluous boon of water (cf. biblical ‘water of life,’ Rev. 22:17) and ‘heavenly dew’ must be intended symbolically. This last phrase echoes Isaac’s blessing to Jacob (Vulgate, Genesis 27:28 ros celi; King James’ version, Genesis 28), ‘Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine,’ in Christian typology a eucharistic reference. It was also used as an alchemical term.[11] Much attention has been paid to the ‘vaticinatory little spheres’, which were perhaps decorative globes of crystal or other polished stone or metal within the church, capable of utilisation for scrying, or alternatively, as James Carley hesitantly suggests, zodiacal decorations on the floor of the Romanesque Lady Chapel, or that of its ancient predecessor, destroyed in Glastonbury’s great fire of 1184.[12] Memories of this elder structure are clearly invoked by reference to ‘the chapel with prepared wattle above the powerful venerable Virgin.’ Scholarly commentators have been understandably reticent about this part of the prophecy. Others have been less restrained, and the Rev. L. S. Lewis[13] and other eccentric twentieth century Protestant writers, sceptical of belief in her bodily assumption, thought it meant that the Virgin had accompanied Joseph, conceived of as the uncle of Jesus, or of Mary herself, to Glastonbury and had actually been buried beneath the chapel subsequently dedicated to her. There is, one need hardly add, no other hint of any such belief in the Middle Ages. ‘Melkin’ must refer to an image of the Virgin, of which Glaston possessed at least one notable example, perhaps housed in a crypt beneath the Lady Chapel, a construction subsequently obliterated by the late-medieval undercroft of St Joseph of Arimathea, often attributed to Abbot Bere, or associated with the now subterranean ‘St Mary’s Well,’ in its own small undercroft, perhaps significantly of late thirteenth-century date, beside the Lady Chapel near its original south-eastern corner. This well is fed by a natural spring and the lower masonry may even be Roman.[14] It appears to be one of the determinants of the original site of the Lady Chapel, and was undoubtedly once of greater importance than it seems to have enjoyed in the later medieval period, perhaps functioning as a baptistery. Perhaps ‘Melkin’ merely implies that the wattle church was constructed around the Virgin’s image.

Alongside these strictly local references, it is evident from the prophecy that, as Prof. Carley remarks, some Eastern, or pseudo-Eastern, lore has been grafted into the Glastonbury traditions. To these aspects the identity of the mysterious Abbadare offers the best insight. In 1981 James Carley suggested a possible identification with Baybars I (1223-1277), who reigned as Mamluk sultan of Egypt and Syria from 1260–77.[15] Although he himself does not follow up his suggestion, there are sound reasons why this identification is likely to be correct. Originally a slave of Turkic stock from north of the Black Sea, Baybars became a commander of the Ayyubid, and subsequently the Mamluk, armies, ‘the most relentless foe that the Christians had had to encounter since the death of Saladin’.[16] In 1244, along with bands of Khwarazmian Turks who had already sacked Jerusalem, he routed a combined army of crusaders and Syrian Muslims at Gaza. In 1260 he led Mamluk troops to victory against the Mongols at the battle of Ayn Jalut (now En Harod), a crucial engagement which prevented their over-running the entire Middle East. Feeling insufficiently rewarded for his achievement, Baybars hatched a plot to kill his lord, the sultan Qutuz. He asked for a certain Mongol girl captive and, when the boon was granted, kissed the Sultan’s hand. This was the signal for his men to attack, and he himself administered the coup de grace by stabbing Qutuz in the neck with his sword. He then become the fourth Mamluk sultan, his reign marked by continuous military campaigns against both the Mongol horde based in Persia and the crusaders.  As part of his throne-name, Baybars bore the epithet Al-Bunduqdari, which would seem to be the source of the form Abbadare itself. The resemblance becomes yet closer when it is recalled that, in Arabic, the –l of al, the definite article (used in personal names as an honorific), can be replaced before certain letters with the letter following. This should not occur before b-, but ‘Melkin’s’ Arabic grammar may have been rusty on this point. The form ‘Abbadare’ would be very much closer to a somewhat ungrammatical Arabic *Ab-Bunduqdari than most medieval renderings into Latin of Arab names are to their originals. Bunduqdari is sometimes rendered ‘crossbow-man’ (cf. modern Arabic bunduqiyah, ‘rifle’), but bunduq in Arabic means ‘hazelnut,’ and in this context seems to refer to slingshot pellets; -dari is from the Persian dār, ‘possessor,’ ‘master,’ surviving in the Indian Army ranks of  subahdar,  havildar, etc.. Baybars’ first master was the emir Aydekin al-Bunduqdar, and his court title was then attached as a possessive to Baybars, who was later purchased by Sultan Ayyub.[17]

Prof. Carley is also likely to be correct in identifying ‘Saphat’ with the city of Safed (Zafad in Modern Hebrew) in Upper Galilee. Although not mentioned in the Bible, it was regarded in the Talmud as one of Judaism’s holy cities, being near the legendary burial-place of the second-century Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. To him in the thirteenth century the Zohar (The Book of Splendour), a major work of Jewish Kabbalistic mysticism, actually compiled by Moses de Leon (1230-1305), was attributed.[18] In the sixteenth century, Jewish refugees from Spain were to make it a leading centre of Kabbalistic study.

Baybars could be described as ‘powerful in Saphat’ because he had captured it from the Knights Templar in 1266. The Crusaders had erected a powerful citadel there in 1140 to control the highway from Acre to Damascus, calling the town Saphet. It fell to Saladin in 1188, soon after his decisive victory at the Horns of Hattin, through which both the major fragment of the True Cross, and Jerusalem itself, were lost to Christendom. Fifty years later Safed was regained and restored by the Templars on a grand scale, making it the largest and most massive Christian fortress in the East. It was finally taken by Baybars only after a long siege in which some ninety Templars were killed. Eighty more were then beheaded as captives when they refused to renounce their faith. With it fell the whole of the Galilee. Once covering an area of 10 acres, only fragments of the citadel walls remain today. Baybars made the town the administrative capital of Palestine’s northern district as Safat or Safad, and built there the Red Mosque, El-Jami’a el-Ahmar, in 1275.

The primary link between Sultan Baybars al-Bunduqdari and Glastonbury tradition is almost certainly to be found in the person of Edward I, who as king had close connections with the Abbey. The monk John of Taunton was sent to him as an emissary on pressing Abbey affairs as early as 1274, on Edward’s return to England from the Ninth Crusade, and was ‘benevolently’ received. John himself was elected Abbot later in the same year. Edward, with his first queen, Eleanor of Castile, spent the Easter of 1278 at Glastonbury in great state in the aftermath of his first Welsh war. On this occasion the supposed relics of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were elaborately honoured by the royal couple, and Edward ordered the re-location of their tomb to a position before the high altar.

As the Lord Edward, heir to Henry III, he had taken the Cross in 1268, and in 1270 set out with Eleanor, travelling via Sicily to the Holy Land, arriving at Acre after various adventures in May 1271. Edward wished to secure an alliance with the Mongols, then mostly shamanists but with many Nestorian Christians among them, against the Muslims. Edward’s relations with Baybars became doubly personal. At Acre, on 12 June 1271, Baybars rode right up to the gate to challenge battle. For once, Edward allowed discretion the better part over valour, and declined to be drawn out. Later, in June 1272, he was attacked in his tent by an Assassin, thought to have been sent at the bidding of Baybars, because of Edward’s personal opposition to the ten year truce with the Muslims which his own redoubtable presence had helped to secure. Edward was stabbed with a poisoned dagger in the struggle, before managing to kill his assailant. Eleanor was said to have attempted to suck the poison from the wound, and the Master of the Temple gave a miraculous stone in an attempt to counteract the effects of the poison.[19] The incident could not fail to have been recalled by accounts of Baybars’ own death, which occurred on 1 July 1277, after the Sultan had accidentally drunk a cup of poison intended for someone else. Given the slowness of international communication in the thirteenth century, Baybars’ death would still have been of topical interest in April 1278, and many anecdotes are likely to have been told around Abbot John’s table. Edward’s visit to Glaston in 1278 may be thought a convenient earlier limit for Melkin’s prophecy, at any rate in the form in which John of Glastonbury records it, in which the death of the ‘noblest of pagans’ is among accomplished things.

The picture of the burial of Sultan Baybars at Glastonbury, rather than, as was really the case, in Damascus, may still seem a rather surprising one, but it is necessitated by any equation between that Sultan and Melkin’s ‘Abbadare’ who ‘took his sleep’ in the Isle of Avalon. The prophecy as we have it must be at least at one remove from knowledge of an historical Al-Bunduqdari associated with Safed, whom no-one could imagine had in actuality been buried at Glastonbury. ‘Abbadare’ has already, therefore, become a literary figure in some sort, annexed to ‘Avalonian’ legend. An explanation is probably to be found in the fact that Avalon was not always and everywhere equated with the riverine island of Glastonbury. For the Norman conquerors of Sicily, it seems to have been in some degree identified with that island. Versions of the Arthurian cave-legend were told of Mount Etna, notably by Gervase of Tilbury (c.1210), and the name Fata Morgana (Morgan the Fay) was applied to a mirage-phenomenon in the Straits of Messina. In a satirical passage in the Draco Normanicum of 1168, Arthur goes from Avalon to reign in the antipodes.[20] In the fourteenth-century Ogier le danois, Avalon lay to the east near the Earthly Paradise. In the Majorcan Catalan poem La Faula (The Tale, c.1360) the narrator is carried in a dream on a whale’s back to an oriental isle where Morgana and Arthur and are still alive, the former with the appearance of a girl of sixteen, and the latter healed by bathing in the waters of the Tigris which flow from the Earthly Paradise, and kept ever-young by annual visits of the Grail.[21] In Le Bâtard de Bouillon,[22] a northern French chanson de geste of the first half of the fourteenth century, the crusader-king Baudoin (Baldwin I), in an imaginary episode, conquers Mecca. From its princes he learns that the realm of faery lies beyond the Red Sea. There, Baudoin and his companions find King Artus and his sister Morgue ruling in a magic garden where a thousand fays disport themselves. They loose all desire to return to their homes and wives, and when they do leave they discover they have been away for five years. The ‘Melkin’ text suggests the likelihood that some such source has conflated Avalon, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s apple-isle of Morgana and her nine sisters, with the Qur’anic Paradise, in descriptions of which rivers, fruits, and maidens feature prominently:

… for God’s sincere servants;
for them awaits a known provision,
Fruits – and they high-honoured
in the Gardens of Bliss
upon couches, set face to face,
a cup from a spring being passed round to them,
white, a delight to the drinkers,
wherein no sickness is, neither intoxication;
and with them wide-eyed maidens…
(Sura XXXVII, ll. 39-47)

therein they shall see neither sun nor bitter cold;
near them shall be its shades, and its clusters hung meekly down, …
(Sura LXXVI, ll.. 13-14)

Surely for the godfearing awaits a place of security,
gardens and vineyards
and maidens with swelling breasts, like of age,
and a cup overflowing.
(Sura LXVIII, ll. 31-4)[23]

These descriptions from the Qur’an would not seem out of place in the Vita Merlini or in the poetic romances of Chretien de Troyes. The Muslim Paradise was widely supposed to have had its earthly counterpart, created by the Old Man of the Mountains for his drugged Hashishin or Assassins, to give them a foretaste of the rewards to follow their martyrdom. This story is best known from the pages of Marco Polo’s Travels, where Marco is made to say that he had ‘heard it told by many people’, but it had an independent existence:

The Sheikh … had made in the valley between two mountains the biggest and most beautiful garden that was ever seen, planted with all the finest fruits in the world … and also four conduits, one flowing with wine, one with milk, one with honey, and one with water. There were fair ladies there and damsels, the loveliest in the world, unrivalled at playing every sort of instrument and at singing and dancing. And he gave his men to understand that this garden was Paradise. … So he had had this garden made like the Paradise that Mahomet promised to the Saracens, and the Saracens of this country believed that it really was Paradise. No one ever entered the garden except those whom he wished to make Assassins. … He would give them draughts that sent them to sleep on the spot. Then he had them taken and put in the garden, where they were wakened. … they believed they were really in Paradise.[24]

