Albion, ancient sites, Art, Books

A surfeit of sanctity

Kevin bakewell (59)

I’m sick of saints.

No disrespect is intended here… none at all… but there are only so many you can read about at one go… and for the past couple of days my browser has had every available tab filled with the lives of obscure British saints with largely unpronounceable names. Have you any idea how many there are? A dozen or so, perhaps… you might be forgiven for thinking that. I did. No.

There are about fifty under ‘A’ alone on one list… and that only covers the Anglo-Saxon saints… let alone the rest of history and the alphabet! Then there are the discrepancies between the various branches of Orthodox, Roman and Protestant Christianity… even though such division didn’t exist in the popular mind so long ago.


Of course, I don’t have to read all their stories… but having tried every conceivable permutation in the search engine I have only come up with a comparative handful who share the one characteristic I am looking for in their tales. The lists do not give the details of their legends or the reasons for their veneration, so I follow the trail of crumbs from arcane references in out of print books and ancient hagiographies.

To be fair it is fascinating research, opening windows on the bygone social, religious and political history of Britain… and the picture goes way back, so it is not exactly a chore. On the other hand, you soon learn to recognise the signs…so many of the politically inspired venerations seem to share the same story, bare of any other detail than genealogy.

Ivinghoe and cathedral 073

Conversely there are tales of wonders and miracles. Most of these date back before the Synod of Whitby shifted the focus away from Celtic Christianity to Rome in 664 AD. Some of these tales are beautiful, many seem gruesome to the modern reader. Yet others seem to have their stories directly lifted from myths that are truly ancient and these hold an extra depth and attraction for me.

x aylesbury 111

What is perhaps the best part about research for the new book, Scions of Albion, is the chance to explore these forgotten corners of history, myth and legend and see how they entwine like the ancient carvings on the stones that tell their stories. These are glimpses through time I might not otherwise have taken; eras of history I might never have known. This year, researching the Anglo-Saxons and the Dark Ages for the Doomsday series has opened the pages of a story that reads like an illuminated manuscript. No matter what wild and woolly theories ‘Don’ comes up with about symbols, myths or history, or how ‘Wen’ manages to counter… or expand upon… them, we do like to have our facts right before we play with them. Which means I get to explore the past… and that suits me just fine. Even if I do get sidetracked following up on obscure bits of information on a regular basis…

all saints oving and St Osyth 031

So… I have been delving into the erstwhile sanctity of ‘this royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden’ and seeing it from an older perspective as I walk hand in hand with hundreds of forgotten saints.

But… I have had enough of them for today. A surfeit in fact.

1 thought on “A surfeit of sanctity”

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