The cultural cross-currents of the time are well-illustrated by the career of Rustichello (or Rustciano) of Pisa. In Sicily in 1271 he met the Lord Edward on his way to Palestine. Edward lent him a book of Arthurian romance, and this served as the basis for Rustichello’s Roman de Roi Artus or the Compilation. ‘The epilogue suggests that the work was written at Edward’s express command.’[25] Although written in French, this is the earliest extant Arthurian work by an Italian, and inspired Greek and Spanish as well as Italian Arthurian works. Rustichello apparently accompanied Edward to Acre. There they may have met the Polos, on route to Tartary. The Venetian Marco Polo, c.1254-1324, the greatest of medieval travellers, passed through Acre with his father, who had already travelled extensively in the East, in 1271. Marco returned to Venice in 1295. In 1298-9 he was a prisoner of the Genoese, and at this time a fellow prisoner of his was none other than Rustichello, who whiled away the time by writing down Marco’s experiences at his dictation and from his notes, and giving them a literary polish. The original language of the Travels was also French. Rustichello’s contribution to the work has probably been under-estimated, and whole passages have been lifted with minimum adaptation from his Arthurian romance. ‘The sequence of the topographical survey is rather awkwardly broken by a series of digressions in which well-known legends of the Middle East … [including] the pretended paradise of Alamut – are related in the conventional romantic manner.’ Further, ‘The stories appear in the early fourteenth-century romance of Bauduin de Sebourc … and it is not certain that the author derived them from Polo’[26]

I have devoted some space to Islamic tradition, and to the literary background of the Travels, in order to suggest that there were channels by which near-eastern and Arthurian material could indeed blend and come to the attention of a Glastonbury writer, and that at not too great a remove from the circles of Edward I, with their first-hand knowledge of the historical Baybers. It seems likely that one of the orientalised versions of Avalon, to which some account had despatched the ‘noblest of pagans’ and his cohorts, perhaps, as with the Draco, with satirical intent, has been repatriated to Somerset and used by the author or compiler of ‘Melkin’s prophecy’ to add a little eastern mystification. Links with the crusading community, and, given the prominence accorded to Saphad, it may be even with local Templars, are indicated.

There may be another connection between Glastonbury and Baybars’ death, however. James Carley links the prophecy with a second strange passage in the same Chapter XIIII of John of Glastonbury’s Chronicle, the tale of Rainald of Marksbury, and plausibly suggests that the sultan of that story was also intended for Baybars. Marksbury, a Glastonbury estate on the northern slopes of Mendip, near Bath, was only some four miles from Temple Cloud, a cell of the important Templar establishment at Bristol. John of Glastonbury dates the incident to the time when Michael of Beckery, who has a minor role in the narrative, was Sacristan at the Abbey. This monk is elsewhere recorded as acting as agent in a property matter for Abbot John in April 1281.[27] Rainald set out to crusade in the Holy Land, only to be captured by the Sultan (Soldano),

bound in chains and held prisoner for a long time; but since he was handsome, beautiful to look at, and of elegant build, his captor had him brought from prison each day to eat the noon meal with him. Since the Sultan knew he was English, he was in the habit of asking him about the particular features of the land and the customs of that nation. Finally he asked, among other things, whether he knew of an island between two mountains where the noble decurion Joseph of Arimathea rested, who took the prophet Jesus from the Cross. When he asserted that he knew it well and that he himself was under the authority of the abbot of Glastonbury, where the island was located, the Sultan immediately made a pact with him: he would free him from prison and from the yoke of servitude if he would be willing to go to Glastonbury and bring back to him … a glove full of the earth where the decurion rested and the monks were buried. The prisoner, when he had offered an oath, promised faithfully to fulfil these conditions.[28]

This he did, but on his return he offered first a glove filled with earth from the Glastonbury parish churchyard (St John’s); the Sultan was not deceived and was eventually mollified with a glove of earth from the monk’s cemetery, declaring himself satisfied with the words: ‘Those who live there do not know what virtue there is in that earth; anyone, however great a sinner among a thousand men, if he is buried there, will hardly suffer the pains of hell (penas pacietur infernales)’. Here we have the Sultan intending to be buried with Glastonbury earth, and the phrase ‘however great a sinner among a thousand men’ echoes Abbadare’s 104,000 companions of the prophecy. Even in the Age of Chivalry, the granting of bail for a return journey to England to collect a glove-full of earth, and the faithful completion of the quest, smacks a little too much of the stuff of the romances, and it may be economical to suggest that the comely youth who had caught the Sultan’s eye already had with him a talisman of Glastonbury soil against the possibility of his own death and burial in Outremer; but the island between two mountains of which the Sultan had heard is curiously reminiscent of the location of the Assassin’s garden in the Travels of Marco Polo. It is not impossible that Baybars, who, despite his apparent hatred of Christians and Jews, was an intelligent man who encouraged learning, might discuss the wonders of his homeland with a prisoner who had found his favour. The passage occurs in John’s account of the special protection of the Madonna enjoyed by those buried in the soil of Glastonbury’s old monastic cemetery. It should not be forgotten that Mariam, the virgin mother, by miracle of God and the annunciation of an angel, of the Messiah Jesus, is a character in the Qur’an, and honoured by Islam as well as by orthodox Christianity. In both the prophecy and in the Rainald story, Jesus is referred to as ‘prophet’, an unusual designation in medieval Christendom (albeit one found also in the romance Perlesvaus of c. 1200-1210, see below), but the normal usage of Islam and the Qur’an, therefore lending authenticity in attributed remarks of the Sultan. As with Abbadare and Saphat, some real knowledge of the Islamic world is demonstrated, and this presupposes a genuine crusader background for the story.

I would link the prophecy also with a third passage in John of Glastonbury’s pages. In quoting the Abbey’s text of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Life of Merlin, to which work we have already referred in examining Melkin’s antecedents, John gives a version of the description of the Isle of Apples with a significant interpolation:

Hec nova Ierusalem fuit, hec fidei quoque lima,
Hec tumulus sanctus, hec scala poli celebratur.
Vix luit inferni penas hic qui tumulatour.

‘This was the new Jerusalem, the faith’s refinement, a holy hill, celebrated as the ladder of heaven.[29] He scarcely pays the penalties of hell who lies buried here.’[30] Once again, in this earliest mystic invocation of Glastonbury as the New Jerusalem, we have the emphasis on the saving quality of the very soil in which those who are buried scarce feel the pains of hell. We also have another parallel with Islam. Christ had ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem’s Temple Mount from the east, across the valley of Jehosophat. For Islam, the Rock of Moriah, on the Temple Mount, is identified as the place from which, guided by Gabriel, Mohammed ascended on a golden ladder to the Seventh Heaven, where he saw all the delights of Paradise. Descending again, he flew back to Mecca, as he had come, on the magical steed al Buraq (‘the lightning’), all in one night. This is the Night Journey (al Isra), and the Ascension (al Mi’raj, literally ‘the ladder’), of the Prophet, the subject of a brief allusion in the Qur’an (Sura XVII ll.1-2), the legendary details being supplied by traditions dating from the later eighth century onwards.[31] The Templars made their headquarters in the former Temple complex, where the Dome of the Rock was turned into the church of the Tempum Domini (Temple of the Lord), and the nearby al Aqsa mosque into that of the Templum Solomonis (Temple of Solomon). Baybars, we may note, renowned as a builder, in 1270 renewed the mosaic decoration in the rotunda of the Dome of the Rock, retaken permanently for Islam in 1244. In the Rainald story, the ‘pagan’ lord of the old Jerusalem desires to seek salvation from Glastonbury, here hailed as the New.

John of Glastonbury included the Prophecy of Melkin in his Chronica primarily because he regarded him as offering ancient authority for the burial of Joseph of Arimathea there; but he was a careful and rational chronicler, and does not seem to have made much of the esoteric content of the prophecy itself. However he understood the mysterious linea bifurcata, on or in which Joseph supposedly lay, he offers no interpretation. Others, later in the middle ages, ‘confounded the meridian line,’ which was marked as dividing the Galilee of the church from the originally separate Lady Chapel, with what they took to be the ‘line’ in the prophecy.[32] The adjective bifurcata is occasionally applied to a forking path, such as might be found in a churchyard. In our latter days, the linear idea has had great appeal to the enthusiasts for ‘ley-lines.’ The Rev. R. Willis, in 1866, sought a rational explanation for Melkin’s words by referring them to a shirt (Medieval Latin linea, an undergarment) which he evidently envisaged as bifurcate in having tails afore and aft.[33] J. Armitage Robinson, in 1926, pointed out that in the Glastonbury Lyfe of Joseph of Arimathia, printed by Pynson in 1520, clots of Our Lord’s blood fall into Joseph’s shirt.[34] This detail may perhaps have been suggested by a reading of Melkin, but a distinguishing reference to the tails of Joseph’s shirt in the original seems hardly appropriate to the dignity of this context. Thomas Escott’s account of 1908 seemingly belongs alongside the ‘shirt’, as opposed to the mystic ‘line’, interpretation of the linea bifurcata but perhaps, in context, offers a rather more convincing meaning. Etymologically, the basic meaning of Latin linea, cognate with English ‘line’, is a linen thread and by extension, therefore, something woven of linen thread, although linea for a garment appears to be a medieval (or perhaps Vulgar Latin) development. A linen grave-cloth might be a perfectly possible usage, although the normal Latin for a linen cloth would be linteum.[35] What might be envisaged to explain the adjective bifurcata in this interpretation would be a shroud folded double and hence, if rather awkwardly, ‘two-forked.’ The awkwardness is perhaps diminished were a likeness imagined on the cloth. Gervase of Tilbury, writing c.1210, tells a story in which Joseph of Arimathea rebukes the Virgin Mary and the other women for allowing Christ to hang nude on the Cross without covering him. They therefore ‘quickly went and bought a cloth of finest linen (lintheum mundissimum) so large and wide that it covered the whole body of the crucified; and when he was taken down, an image of his whole body hanging from the cross was seen to have been imprinted on the cloth.’ This was enclosed with an ampoule of the Lord’s blood and other relics within the wooden image of Lucca, which Nicodemus carved from the image on the cloth.[36]

The idea of a body image on cloth, of course, corresponds to the well-known example of a ‘Holy Shroud’ now in Turin, from which in 1988 a radio-carbon dating was obtained giving the linen cloth a calendar range of c.1260-1390 AD. A lead pilgrim badge recovered from the Seine and now in the Musée de Cluny, Paris, allegedly dated by the heraldic arms it bears to the time of the Shroud’s first public expositions of c.1357, shows the cloth with the double image of Christ horizontally, the frontal and rear images separated at the crown of the head by the top of a cross arising from a stylised tomb.[37] This neatly illustrates a plausible interpretation of ‘bifurcate’, as resembling the branches of a tree or candelabrum. The date of the c.1357, if correct for the first public appearance of the Shroud, is too late for it to have influenced John of Glastonbury, and the writing of the Melkin prophecy itself is most plausibly dated to c.1300-1310, allowing a generation for the true identity of Baybars/Abbadare to be forgotten, and another for John to believe it to be genuinely ancient. Does the crusader background of the material within and associated with the prophecy, however, point to the possibility that its author had in mind a relic of the same general character as that now preserved in Turin, and alleged by Gervase for Lucca? Any answer may in part depend on the view taken of the history of the Shroud of Turin itself.

Until the result of the radio-carbon dating was announced in October 1988, many were prepared to give the relic the benefit of the doubt, and theories were devised to explain its ‘missing years’ between the first Easter morning of c.30 AD in Jerusalem and its appearance in fourteenth-century France. The most popular, put forward by the writer and publicist Ian Wilson in 1978 in his best-seller The Turin Shroud,[38] first published to coincide with a rare public exhibition of the relic, was that it was identical with the ‘Mandylion,’ the Image of Edessa, a relic renowned among Orthodox churches, first mentioned in the Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius, c.593.  This was displayed as an image of the Holy Face, although certain medieval accounts[39] suggest that it, too, was actually a full body image. This much-copied relic, its likeness ‘not made by hands,’ disappeared in the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The culprits, in Wilson’s view, were the Knights Templar. At the time of their disgrace in 1307 they were accused of worshipping a mysterious ‘head’ sometimes called Baphomet, a name which, despite ingenious explanations to the contrary, probably represented a corruption of that of the Prophet Mohammed. The Templars were attacked initially by the King of France, for financial and political reasons, and most of the accusations against them, admitted under torture or its threat, were of the salacious kind levelled at Jews, witches, and other scapegoats throughout the ages. A certain amount of archaeological evidence, however, has been alleged from time to time to support a view that the cult of a bearded head or face, identified by Wilson with the Holy Face of Christ, rather than with that of the Prophet of Islam (traditionally depicted among Muslims as faceless, if indeed at all) or of some demon, was indeed practised within the Order, and that this was therefore distorted by their enemies into a weapon against them. Wilson was living in Bristol while researching his book, and a comparatively persuasive example, and the only one which he offered, happened to come from Templecombe in Somerset, a mere sixteen miles south-east of Glastonbury. Here the Templars had established a Commandery or Preceptory, the only one in Somerset and an important centre for the West Country, in 1185.

Here a painted panel was found in 1944 or 1945, hidden in the ceiling of a cottage outhouse used as a wood-shed, in West Court, High Street, in the area of the former Templar Preceptory, and sometimes said to have been the former priest’s house.[40] The tenant, a Mrs. Molly Drew, went to fetch in firewood and happened to look up to where some plaster had fallen, possibly loosened by a recent stray bomb. She was amazed to see a face ‘suspended in the ceiling’ looking down at her. The panel, covered in cobwebs, had been wired into the roof and plastered over. According to Mrs Drew, ‘the colours when she first saw it were vivid and very beautiful,’ with ‘bright blues and reds.’ Unfortunately, the then Rector, retired bishop Rev. George Wright, decided to scrub it clean, giving it its now rather faded, washboard appearance. The owner of the cottage, Mrs. A. Topp, gave it to the village church of St Mary, where it is now displayed. It lay for a decade forgotten in the Rectory, until it was restored at a cost of £80 and unveiled on Easter Day, 1956.[41]

It depicts the life-size head of a bearded man, seemingly disembodied and looking full-face from within an ornamental frame. The striking face, despite the absence of a halo, was widely considered to be that of Christ. Wilson declared that ‘It bears a remarkable resemblance to the face on the Shroud.’[42] The publicity which Wilson’s book afforded soon had ‘visitors flocking’ to view ‘the famous portrait,’ as was noted in an article, with a large photograph of the panel, in the Western Gazette in May 1978: ‘The similarity between the shroud and the face on the wooden panel has been pointed out in a new book by Ian Wilson (36), production manager at Bristol United Press.’ The proposition that ‘it might have been copied by the Templars from the Shroud itself’ was taken up in the village of Templecombe with some enthusiasm. ‘The Templars were entrusted with the church’s greatest treasures, and it is now considered that they probably once held the holy shroud. The picture at Templecombe could be a direct copy made from it. Discovery of the picture would have led to discovery of the shroud, so secrecy was essential.’[43]

For some it was not enough that a mere copy of the Shroud alone should be linked to Templecombe. In the September 1987 issue of the Newsletter of the British Society for the Turin Shroud, an article by a Mr. Rex Morgan MBE, ‘an Australian publisher-writer,’[44] and Ian Wilson appeared.[45] This expounded the theory that the Templars had concealed the Shroud in Somerset after 1307 near ‘the probable centre of Arthurian activity and the quest for the Holy Grail, now shown by strong evidence actually to have been the Holy Shroud, and .. therefore a most likely place for this most precious of Christian relics to have been taken.’ Morgan suggested that the panel appeared to be the lid of a chest of a size (some 158 cm. wide x 104 cm. top to bottom) which would be suitable to contain a folded cloth of the dimensions of the Shroud of Turin (width 111 cm.), and that the panel was once the lid of the existing Shroud’s casket. Although Geoffrey de Charny, the first presumptive private owner of Shroud, was in England as a prisoner of war in 1350-1, before dying a hero at Poitiers in 1356, few, probably, would wish to stretch the evidence of the Templecombe panel so far.

Both Morgan and Wilson allowed themselves the further speculation that Mrs. Drew’s woodshed might once have witnessed goings-on of a ritualistic nature. She estimated that it might have held ‘about ten people. It had no windows but contained, set in the wall, a mysterious circular stone (something like a millstone) with a hole in its centre.’ It probably was, in fact, an old millstone, a weight from a cider press, or the like: a photograph taken by Wilson shows a keyed slot in shallow relief across the central hole.[46] Audrey Dymock, however, had ‘several theories’ about it. The room might have been a priest’s hole, with food passed through the hole in the stone; or, ‘it could have had some ritual significance to the Templars.’[47] This last idea fired Wilson’s imagination:

It would appear that the panel may never have been deliberately concealed in the ceiling. One Templecombe resident, Mrs. Neal, born in the house where the painting was found, recalled being told by her cousin Mrs.Webb, now deceased, that she remembered seeing the face in the ceiling of the outhouse during her childhood in the early part of this century. It would seem only subsequently to have been plastered over. Could the panel have been the centre-part of a Templar initiation rite, in which perhaps the initiate lay ‘entombed’ for a prescribed period before being granted a particularly sacred vision of Christ? Although still highly speculative, this seems a possibility.

How this was meant to square with the concept of the panel as the Shroud’s casket-lid after 1307 was not made clear. Concerning the area of the former Preceptory itself, by the present Manor House, ‘According to some apparently well attested local stories, a few feet beneath the surface are some mysterious underground tunnels. Whether these have any relevance to the mystery is at present anyone’s guess … [sic]’[48]

The Templecombe estate passed to the Hospitallers after the Templars’ disbandment in England in 1312, and the painting was presumably concealed at the time of the Reformation. The panel was carbon-dated with a range of 1280-1440 AD.[49] In the popular work Hospitallers, The History of the Order of St John (1999), however, Jonathan Riley-Smith confidently asserts that the Templecombe painting ‘clearly dates from [the Hospitaller] period, because the “head” is that of their patron, John the Baptist, on a charger.’[50] Helen Nicholson repeats this assertion on Riley-Smith’s authority in her The Knights Templar, A New History (2001), although she also illustrates the seals of two German Templar Masters (dated 1279 and 1289) which show the head of Christ full-face. In both these examples, however, the head is clearly crowned with thorns.[51] There would seem to be, in fact, no objective way of distinguishing the Templecombe painting as an Hospitaller, rather than a Templar, artefact. Certainly, to view it as the Baptist’s head is open to the same objection as has been raised to its being a painting of the Shroud-image – that it is very much alive! The eyes are open and piercing, there is no obvious charger, and no bloodied neck. An unconsidered possibility is that it was intended to represent not the Shroud, but the ‘Veronica’ image of Christ’s face, which was well known in England in the thirteenth century. The St Alban’s Benedictine chronicler and artist Matthew Paris produced two illustrations of it c.1250. His versions share the centre-parted wavy hair, forked beard, lack of moustache-hair on the central upper lip, and, most strikingly, the open, challenging, eyes of the Templecombe painting. Prayer before the Veronica image, even in reproduction, merited indulgences, and by the 1360s such representations had acquired, via the French, the vernacular English name of ‘vernicles’.[52] A Veronica image would be equally appropriate in either a Templar or a Hospitaller setting. The Templecombe panel remains an impressive and intriguing mystery.

Radio-carbon dating is an exercise in statistical probability, and is capable of giving the odd anomalous result. That this has not occurred in the case of the Turin Shroud is sufficiently demonstrated by the broad correspondence of the radio-carbon age with the date in calendar years of the Shroud’s first known public appearances, which seemingly occurred around 1357. A suspicion may remain, however, that some process of cleansing or testing, or general handling at this time, has so badly contaminated the cloth as to effectively mask the actual date of an older, perhaps considerably older, ‘relic.’ The dating of the Shroud, and its declaration as a medieval ‘forgery,’ in fact, tends to raise as many problems as it solves. To maintain, as Professor Hall of the Oxford laboratory’s dating team was widely reported to have said, that ‘Someone just got a bit of linen, faked it up, and flogged it,’ is patently absurd. One might as well suggest that somebody, around the year 1600, just got some paper and scribbled down King Lear. The Shroud as at present understood exists in a vacuum. If its image is indeed an artefact, rather than the product of some obscure natural process, it is a supreme example of Christian art, but belongs to no known school. It is clearly related in some way to the Byzantine epitaphioi, images of the dead Christ on cloth laid on the altar as part of the Orthodox Good Friday rites, and their western derivative, the ‘Man of Sorrows’ representation of Christ.

From the early fourteenth century, the Byzantine troparion (hymn) for Good Friday accompanied the rites of the epitaphion: ‘The noble Joseph, taking down your spotless body from the wood and wrapping it in a clean shroud with aromatic spices, carefully laid it in a new tomb.’[53] No cloth epitaphioi older than the thirteenth century seemingly survive, but Herbert Thurston, in 1903, cited the Regularis Concordia, the ‘Rule of Concord’ of the English monasteries, composed c.970 by St Æthelwold, sometime a monk of Glastonbury, as an early Western reference to the wrapping of a crucifix in a linen cloth (linteum) on Good Friday in commemoration of the Passion. He seems not to have realised that this paralleled an Orthodox rite.[54] The tradition of Christ’s features being imprinted on cloth, whether as the ‘Mandylion’ in the East or the ‘Veronica’ in the West, is even more ancient.[55]

The Shroud, if an artefact, would almost certainly have been made as a devotional aid rather than in any crude attempt to deceive. The technical means used to produce it remain very uncertain; the anatomical, medical and antiquarian knowledge required would also have been very considerable. Such knowledge and skill might, it could be argued, have been more plausibly available to a rich and powerful international Order than to a none-too-wealthy French knight, Geoffrey I de Charny, founder of the chapel at Lirey where the Shroud was first exhibited around 1357.[56] The possibility of a Templar connection, therefore, need not of necessity fall with the acceptance of a calibrated radio-carbon date corresponding to 1260-1390 AD for the cloth on which the image is formed, although it would suggest a date earlier rather than later in the range. The Shroud could not be the original Mandylion, but might still represent a copy of it, and perhaps even the sole survivor of a number of copies, venerated in Templar services in different places. Several old copies of the existing Shroud were made subsequent to the fourteenth century. Thurston refers to evidence that some forty churches claimed to possess shrouds or portions of the cerements of Christ.[57]

The whole theory of a Templar connection, however, was seriously challenged by Malcolm Barber in ‘The Templars and the Turin Shroud’ in 1982. Taking no position on the authenticity of the Shroud, he cast considerable doubt on the evidence for alleged Templar head-worship, and concluded: ‘Without the idols described in the trial [sic], the other pieces of evidence gathered by Mr. Wilson have no central core, but remain a series of fragments with no coherence of their own.’[58] Barber’s paper appeared in an American Roman Catholic journal, and was little noticed by the world at large, but with the declaration of the Shroud as a ‘fake’ in 1988, for most scholars Wilson’s rickety theories collapsed like a house of cards. In 1994 Barber was much more scathing: ‘In fact, not one shred of the detailed evidence cited [by Wilson] connects the Templars with the relic, while the structure of the theory can be seen to owe a good deal to the fantasies of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.’[59] Wilson soldiered on undaunted, supported by a not inconsiderable number of ‘true believers’ in the Shroud. In 2000, in The Turin Shroud, The Illustrated Evidence, a colour reproduction was captioned: ‘The Shroud-like Templar panel painting discovered at Templecombe, England, during the Second World War. This represents the prime clue that the Knights Templar may secretly have owned the Shroud during the period immediately following the capture of Constantinople and up to their suppression in 1307.’[60] Serious study of the Shroud can hardly be said to have profited from the firmness of its dovetailing into the aberrant but lucrative Templar publishing industry, based as this is on conspiracy theory and Freemasonic invention, and to which the most exploitative nonsense concerning the Holy Grail and the supposed ‘blood-line of Christ’ has now been appended.

The Knights Templar were in some respects a military wing of the Cistercian Order, the White Monks who in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were rivals to the Benedictine Black Monks of Glastonbury and the other more ancient monastic establishments.[61] The Grail legends were in part a romantic literary response to the aspirations of the White Monks; the Queste del Saint Graal, of c.1225, in particular, has been seen as a Cistercian ‘spiritual fable’[62] and Wolfram von Eschenbach, the German author of the epic Parzival, of c.1210, went so far as to describe the guardians of the Grâl metaphorically as ‘Templars’ (templiesen). Nearer home, the Cistercian abbey of Hailes in Gloucestershire acquired in 1270, from Edmund of Cornwall, its founder’s son, a relic of the Holy Blood in a phial of crystal which became one of the leading goals of pilgrimage in England. Hailes had been founded in 1246 by Richard of Cornwall, later King of the Romans (i.e. of Germany and its Italian dependencies) and brother of Henry III, who had himself acquired a relic of the Holy Blood deposited at Westminster Abbey in 1247.[63] It is at precisely this date, 1247, that the text of William of Malmesbury’s earlier history of the Abbey was revised, almost certainly by the monk Adam of Domerham. Here, of the hitherto nameless apostles who were earlier said to have discovered and restored the miraculous Old Church at Glastonbury, it is first reported that ‘their leader is said (ut ferunt) to have been Joseph of Arimathea,’ a figure taken in this context from the evolving Grail-cycle of romance.[64] A motive becomes discernible for the production, perhaps half a century later, of ‘Melkin’s Prophecy’: Glastonbury did not go so far as to claim the Grail, understood as the Cup or the Dish of the Last Supper, but hidden within Joseph’s miraculous tomb there, to be revealed at an ordinate time, lay the cruets of the blood and the sweat of Christ, equals, at the least, to the blood-relic at Hailes. In the increasingly unlikely scenario that a Templar cult of the Holy Shroud was indeed also locally observed at Templecombe, then knowledge or rumour of it might likewise have contributed to the assertion that the tomb contained the ‘true’ linea bifurcata, the two-fold grave-cloth. The emphasis on the sweat might also be understood in this context. Although Our Lord doubtless did sweat on the Cross, one might expect rather that Joseph’s second vial might contain some of the water which the gospel relates flowed with the blood from His wounded side. This was, indeed, the version recorded by the Jesuit William Good, who was born at Glastonbury in 1527 and died in Naples in 1586.[65] Christ’s sweat, however, was regarded in the thirteenth century as having caused the image of His face to appear on the Veronica cloth, and so perhaps might also have been thought to have produced an image on a shroud. The detail more plausibly derives, however, from a defence of Henry III’s blood-relic written by Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, in 1247 which asserted that Joseph of Arimathea had preserved not only some of Christ’s blood from the Crucifixion, but also some of the sweat which dropped like blood in Gethsemane.

International pressure caused the arrest of the English Templars by Edward II in 1309; the very first prisoner examined, on 21 October in London, was William Raven, formerly of Templecombe, who denied all charges, one of which was of worshipping a cat. Unusually, Raven testified that at his reception at Templecombe c.1294 some one hundred lay persons had also been present, thus challenging the assumption of Templar secrecy. The Order was dissolved in 1312, and the surviving Templars confined for life to neighbouring monasteries at the royal expense. One such Templar, William de Warwyk, was still held at Glastonbury in 1315.[66] Some of the knowledge of Middle-Eastern matters displayed by the Melkin-author might possibly have derived from him. By the time John of Glastonbury wrote in 1342, however, the Templars and their eccentricities were a memory. The identity of Melkin’s linea as a shroud may well have escaped him, as it did those commentators who took his Chronicle as their text. Somewhere, however, awareness of the original meaning of the riddle, if such indeed it was, seems to have been preserved.

The Glastonbury verse Lyfe of Joseph printed by Pynson in 1520 (referred to above), composed in 1502 or shortly after, with its earliest reference to the Glastonbury Thorn and folksy tales of local miracle-cures, does indeed connect Joseph with Christ’s shroud in the aftermath of His resurrection.[67] It first recounts that:

So Ioseph layde Ihesu to rest in his serpulture,
And wrapped his body in a cloth called sendony;
Ryche was it wrought, with golde & sylke full pure,
Ioseph of a mayd it bought in Aromathy cyte.
(lines 21-24)

When subsequently the risen Christ appears to Joseph to free him from prison, Joseph asks:

“If thou be [Ihesu]” sayd Ioseph “that here doth stande,
Gyve me the rychest treasour of this lande,
The clothe that is called the Sendony.”
Ihesu led hym to the sepulture & there it fonde;
“Holde, ioseph,” sayd ihesu “that couerture of my body.”
(lines 68-72)

Mark 15:46, alone of the gospels, furnishes the detail that Joseph ‘bought fine linen’ in which to wrap Christ; in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, on which the second passage ultimately rests, Joseph asks only to see the empty tomb, wherein the grave clothes are lying, and neither requests nor receives the shroud. The poem makes no further mention of the shroud, which from Mark’s simple linen cloth has become an elaborate treasure, embroidered with silk and gold thread in the manner of a Byzantine epitaphion, and purchased from a maiden in Arimathea, and it does not state, as does Escott, that Joseph subsequently brought it to Britain. However, neither is this explicitly stated within the poem of Joseph’s ‘two curettes,’ in which he conserved the blood from within his shirt, and which were central to the Glastonbury tradition.

The poem’s reference to the ‘Sendony’ is clarified by the rare legend of the maid Syndonia, which appears in an English version of the Gospel of Nicodemus printed in black letter by Julyan Notary in London in 1507, and surviving in a unique copy in Marsh’s Library, Dublin. This was reprinted, with only slight variations of spelling and word-order, by Wynkyn De Worde, also in London, in 1509. The following is the Notary text of 1507 with standard abbreviations expanded:

Than Joseph of Barmathye kest hym for to bye a precyous cloth for to wynde in our lorde Jhesu whan he myghte gette graunte of Pylat for to have the body. And on this wyse came Joseph by this precyous cloth as ye shal here.

There was a knight in Capharnane whose name was Leuy [i.e. Levi]. This knyght wedyd a yonge lady & by procys of tyme they had togyder a doughter. Whome they clepyd Syndonya  & her they put to lernynge. & so by processe of tyme she wer[k]ed a curyous werke, as of clothys of golde and clothys of sylke, & of all other womens werkes. And so at the last whan god wolde this Leuy dyed. & than his wyfe for the grete love that she lovyd hym she fyll in a grete. Maladye as in a colde palsey so ferforth that she might neyther styre hande ne fote, so for this grete sekenes she fyll in a grete poverte so forforth that she ne had to leve on. but by the workys of her doughters hande And so it befyll that upon the same daye that our lorde was deed this lady sayd to her doughter. Doughter Syndonya thou knowest well that our grete sabot daye is nye. Than must we ete our paske lambe, and on this daye is the grete market at Barmathye. Therefore good doughter go & array the and take some of thy worke that thou haste wrought and bye us there suche thynges there as is nedefull to me and the at this holy tyme Her doughter Syndonya answered to her moder. & sayd moder your wyll shall be done. And moder I do you to understonde that I have wroughte the curyousest cloth that ever was made for it fyll  gracyously to wourke that it is more curious than I can skylle of And than the lady sayd to her doughter. lette me se that cloth And Syndonya shewed this cloth to her moder. And whan this lady sawe this cloth she sayd thus blessyd be that lorde that hath made the to werke suche a cloth and doughter upon my blessynge that tho sell this cloth to no man but yf he tell the what he shall do withal and so this mayd Syndonya she washed & bawmyde and arayed her to market and in the market stode Joseph of Barmathye with a grete peple spekynge of our lordes deth And by a venture this mayde Syndonya came before hym and Joseph of Barmathye a spyed the cloth hangynge on her arme. and askyd her yf she wolde selle that cloth. And she answered & sayd [De Worde: ye] syre.

And than Joseph asked her the pryce And she sayd .xxx. besauntys & anone Joseph payed to her .xxx. besauntes. & Syndonia fyll downe to his fete prayenge hym that he wolde telle her what he do withal sholde And than he answered her and sayd Doughter this daye is deed an holy prophet that men clepyd Jhesus of Nazareth and that holy prophete I purpose me to burye hym and wynde hym in this cloth. Doughter now have I tolde the what I wyll do withalle and therefore tell me who made this clothe that I have bought of the and this mayde sayd that herselfe made it And Joseph asked her what her name was and she sayd Syndonya than sayd Joseph now doughter after you I shall name this cloth for this cloth shall be named Syndonya and than this mayde wente home to hyr moder and tolde her how she had spedde And her moder asked her what sholde be done with the cloth And Syndonya tolde her that the holy prophete that was that tyme dede sholde be beryed  therin And who shall berye hym therin sayd this lady And  Syndonya sayd that Joseph of Barmathye sholde berye hym therin. And whan this lady herde this she sayd thus. Wolde my lorde god and that prophet that I had geven that cloth to his beryenge And anone with that worde she was holer and more sowne than ever she was afore. And anone the lady & her doughter fyll downe on [De Worde: to the grounde upon] ther knees thankynge our lorde god of this gloryous myrakyll And so after warde our lorde gave them suche grace that the moder was wedyd to a worthy duke and her doughter Syndonya Empresse of Rome And so they levyd ever after in our lordys service. And whan Joseph of Barmathye had bought this precyous cloth whiche was lorde and Constable over all Pylatys meyne he was a full good man & a ryghtfull, he was not assentyd to the accusacyons & wordys of the Jewes he abode the kyngdome of god and so he came to Pylat and askyd hym the body of Jhesu And Pylate graunted hym Than this Joseph & Nychodmus toke downe the body of Jhesu of þe crosse, and hym he wonde in this Sondonya that he had bought And he beryed hym in his monument wherin that never man was beryed and  so the Jewes wolde a slayne Joseph and  the xii men that had spoke for our lorde Jhesu afore Pylat. […]

[When the Jews had imprisoned Joseph, Jesus appeared to release him. Joseph subsequently reports:] And soo I lyfted up my hede and sawe my lorde Jhesu stonde fast by me shynynge with grete clernesse And so for drede that I had I fyll downe flat to the grounde. Than my blyssed lorde Jhesu hente me by the hande and lefte me up fro the grounde & wasshed my face kyssynge me and thus he sayd to me Brother Joseph thou arte clene by water of the feyth for thy synnes be relesed and  forgeve And therefore my frende have no drede but byholde me and knowe what I am. And so I dyd beholde hym and sayd .my mayster Elye [i.e. Elijah]. And he answered ageyne & sayd I am not Elye but I am Jehsu cryste whome that thou worthyfully beryed. than  sayd I to him Lorde shewe me thy momment [i.e. monument] there that I beryed the. And than my lorde Jhesu hente me by the hande and ladde me to the mommente  And there he shewed me the precyous  Syndonya that I wonde hym in. Than knewe I verelly that he was my lorde Jhesu And so I fyll downe and worshypped hym and sayd my lorde Jhesu blessyd mote thou be. that arte come hyder for to vysyt me and thorughe thy grace hast delyvered me. & so he helde me by the hande and lad me to the cyte of barmathye. [etc…] [68]

This story in full is now restricted in English to the Notary/De Worde textual tradition. Pynson, ‘printer to our sovereign lord King Henry VIII’, printer of the verse Lyfe of Joseph, and De Worde, ‘printer unto.. my lady the kings mother,’ Henry VII’s wife Elizabeth of York (died 1503), of ‘Fleet Street, London, at the Sign of the Sun,’ were competitors in business and both seem to have been eager to issue Glastonbury material. De Worde also published an undated The Lyfe of Joseph of Armathy, which follows Capgrave’s account in his Nova Legenda Angliae:  

For asmoche as oftentymes grete doubtes & doubtefull thynges deceyueth the reders therfore all doubtes sette a parte ye shall se dyuers thynges extracte of the veray true & probate assercyons of hystoryal men touchynge and concernynge thantyquytes of thonourable monastery of oure lady in Glastenburye.[69]

Here, in contrast, Syndonia is not mentioned, but after Pilate has granted Joseph the body of Christ, ‘he wrapped it in a fayre whyte clothe and interyd it in a tombe newly made where never man was buryed in.’ Pynson included an abbreviated account of Joseph’s mission to Britain in his ‘The Kalendre of the New Legende of Englande,’ which also included a life of the Glastonbury-associated St. Bridget, in 1516.[70]

Hulme, editor of the Middle English versions of the Gospel of Nicodemus, wrote in 1908 ‘I have been able to find only a few traces of the [Syndonia] story in medieval Christian literature, but it must have been a well-known legend; at any rate, it does not occur in any other version of the Gospel that I have examined.’ He cited the references to it the 1502 Glastonbury text, and two early modern continental references, one in French in an undated sermon to the ‘glorious maiden’ who made Christ’s shroud, and a second to ‘the wise woman’ who made the Sindon, from a Latin office of the Turin Shroud written for Charles II of Savoy (reigned 1638-75).[71] Hulme added ‘My own belief is that the original of De Worde’s text is to be found among the numerous Latin MSS of the Evang. Nicod. which are preserved in English libraries and which have not been carefully examined.’ Shields, however, demonstrated in 1972 that the basic Notary/De Worde text was not directly translated from the Latin but from a French exemplar, surviving texts of which lack the Syndonia story.

Syndonia seemingly first appears, independently of the Gospel of Nicodemus, in the France of the early fourteenth century. In an apocryphal Life of the Virgin dated 1323, in French verse and prose, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, it was summarised by M. R. James in his 1895 Catalogue thus: ‘Story of a maiden and her deformed mother. She had made a fair web of cloth, had to sell it for food, sold it to Joseph [of Arimathea] for 30 pieces of gold, then reclaim it. Was called Syndonia and the cloth named after her (Sindon). Her mother was healed. She was seemingly made queen of Jerusalem by lot.’[72] This item is inserted between Joseph’s begging of Christ’s body from Pilate and His burial.

The name Syndonia appears in England in the mid-fifteenth century in a single MS of the so-called Northern Passion, in which, however, it is erroneously applied to the woman usually named Veronica, who was given an imprint of Christ’s face on cloth.[73] The Northern Passion was written in octosyllabic verse in the North of England in the early decades of the fourteenth century, translated from an Old French original, one of a number of poems written ‘with the purpose of instructing the laity in matters of religion.’[74] The MS in question, the so-called ‘London Thornton MS’ of c. 1450,[75] is a collection of religious poems and secular romances (including ones of Charlemagne and Richard I) written in a northern dialect by Robert Thornton (fl. 1418-1456), landowner and amateur scrivener of East Newton, Stonegrave, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, the scribe of the better-known ‘Lincoln Thornton MS’[76] in the Lincoln Cathedral Library, which is notable for its unique preservation of some important Arthurian texts, notably the Alliterative Morte Arthure and Sir Percyvelle of Galles. The Passion forms part of a series of pieces arranged to give a continuous narrative from the apocryphal childhood of the Virgin Mary to the destruction of Jerusalem by Vespasian. ‘The presence of many Midland and a few Southern forms .. indicates that Thornton was copying from a MS written by a Midland scribe.’[77] The section (ff. 33a-50a) begins with the drawing of a king’s crowned head and a ‘green man’ amid foliage, and ends with the signature ‘R. Thornton’ and the colophon in Latin ‘Here ends the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.’[78]

In this account, as the Jews lead Jesus through the streets they are met by ‘a mayden of þe contre’ called ‘Maydene Sydonye.’ She was born in Bethany, and came to the city to sell ‘a clothe þat scho hafed wroughte.’ She laments, because Jesus is ‘a verraye prrophete,’ her lord mild and sweet. He has previously restored he eyesight, a variant unique to this version, as from earliest times Veronica was identified with the woman healed of an issue of blood.[79] She prays Christ to send her some of his grace. He tells her to ‘laye thi clathe unto my face / and I shall sett þer one my mark’. She does so and it is marked with ‘Ihsus face als verraye.’ The Jews order her away for fear of her life, and she leaves with the cloth, which is described as a ‘faire Iuelle [jewel].’ All that see it may be made whole, ‘Thurgh the vertu of that Iuele.’ It was subsequently brought in procession to the Pope of Rome, where it remains as the ‘face at Rome’ called the ‘vernycle’, the truth of which pilgrims may see. The only other unusual feature is that where other MSS of the Northern Passion subsequently have Joseph wind Jesus in a ‘sendel clene’, as in the Gospel, here Thornton has written ‘wunde hym in a cendale clene’ and then deleted ‘clene’ to write ‘grene’ instead.

Thornton’s manuscript tells us that the name Syndonia was already current in England by the first half of the fifteenth century. When was her correct story first noted at Glastonbury? A sporadic interest in Joseph of Arimathea was maintained there in the second half of the fourteenth century. Following the appearance of John of Glastonbury’s Chronica in 1342, Edward III in 1345 granted one John Blome of London a writ to search for Joseph’s body there. A false report that the tomb had actually been found in 1367 appeared in an East Anglian chronicle. In 1382 Abbot John Chinnock (1375-1420) restored a small chapel in the cemetery, rededicating it to St Michael and St Joseph of Arimathea. Its decoration included ‘a life-size triptych featuring Joseph’s role in the deposition.’ Further searches for Joseph’s remains were seemingly made in the cemetery and in the Lady Chapel in 1419, probably at the instigation of Henry V.[80] Prof. Carley argues that this was in preparation for a political propaganda exercise to enhance the English Church’s status as apostolic, which was aborted because of Henry’s early death in 1422. According to Abbot Frome’s written reply to the King’s enquiries, in the Lady Chapel, beneath the southern corner of the altar, the bones of a man were found in a coffin ‘adorned most excellently beyond the others, with linen cloth inside all over,’ and which ‘excelled all others in delicacy of scent.’[81] As Carley notes, the ‘linen cloth’ presumably echoes Melkin’s linea bifurcatea, demonstrating that some, at least, in the later Middle Ages thought the phrase referred to a linen covering of Joseph’s body, rather than a ‘line’ in the churchyard.

Any of these occasions might have stimulated the insertion of the Syndonia story into a Glastonbury manuscript of the Gospel of Nicodemus, to be noted by the author of the 1502 Lyfe and to find its way to Notary and De Worde in much the manner that Hulme suggested. In such a context, it would be comparable to the tradition recorded in the 1502 Lyfe that Joseph had carved the wooden image of the Virgin venerated at Glastonbury. That ‘purely English accretion to the Joseph legend’, the fourteenth- or fifteenth-century story of his having carved a crucifix thrown into the river by a pagan king at Caerleon, which much later washed ashore in London to become the ‘Rood at the North Door’ of Old St. Paul’s, was also noted in the 1502 Life.[82] The elaboration of the Joseph traditions to include the Holy Thorn, and the idea of Joseph’s burial at Montacute/Ham Hill (see below), may also be of pre-Reformation origin. The Notary/De Worde textual tradition’s lack of the detail of Joseph requesting the ‘Sendony’ after Christ showed him the empty tomb, as found in the 1502 Lyfe, suggests a fuller version of the story was available at Glastonbury.

De Worde’s text became ‘the standard edition throughout the next two centuries’ and was reissued in 1511, 1512, 1518 and 1532. Post-Reformation, it was re-printed at Rouen in 1620, corrected by a priest called John Warrin, and at London in 1767.[83] A lightly modernised and edited version of De Worde’s text appeared as a chapbook, published in Newcastle c.1775; an edition of the older eighteenth-century chapbook ‘The Holy Disciple,’ which retells the doings of Joseph of Arimathea in relation to Glastonbury, published in London perhaps also c.1775, incorporates this recension of the Syndonia story as its sixth chapter.[84] In the chapbook versions, the story is rationalised: the market in which the cloth is purchased is in Jerusalem, where Christ has been crucified, not in Arimathea, and after Syndonia’s and her mother’s change of fortunes, she does not become Empress, but merely ‘a fine lady in Rome.’

The Syndonia story skilfully blends reminiscences of the Virgin Mary’s weaving of the linen, gold and silk Sanctuary Veil for the Jerusalem Temple, as told in the ancient Proto-Gospel of James,[85] the Veronica legend (with the interchange of significant object- and personal-names), and St Helena, the poor stable-girl who became Empress of Rome and re-discovered of the True Cross, into an attractive whole. Although never common, the name Syndonia and its variants, Anglicised as Sidony (sid´one) ‘was formerly used by Roman Catholics for girls born about the date of the Feast of the Winding Sheet (i.e. of Christ), more formally alluded to as “the sacred Sendon.” Sendon or Sindon (from Latin sindon, Greek sindoy “fine cloth”, “linen”) was used in Middle English for a fine cloth, especially one used as a shroud.’[86] The Feast of the Holy Winding Sheet was kept at Besançon on 11 July, and in Savoy, Piedmont and Sardinia on 4 May (the day after that of the Invention of the Cross) in honour of the (now) Turin Shroud. The 4th Sunday in Lent was so celebrated in Compiègne to mark the translation to a new shrine in 1092 of ‘a winding sheet’ allegedly brought from Aachen in 877.[87] A Shropshire example of the name recorded in 1793, ‘Sidonia or Sindonia Wilden,’ perhaps reflects rather the influence of the chapbooks. A close rendering from these into modern English appeared in the anonymous The Life of Jesus Christ, including His Apocryphal History, from the Spurious Gospels, Unpublished Manuscripts &c., London, 1818.

An earlier medieval text which is of relevance is the Old French Perlesvaus, of perhaps c.1200-1210, and certainly before 1250. Dindrane, sister of the hero, is obliged to obtain a piece of Our Lord’s shroud. This is preserved as an altar-cloth in a small ancient chapel within the Graveyard Perilous. The cemetery has a high cross at its entrance and the chapel an image of Our Lady. It has been blessed by St Andrew with his own hand. The cloth, which rises into the air when she attempts to touch it, has a wonderful fragrance. She prays to the Lord, and the cloth descends to the altar again with as much taken from it as the Lord wished her to have. The chapel with its graveyard is almost certainly a fictionalisation of Glastonbury,[88] in whose Abbey the anonymous author claimed that a Latin original, of which his work was a French translation, had been found. The text elsewhere shows an awareness of Glastonbury geography, and an Arthurian incident from it is paralleled in John of Glastonbury’s Chronica of 1342. Perlesvaus was certainly known in England, and was even translated into Welsh. Prof. Carley identified a fragment of a fourteenth-century MS in Wells Cathedral library. He believed that John had borrowed directly from the Perlesvaus, although others have preferred to see the shared material as deriving from a common original.[89]

An even older text may also be significant. In the Liber Angeli, the ‘Book of the Angel,’ a document composed in the late seventh or the eighth century and included in the ‘Patrician dossier’ in the Book of Armagh of 807, the church of Armagh claimed ‘by a secret dispensation (a relic of) the most holy blood of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the human race, in a sacred linen cloth, together with relics of the saints in the south church, where rest along with Patrick the bodies of holy pilgrims who came from afar, and other just men from overseas.’[90] This is among the earliest references to a cult of the Holy Blood in Europe, and one missed by Nicholas Vincent in his study. Glastonbury, from at latest the early tenth century, had close links with Ireland and itself claimed to possess relics of St Patrick. It is clear that Patrick, regarded by the twelfth century as the founder of Glastonbury as a monastic institution, inspired aspects of the later legend of Joseph of Arimathea (with whom he shared 17 March as a saint’s day) and this may be another instance. Although the ‘sacred linen cloth’ is not explicitly identified in the text with Christ’s burial linens, its presence is suggestive. Was it used to wrap or veil a reliquary, or did the Holy Blood here itself consist of a blood-stain in the cloth?

Joseph’s association with Christ’s burial-linen may have influenced late medieval iconography in England. Fifteenth-century depictions of Joseph, on a painted bench-end at Plymtree, Devon, and in stained glass at Langport, Somerset, show Joseph holding his two cruets with a cloth, its length particularly marked at Plymtree, which may well be intended to represent a shroud.

It would seem, then, that there was indeed local tradition at Glastonbury which elaborated Joseph’s connection with Christ’s shroud in the last days of the Abbey’s existence, if not indeed much earlier, and this may have passed eventually into Roman Catholic recusant circles. Such circles certainly maintained an interest in the cult of Joseph, and in Glastonbury’s prophetic potentialities, long after the English Reformation. The Latin autobiography of the Jesuit William Weston (1550-1615) tells of an old man he met while on a mission in Somerset in 1586. This old man had served at Glastonbury in his youth, and at the dissolution had rescued one of the nails of the Passion, supposedly brought by Joseph, although not evidenced in the Abbey’s extant relic lists, and kept it until in the reign of Elizabeth it was confiscated by John Jewel, bishop of Salisbury, 1560-71.[91] The old man showed Weston ‘the case made of linen in which it had been preserved. The material was soft and still retained the impression of the nail distinctly enough for its dimensions to be clearly seen. As far as I could judge, it was about one foot in length and a finger in breadth towards the top.’ The old man used this reliquary-cloth as a talisman ‘against the molestation of spirits,’ either on Glastonbury Tor or, more probably, on St Michael’s Hill, Montacute or nearby Ham Hill, regarded by the sixteenth-century Glastonbury monks as a possible alternative burial-place of Joseph. The ‘Measure of the Nails’ was a known type of late-medieval charm, and paper examples survive.[92] It is interesting to speculate whether this piece of linen bearing the impression of the nail might not have been the true origin of the ‘diminutive fragments of this material’ of which Escott had heard. In 1857 the Very Rev. George Oliver, Canon of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Plymouth, wrote of the seventeenth century Catholic Stocker family of Chilcompton, Somerset: ‘I think that it was one of this family who told F. William Weston … that at the plunder of Glastonbury he secured one of the nails … From this family, I suspect, came the piece of the true cross which F. Peter Warnford, O.S.B., obtained (ob. 21st August, 1657), and which was kept by the dean of the Rosary in London … Perhaps the precious relic of our Saviour’s thorn came from the same quarter. Both, I believe, are now at Downside.’[93] Thomas Gerard, as late as 1633, knew of a cult of Joseph at the ruined chapel on Montacute Hill:

‘This place by some latter zealous Recusants hath been had in greate veneration, for they believe that (But I thinke out of their traditions) that the body of Joseph of Aremathea … was here interred.’ He mentions ‘another tradition, that in this Chappell was found one of those nayles which fastened our Saviour to the crosse, which a gentleman [in a note ‘Mr. H.’] not farr of kept sometime and after sold for a greate sume of money to be transported beyond the Seas’.[94]

A Glastonbury reference included by the American historian Garrett Mattingly (1900-1962) in his The Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1959, has escaped widespread notice, and I therefore quote it in full. According to Mattingly, in 1588, before the Armada sailed, the exiled English Catholic leader Cardinal William Allen, resident in Rome, and his assistant Fr. Robert Parsons (or Persons), a Somerset man from Nether Stowey, a convert who had become a Jesuit, received news of Glastonbury concerning a famous prophecy for the year1588:

‘One anonymous correspondent of William Allen’s (or perhaps of Father Parsons’s?) had fresh light on the subject which seemed important enough for the little house on the Via di Monserrato [the English exiles’ headquarters] to send the Vatican a fair copy for the attention of His Holiness [Pope Sixtus V]. In the ruinous foundations of Glastonbury Abbey, wrote the informant, a mysterious upheaval of the earth had recently disclosed a marble slab which had been buried throughout the centuries beneath the crypt. Carved on the marble as if in letters of fire were the prophetic verses beginning ‘Post mille exactos a partu virginis annos’. It was clear, therefore, that these terrible lines could not have been written by any modern German. However Regiomontanus had come by these verses, none other than Merlin himself could be their author, and his dark science, or God’s inscrutable providence, had brought them to light in these latter days just in time to warn Britons of the impending destruction of the empire of Uther Pendragon’s seed [i.e. the Tudor dynasty]. The prophecy was the more weighty since it was well known that Merlin had also prophesied the re-establishment of Arthur’s line and other notable matters. No comment from the via di Monserrato indicates how seriously Cardinal Allen and his friends took this communication. No trace survives to show whether the story was really current in England. But opposite ‘atque decresunt Imperia’ a sceptical contemporary hand wrote in Italian: ‘It doesn’t say what empires or how many.’ [95]

The prophecy supposedly found written on the Glastonbury stone had in reality first been published in Germany in 1553, when it was dubiously claimed that it had been discovered in the papers of Johannes Müller of Konigsberg, known as Regiomontanus, a renowned fifteenth-century astrologer, and was widely disseminated. It concerned the fall of empires following eclipses of sun and moon and a conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in Pisces predicted for the fatal year 1588, and spread anxiety throughout Europe. The English translation read:

When from the Virgin Birth a thousand yeares
With full five hundred be compleat and told,
The Eightie Eighth a famous yeare appeares,
Which brings distresse more fatall then of old.
If not in this yeare all the wicked world
Do fall, and land with sea to nothing come;
Yet Empires must be topsie turvie hurl’d
And extream grief shall be the common summe.[96]

The Protestant reformer Melancthon was among those who took up the prophecy as a possible indication of the date of the Apocalypse.

It would be instructive to see this Glastonbury story being put to political use at the highest level by the English Catholic exiles in 1588. It must be said, however, that there are problems with Mattingly’s account. The Latin prophecy in the Vatican manuscript is laconically introduced in a cryptic Italian: ‘Copy of the verses of Prophesy which were found written on a marble [stone] in England of a ruined abbey which the uncle of Msgnr. Count Mutio Taverna brought [or (?) brought from the tavern], this is what they say.’[97] The rest of the folio is blank, as is that opposite (378v), showing no trace of the comment ‘It doesn’t say what empires or how many,’ which Mattingly records. There is no mention of the English exiles or Merlin, and Glastonbury is not identified by name.[98] A reviewer of Mattingly’s prize-winning book wrote of his ‘purple prose’ reading ‘like historical fiction,’ but it might be charitable to suppose that, writing perhaps from rough notes and memory, he conflated his named source with unidentified material from elsewhere. It seems likely that the ruined abbey is indeed intended to be Glastonbury, however. The detail of the marble stone, and foreshadowings of the Apocalypse, appear to reflect awareness of the older Melkin prophecy. [99]

This alleged discovery may be related in some way to another perhaps apocryphal story. Elias Ashmole, writing in 1652, says: ‘’Tis generally reported that Doctor Dee, and Sir Edward Kelly were so strangely fortunate, as to find a very large quantity of the Elixir in some part of the Ruines of Glastenbury-Abbey.’[100] Dee and Kelley began their joint magical and alchemical experiments in 1582. A red powder for alchemical transmutation, and a ‘Book of St Dunstan’ (who was regarded in the sixteenth century as an alchemist), feature in Dee’s own diaries for the period, which, however, name their source as Blockley in the Cotswolds. Dee and Kelly were active together on the Continent from 1583 to 1589, when Dee returned to England, and during this time their activities aroused the suspicions of the Vatican.

Treasure-hunting among the Glastonbury ruins in the later Elizabethan period is also implied by Sir John Harrington of nearby Wells in his translation of Orlando Furioso (1591), where he notes that ‘within our memorie’ Queen Guenevere (already a skeleton in 1191) was ‘taken up in a coffin’ with her body and face well preserved, ‘as divers dwelling there about have reported,’ presumably a case of mistaken identity.[101] As late as April 1617, James I granted Mary Middlemore, a maid of honour to his Queen, Anne of Denmark, a warrant to search for hidden treasure-trove, books and ‘other things whatsoever’ in the ruins of certain named abbeys, including ‘Glassenbury.’[102]

From the 1450s, the most famous Holy Shroud had become a talisman of the house of Savoy, and was now widely accepted within the Roman Catholic Church as a genuine relic. It was enshrined in Turin in 1578 with regular public expositions. Escott’s words ‘and which he destined as a future covering for his own remains’ leave open the possibility that Joseph’s intentions might in the event have been disappointed, thus allowing that the grave-cloth, all bar ‘diminutive fragments’ of it, might end up elsewhere. Perhaps some English Catholics who were aware of the veneration of the Shroud on the Continent believed it to have been at Glastonbury during its ‘missing years,’ and such beliefs might have been reinforced by the re-printings of the Syndonia story in 1767, 1775 and 1818. Despite the overwhelmingly Protestant sensibilities of the region, Catholicism in Somerset itself never quite died out after the Jesuit missionary activity of the late sixteenth century and maintained a somewhat tenuous existence, reviving in the later seventeenth century, mainly around Bath. In 1765 a Jesuit mission was founded at Shepton Mallet, eight miles east of Glastonbury, and a community of nuns resided nearby at Draycott from 1810-1831. Taunton’s first post-Reformation Catholic chapel was established in 1782, and by the 1850’s, when Escott was growing up there, Taunton’s Catholic community numbered some 300. The present St George’s Church there was opened in 1860. The most important event for Catholicism in Somerset after the Reformation was the establishment at Downside, near Bath, in 1814 of the Benedictine community, formerly the centre of English Catholicism in exile at Douai, which had returned to England to escape the French Revolution in 1793.[103] Paths therefore existed by which genuinely old beliefs about Glastonbury could be transmitted from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries as, indeed, actual physical relics claimed to come from Glastonbury, including the fragment of the Crown of Thorns already referred to, long at Stanbrooke, and a finger-bone of St Paulinus, now in the Glastonbury Antiquarian Society collection, may somehow have escaped destruction at the Dissolution and still survive.[104]

It is just possible that a last glimpse of such traditions may have been vouchsafed in Cornwall in the 1930s to the Rev. Henry Arden Lewis, vicar of Talland 1933-6, a parish which included the site of Lammana priory, which had belonged to Glastonbury between c.1144 and c.1250. In his booklet ‘“Ab Antiquo”: The Story of Llammana (Looe Island)’of 1936 he wrote:

Now I am told a startling story by Mrs. Vague of Watergate, aged 85, who spent her young days at Port Looe and Portallow, of a piece of old cloth, treasured by a family at the latter place, which they said was part of the “cloth in which Our Saviour’s body was buried.” Might this not have been one of the holy “relics” of the old Chapel [of Lammana], which were no doubt dispersed when the King [Henry VIII] had taken all the articles of realisable value, and the Chapel was closed?[105]

He referred to the story again in another booklet, the 1946 edition of Christ in Cornwall?, adding the detail that the old lady’s husband had been born on Looe Island. H. A. Lewis was no relation of his contemporary, the Vicar of Glastonbury, L. S. Lewis, but, like him, he became obsessed with the late-Victorian story that the boy Jesus had accompanied Joseph of Arimathea to Britain on one of his voyages. He is therefore not the most reliable of folklorists; Ab Antiquo, however, was written at a stage when he was still relatively rational. Lewis nowhere mentions having read Escott, and it is perhaps unlikely that his elderly informant had done so either, although the possibility of genuine Glastonbury traditions persisting at Lammana from before the thirteenth-century ending of its ties with the monastery certainly strains credibility.[106]

It is perhaps as well to take stock. I have suggested that Escott’s story of the burial linen of Christ coming to Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea, late as it is, may belong not to the new Glastonbury mythological developments which began in the 1880s but is likely rather to reflect older Roman Catholic recusant belief. Such a belief could have evolved at any time between the sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries, perhaps as an elaboration of the Syndonia story, and against a background of awareness of the Continental cult of the Holy Shroud; however, as it can be seen as shedding unexpected light on the enigmatic Melkin prophecy, the possibility deserves to be considered that the assertion may indeed actually be as old as the thirteenth century. Any student who addresses such topics as Glastonbury, the Knights Templar and the Holy Shroud invites a charge of Fortean eclecticism, if not worse; the reader may fear the appearance of the Loch Ness Monster at any moment. I hope, however, that I have managed to retain some balance in examining these various loose ends of Glastonbury lore, presented in the belief that the ideas which people have held about Glastonbury are often of as much interest as the verifiable history of Glastonbury itself, of which, indeed, they form an integral part. [107]

Paul Ashdown.


Arberry, Arthur J., (trans.) 1955, The Koran, Oxford, The World’s Classics.

Abrams, L., & Carley, J., eds., 1991, The Archaeology and History of Glastonbury Abbey, Boydell Press, Woodbridge.

Ashdown, Paul, 2003,’ Glastonbury and the Shroud of Christ’, in The Downside Review, vol.121, no. 424, July, pp. 171-196.

Ashmole, Elias, 1652, Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, facsimile reprint pub. by Kessinger Pub. Co. Montana (n.d.).

Barber, Malcolm, 1982, ‘The Templars and the Turin Shroud’, in Catholic Historical Review 68, pp. 206-25, Catholic Univ. of America Press, Washington DC, (reprinted in Crusaders and Heretics, 12th-14th Centuries, Variorum, 1995).

Barrett, C. R. B., 1894, Somersetshire: Highways, Byways and Waterways, Bliss, Sands and Foster, London

Boger, Mrs. E., 1887, Myths, Scenes, & Worthies of Somerset, George Redway, York St., Covent Garden, London.

Bryant, Nigel, 1978, The High Book of the Grail, A translation of the thirteenth-century romance Perlesvaus, Brewer, Cambridge..

Caraman, Philip, (trans.)1955, William Weston: The Autobiography of an Elizabethan.

Carley, James P., 1981, ‘Melkin the Bard and Esoteric Tradition at Glastonbury Abbey’, in  Downside Review, 99, pp. 1-17.

Arimathea’s Bones’, in Culture and the King, The Social  Implications of the Arthurian Legend. M. Shichtman & J. Carley, Albany, NY, pp. 129-48. Rep. Carley, 2001, pp. 285-302.

Carley, James P., (ed.), 2001, Glastonbury Abbey and the Arthurian Tradition, Brewer, Cambs.

Carley, J, & Howley, Martin, 2001, ‘Relics at Glastonbury in the Fourteenth Century’, in Carley, 2001, pp. 569-616.

Chambers, E. K., 1927, 1966, Arthur of Britain

Clarke, Basil, ed., 1973, Life of Merlin: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini, UWP.                                     

Cormack, Robin, & Vassilaki, Maria, eds., 2009, Byzantium 330-1453, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2009.

Dixon, C. Scott, 1999, ‘Popular Astrology and Lutheran Propaganda in Reformation Germany’, in History, vol. 84, No. 275, July 1999, Oxford, pp. 403-418.

Duffy, Eamon, 1992, The Stripping of the Altars, Yale.

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Faith, Juliet, 2009, The Knights Templar in Somerset, The History Press, Stroud.

Foster, Frances A., ed., 1913, The Northern Passion, four parallel texts and the French original, E.E.T.S. 145, London.

Frank, Grace, ed., 1934, La Passion D’Autun, Soc. des Ancs. Txts. Franc., Paris.

Gerard, Thomas (of Trent), 1633, The Particular Description of the County of Somerset, ed. Rev. E. H. Bates, Som. Rec. Soc.  Vol. XV, 1900.

Hughes, Kathleen, 1966, The Church in Early Irish Society, London.

Hulme, W. H., 1908, The Middle English Harrowing of Hell and Gospel of Nicodemus, Early English Text Society, London.

James, M. R., 1924, The Apocryphal New Testament, Oxford.

Latham, R. E., 1958, The Travels of Marco Polo, trans. with int., Penguin Classics.

Lewis, Henry Arden, 1936, “Ab Antiquo”: The Story of Llammana (Looe Island).

Loomis, R. S., ed., 1959, Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, Oxford.

Matarasso, P. M.,1969, The Quest of the Holy Grail, trans. with int., Penguin Classics, Harmondsworth.

Mattingly, Garrett, 1959, The Defeat of the Spanish Armada, Jonathan Cape, London.

Morgan, Rex, & Wilson, Ian, 1987, ‘The Templecombe Panel Painting’,

in Newsletter of the British Society for the Turin Shroud, no. 17, pp. 3-13.

Oliver, George, 1857, Collections Illustrating the History of the Catholic Religion in the Counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, and Gloucester.

Padel, O. J., 1991, ‘Glastonbury’s Cornish Connections’, in Abrams and Carley, 1991, pp. 253-6.

Prestwich, Michael, 1988, Edward I

Rahtz, Philip, 1993,  English Heritage Book of Glastonbury.

Rice, David Talbot, 1935 (1962 ed.)  Byzantine Art, Harmondsworth

Riddy, Felicity, 1991, ‘Glastonbury, Joseph of Arimathea and the Grail in John Hardyng’s Chronicle’, in Carley, 2001, pp. 269-285.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan, 1999, Hospitallers, The History of the Order of St John, Hambledon Press, London.

Robinson, J. Armitage, 1926, Two Glastonbury Legends, Cambridge.

Scott, John, 1981, The Early History of Glastonbury, an edition, translation and study of William of Malmesbury’s De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie, Boydell, Woodbridge.

Shields, Hugh, 1972, ‘Bishop Turpin and the Source of the Nycodemus gospel’, in English Studies, vol. 53, no. 6, pp. 497-502.

Skeat, W. W. 1871, (ed.) Joseph of Arimathie, facsimile reprint published by Llanerch, 1996.

Stewart, Sarah (ed.), 2013, The Everlasting Flame, Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination, SOAS, London.

Thurston, Rev. Herbert, 1903a, ‘The Holy Shroud and the Verdict of History’, The Month, CI, 1903, pp. 17-29.

Vincent, Nicholas, 2001, The Holy Blood : King Henry III and the Westminster Blood Relic, Cambridge Univ. Press.

Watkin, Dom Aelred, (ed.), 1956, The Great Chartulary of  Glastonbury, Vol. III, Somerset Record Society.

Williamson, G. A., (trans.) 1965, Eusebius, The History of the Church, Harmondsworth.

Willis, R., 1866, The Architectural History of Glastonbury Abbey, Cambridge and London, facsimile reprint published by Llanerch, 1990.

Wilson, Ian, 1979, The Turin Shroud, rev. ed., Penguin Books, Harmondsworth


Wilson, Ian, & Schwortz, Barrie, 2000, The Turin Shroud, The Illustrated Evidence, Michael O’Mara Books Ltd., London.

Wood, Charles T., ‘Guenevere at Glastonbury: A Problem of Translation’ in Carley, ed., 2001, pp. 23-40.

Wright, G.W., 1887, ‘The Chalice Well, or Blood Spring, and its Traditions’, in Proceedings of the Glastonbury Antiquarian Society for the Year 1886, Glastonbury, pp. 20-36.

[1] T.H.S. Escott, p. 12.

[2] Barrett, 1894, p.24. On p. 25 Barrett includes a sketch of the ‘Blood Spring’ dated 1893.

[3] Boger, 1887. p. 29. Escott makes several references to her work in his text.

[4] Rev. Herbert Thurston, 1903a, The Holy Shroud and the Verdict of History, The Month, CI, 1903, pp. 17-29. 1903b, The Holy Shroud as a Scientific Problem, The Month, CI, 1903, pp. 162-78. See also Thurston, 1930, What in Truth was the Holy Shroud?, The Month, CLV, 1930, pp. 160-4. Thurston was to figure in Glastonbury historiography in 1931, when in The English Legend of St Joseph of Arimathea, also in The Month, CLVIII, no. 805, pp. 43-54, he wrote a well-reasoned refutation of the Arimathean writings of Lionel Smithet Lewis, the ‘silly vicar of Glastonbury,’ as local antiquary John Morland allegedly described him, and of the historical accuracy of the spiritualistic ‘automatic’ scripts produced for and published by Frederick Bligh Bond, who had excavated at the Abbey from 1908-1921.

[5] Men and Women of the Time, 15th ed. 1899. A. T. C. Pratt, in People of the Period, 1897, calls Escott ‘a descendant of an old and respected Somersetshire family’.

[6] Spectator, lviii. 584.

[7] The gospel descriptions of Christ’s burial do not of necessity imply a shroud, but Escott’s reference to a singular ‘linen’, which could be re-used for another person, clearly does intend such, rather than a tangle of bandages.

[8] Carley, 1981 pp. 1-17; Carley, ed., 1985, pp. li-lx.

[9] Carley, 1981, p. 3. In Carley, ed., 1985, p. 31, Townsend’s translation is less literal.

[10] For Maeldin, see Clarke, 1973, pp. 197-8. Clarke cites parallels with the Irish Mael Duin, who had adventures on apple-islands, and suggests Geoffrey’s character has also been influenced by the literary reputation of the historical king Maelgwn Gwynedd, the spelling of whose name, appearing as Old Welsh Mailcun in the Book of Llandaff, may also have influenced the Glastonbury tradition.

[11] See Carley, 1981, p. 12, on the use of this biblical text by the magus John Dee in the title page of Monas Hieroglyphica, 1564. On the gift of water, see further Ashdown, 2012, pp. 76-77. 

[12] James Carley’s suggestion of a zodiac design on the Lady Chapel floor was anticipated in a communication from one of Frederick Bligh Bond’s ‘spirits’ (Gate of Remembrance, 1918, p. 147, and see note 4 above). See further Ashdown, 2012.

[13] See note 4 above, and Ashdown, 2010, pp. 143-4.

[14] See Rahtz, 1993, pp. 84-87.

[15] Carley, 1981, p. 10. In Carley, ed., 1985, p. lviii, in his reworking of the same material in his introduction, he omits the identification.

[16] Charles Lethbridge Kingsford, in The Camb. Med. Hist., V, 1926.

[17] I am grateful to Fr. Martin Lee of the British Orthodox Church for his assistance in Arabic matters.

[18] If Kabbalistic fame, as well as crusader associations, lay behind the singling out of Safed, in a prophecy which contains astrological and alchemical resonance’s, then this would be unlikely long to post-date the expulsion of the Jewish community from England by Edward I in 1290. The sperula might be reminiscent of the Kabbalistic ‘spheres’ (Heb. sephirot), although these are traditionally but ten in number.

[19] For Edward’s crusade, and the various accounts of the poisoning episode, see Prestwich, 1988, pp. 73-79.

[20] See E. K. Chambers, Arthur of Britain, 1927, rep. 1966, for texts.

[21] Loomis, 1959, pp. 68-9.

[22] Ed. Robert Cook, Geneva, 1972.

[23] The Koran, trans. Arberry, 1955.

[24] The Travels of Marco Polo, Ch.1, trans. Latham, 1958, pp. 40.

[25] Prestwich, 1988, op. cit., p. 118.

[26] Latham, 1958, p. xviii & note 1.

[27] In The Great Chartulary of Glastonbury, ed. Watkin, 1956, p. 684. After two troubled years, Baybars was eventually succeeded as Sultan by Qala’un (1279-90) and his son Khalil (1290-3) who took Acre, the last Crusader stronghold in Syria, in 1291.

[28] Carley, 1985, pp. 33-35, trans. David Townsend.

[29] Literally, of the (celestial) pole. The word is used of the sky or heavens by Virgil and Horace. The concept of the Tor as a stair or ladder was perhaps inspired by the stepped appearance of its terraces, especially on the north-western side. It is still uncertain whether these are wholly natural or partly man-made. The church of St Michael on the summit was thrown down by an earthquake on September 11th 1275, and subsequently rebuilt.

[30] Carley, ed., 1985, pp. 12-13.

[31] The popular story of the Prophet’s ascent exists in many versions in Arabic. It was translated into Castilian and then into Latin in the thirteenth century as the Liber scale Machometi (Book of the ladder of Mahomet). The tradition was itself probably based on Jewish, Zoroastrian and Christian apocalyptic sources to bolster the prestige of Ummayad Jerusalem within Islam. Stewart, 2013, pp. 142-7.

[32] So Willis, 1866, p. 21.

[33]  Willis, 1866, p. 16.

[34] Robinson, 1926, 61-63; 44. See also Skeat, 1871  (1996), p. 38, ll. 27-32. In the Vulgate Cycle’s ‘History of the Holy Grail’ (c.1230) the under-tunic of Joseph’s son forms a miraculous bridge.

[35] Cf. Thurston, 1903b, pp. 173-4, on Regularis Concordia.

[36] Gervase of Tilbury, Otia Imperialia, III, 24, Oxford Med. Texts. ed. pp. 598-9.

[37] Musée de Cluny, Paris, ref. 75CN 5261, illustrated in Wilson, 1979, un-numbered plate, & elsewhere.

[38] First published in Britain by Victor Gollanz Ltd., London, 1978.

[39] Notably Oderic Vitalis (see Wilson, 1979, pp. 178, 358, and Gervase of Tilbury, op. cit. pp. 594-598.

[40] Wilson, 1979, pp. 207-9. Wilson here gives the date of the discovery erroneously as 1951.

[41] Western Gazette, May 12 1978; A Brief History of the Panel Painting, anonymous leaflet, n.d., St Mary’s, Abbas and Templecombe.

[42] Wilson, 1979, caption to (un-numbered) photgraphic plate.

[43] ‘Knights Templars of Templecombe, recalled by Audrey Dymock,’ n.d., leaflet sold in aid of St Mary’s Church, Templecombe.

[44] Wilson, 1991, p.15.

[45] Morgan and Wilson, 1987, pp. 3-13. Morgan interviewed both Audrey Dymock, ‘Parish Secretary of Templecombe, and herself an artist,’ and Molly Drew.

[46] Rep. in Faith, 2009, p. 36, a study which mingles some potentially useful documentary research with fanciful speculations in the usual mode of Templar enthusiasts.

[47] Morgan and Wilson, 1987, pp. 7-8.

[48] Wilson, editorial note, Brit. Soc. for the Turin Shroud, Newsletter 19, April 1988, p. 13.

[49] Morgan and Wilson, 1987, p. 13.

[50] Riley-Smith, 1999, p. 53.

[51] Nicholson, 2001, pp. 210-211, 268, n. 22.

[52] For the ‘Veronica’ image and its derivatives, see Wilson, 1991.

[53] Cormack & Vassilaki, 2009, pp. 238-239; 433. See also David Talbot Rice, 1935 (1962 ed.), p. 202 & plate 63.

[54] Thurston, 1903b, pp. 173-4.

[55] Eusebius (writing c.325) saw statues popularly believed to be of the woman cured of an issue of blood (Mark 5:25-34 etc.) and of Christ at Caesarea Philippi, and goes on to write of icons of Christ which he had also seen (Williamson, 1965, pp. 301-2). For Veronica (earlier Berenice, identified with the woman) and her picture in 8th-century and later apocrypha, see James, 1924, pp. 158-160.

[56] It is possible, though unproven, that this Geoffrey had a family connection with Geoffroi de Charnay, the Templar’s Preceptor of Normandy, who was burnt at the stake with the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, in Paris in 1314.

[57] Thurston, 1930, p.164).

[58] Barber, 1982 (1995), p. 225.

[59] Barber, 1994, pp. 331-3, at p. 332

[60] Wilson & Schwortz, 2000, p. 116.

[61] Unlike the later monastic groups, the Benedictines were not originally an ‘Order’ as such, but were obliged in time to become more like one. John of Taunton, Abbot of Glaston 1274-91, was a reforming joint president of the Provincial Chapter of Black Monks (see Carley, 1988 (1996), p. 37.

[62] Matarasso, 1969, pp.9-10; 20-21.

[63] On Hailes, and on Henry III’s relic, see Vincent, 2001, and Ashdown, 2012.

[64] Scott, 1981, pp. 44-45. A receptacle containing the blood of the Saviour occurs in a Glastonbury relic-list of probably mid-13th century date in MS Cambridge, Trinity College R. 5. 33 (724), written in a mid-14th century hand. It does not seem to be mentioned elsewhere (see Carley & Howley, 2001, pp. 85; 90.). On the saying ‘as sure as God’s in Gloucestershire’, with reference to the Blood of Hailes, mirrored across the Avon on the heights of Mendip at some indiscernible date with ‘as sure as Our Lord came to Priddy,’ see Ashdown, 2010, pp. 77; 100-102.

[65] See Robinson, 1926, pp. 46-7, 66-7.

[66] Victoria County History of Somerset, vol. ii, p. 146-7 & refs..

[67] Skeat, 1871 (1977), pp. 37; 39.

[68] The treatys of Nycodemus gospel, Enprynted at London : Withoute Tempell Barre, in Saynt Clementys parysshe, by me Iulyan Notary dwellynge at the syne of the thre kynges, In ye yere of our lorde a. M.CCCCC.vii. [1507],  pp. 17-20. The Syndonia story is on pp. 22-4 of De Worde’s 1509 ed.. Both available at Early English Books Online.  See also Shields, 1972, p. 497.

[69] Skeat, 1871, (1997), p. 27.

[70] Skeat, 1871, (1997), pp. xx-xxi; 25-34.

[71] Resp. Mulier sapiens operata est opere manuum suarum, digiti ejus apprehenderunt fusum, Sindonem fecit et vendidit, alleluya. Vers. Hanc Justus Joseph ab Arimathia mercatus est Sindonem, quam fecit. [sic]

(Vers. The wise woman hath wrought by the work of her hands, her fingers have taken hold of the spindle, made the Sindon and sold it, Alleluia. Resp. This Sindon righteous Joseph of Arimathaea bought, which she made.) Chevalier, 1900, xlviii; Hulme, 1908, p. lx, n. 1.

[72] Fitzwilliam MS. 20 ff. 31a-33b; James, 1895, pp. 35-6.

[73] The stories of Syndonia and Veronica are also fused in the French Passion of Autun, in which a mother sends her daughter to sell a cloth which is then imprinted with Christ’s image. The daughter here is not named, and is referred to only as ‘la fellie’; Frank, 1934, pp. 199-200; 218-19. Frank (p. 7) dates the text as fifteenth/sixteenth century, though Foster, 1916, p. 74 n. 3 calls it fourteenth-century.

[74] Foster, 1916, p. 1.

[75] BL MS Add. 31.042.

[76] Lincoln, Cathedral Library MS 91 (formerly A.5.2).

[77] Foster, 1916, p. 28.

[78] Foster, 1916, pp. 11-13; Catalogue of Additions to the MSS in the British Library, 1882, pp. 148-51.

[79] In the Passion of Autun, (see below) ‘the mother of the maiden of the cloth is cured of blindness by the touch of the holy kerchief’, Foster, 1916, p. 73, n. 7.

[80] Carley, 1994, who discusses the background in ecclesiastical and secular politics.

[81] From Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Reg. lat 623, fols. 45r-47v: Infra autem capellam sub angulo australi altaris eiusdem fuit alia cista inuenta cum ossibus corrupti hominis; que quidem cista cum panno linio ad intra circumquaque fuit pre ceteris excelenticius adornata. Et quia prae omnibus aliis in flauore odoris et in eminencia loci prepollebat in alia magna cista inclusa est, quousque clarior noticia de ea haberi poterit in futurum. Carley, 1994, pp. 135-40.

[82] Skeat, 1871, p. 43-4; Riddy, 1991, pp. 325-7.

[83] Hulme, 1908, pp. lv-lx; Shields, 1972, p. 497.

[84] ‘The First and Second Part, of the Holy Disciple, that Buried Christ’s Body, London, paid by and for C. Bacon,’ British Library RB.23a.30950, pp. 9-11; 13. A pencil note in cover reads: ‘Probably 1775 or later Bacon the printer is not mentioned in Plomer.’

[85] M. R. James, 1924, p. 43.

[86] Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, ed. Withycombe, 2nd ed. 1949, p. 256.

[87] Catholic Encycl., 1911.

[88] Bryant (trans.), 1978, pp. 143-6; 265. From the 10th century, Glastonbury claimed to have been blessed by Christ in person and by un-named apostles. Its ancient cross-shafts and the perils of its cemetery were remarked upon by William of Malmesbury, c.1135, and by 1247 a notable wooden Madonna was revered there. St Andrew is patron of the diocesan church at Wells.

[89] Carley, 1988 (1996) pp. 89-90; the relationship between the Perlesvaus and Glastonbury is too complex for more detailed discussion here.

[90] Trans. Kathleen Hughes, 1966, p. 278.

[91] Caraman, 1955, pp. 110-112; see also p. 114, notes 3 and 4.

[92] See Duffy, 1992, p. 245, and plates 110, 112.

[93] Oliver, 1857, p. 71, with refs.

[94] Thomas Gerard (of Trent), The Particular Description of the County of Somerset, 1633, ed. Rev. E. H. Bates, Som. Rec. Soc.  Vol. XV, 1900.1633, p. 98.

[95] Mattingly, 1959, pp. 161-2. On page 354 he gives as his source ‘Rome: “Merlin” prophecy in Vat. Francia, 20 f. 379.’ The correct reference is Archivio Segreto Vaticano [Vatican Secret Archive], Segr. Stato, Francia, 20, f. 379r.

[96] Dixon, 1999, p. 404.

[97] Copie delli versi di Profesia quali sono stati trovati scritti sopra un marmoro in Inghilterra di una Ruinata Abadia quali li ha portati il zio dell M’.sor. Conte Mutio Taverna, quali cosi dicono.

[98] I am grateful to Dott. Francesco Lippa of the Vatican Secret Archive for identifying the correct MS reference and supplying me with a photo of f. 379r, and to Dott. Marco Grilli for examining f. 378v on my behalf. He assures me that it is blank, that ‘the previous written papers concern another matter,’ and that the Vatican Archive has no information concerning Count Mutio. He might perhaps be identified with ‘Monsig. Mutio Buongiovanni,’ writing from Lisbon, (Mattingly, pp. 354, citing ‘Vat. [VSA] Spagna 36’), who would seem to be the special papal representative sent to Lisbon by Sixtus V to report on the departure of the Armada, (ibid. pp. 191-2.). See also, Indices de la Correspondencia Entre la Nunciatura en Espana Y la Santa Sede durante el reinado de Felipe II, Madrid, 1949, D. Jose Olarra Garmendia, pp. 236, 264, 268, 602. Lisbon might have been a good place for gathering intelligence related to the West of England. If Taverna is taken as a surname, however, the reference is more likely to a member of the noble Milanese family of that name. ‘Mutio’ might be a mistake for Matteo Taverna (1562-1597), Count of Landriano. An uncle, Francesco, was Phillip II’s Chancelor in the Duchy of Milan in 1555. A brother, Ferdinando, was made referendary of the Tribunals of the Apostolic Signature in 1588 and became a Cardinal in 1604.

[99] Carley notes that Melkin’s Ioseph de marmore was perhaps interpreted by John Bale, 1548, to mean that Joseph slept beneath a marble tomb, which was also the interpretation of J. Armitage Robinson. Latin marmor can mean either ‘marble’, or the ‘white, foamy, surface of the sea.’ Carley prefered a trans-marine reference. See Robinson, 1926, p. 30, & Carley, 1981, p.14, note 18.

[100] Elias Ashmole, Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, London, 1652, p. 481.

[101] Wood, 2001, pp. 26-27 & refs..

[102] Thomas Rymer, Foedera, conventiones, litterae, et cujuscunque generis acta publica, vii, pt.3, The Hague, 1742, pp.  9-11.

[103] See Dunning, 1976, pp.42-47.

[104] Doubt has been cast on the authenticity of the Paulinus relic’s attribution to Glastonbury. Its reliquary is said to be of comparatively modern date (T. Ball, pers. comm.).

[105] Lewis, 1936 (1946) p.7.

[106] On Lewis and the Lammana tradition, see Ashdown, 2010, pp. 149-160; for modern scholarly work on Lammana Priory, see Padel, 1991 & refs..

[107] The first published version of this paper appeared in The Downside Review in July, 2003. Having been written without the benefit of reading Barber, 1982, or Riley-Smith, 1999, it was perhaps too sympathetic to the arguments of Ian Wilson concerning the Templars and the Turin Shroud. It has here been substantially revised, and harmonised with Ashdown, 2012. I wish to thank Prof. James Carley and Dr Robert Dunning for reading and commenting on early drafts, and Prof. Carley for his kind permission to reproduce his translation of the Prophecy of Melkin; the staff of the then Somerset Studies Library, Taunton, for help on the background of Thomas Escott; Tim Ball for reminding me, in another context, of the Armada prophecy, and without whose enthusiasm this paper would not have been written; Fr. Martin Lee for advice on Arabic matters; Dr. Adam Stout for drawing my attention to the Syndonia story, and for his help in its elucidation; Dr. Susanna van Rose for her Italian skills. Any remaining factual errors, and interpretations put forward, remain, of course, the responsibility of the author alone.

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