Golden Legend – Saint Kenelm

Here followeth the Life of Saint Kenelm King and martyr.

Saint Kenelm, martyr, was king of a part of England by Wales. His father was king tofore him, and was named Kenulf, and founded the abbey of Winchcombe, and set therein monks. And when he was dead he was buried in the same abbey. And that time Winchcombe was the best town of that country. In England are three principal rivers, and they be Thames, Severn, and Humber. This king Kenelm was king of Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire, and the bishop of Worcester was bishop of those three shires, and he was king also of Derbyshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Herefo rdshire, Nottinghamshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Leicestershire, and Lincolnshire. All this was called the March of Wales, and of all those countries Saint Kenelm was king, and Winchcombe, that time, was chief city of all these shires. And in that time were in England six kings, and before that, Oswald had been king of all England. And after him it was departed, in Saint Kenelm’s days. Kenulf, his father, was a full holy man, and Dornemilde and Quendred were sisters of Saint Kenelm. And Kenulf, his father, died the year of our Lord eight hundred and nineteen. Then was Kenelm made king when he was seven years of age, and his sister Dornemilde loved him much, and they lived holily together to their lives’ end. But Quendred, that other sister, turned her to wickedness, and had great envy of her brother Kenelm, because he was so rich above her, and laboured with all her power to destroy him, because she would be queen and reign after him, and let make a strong poison, and gave it to her brother. But God kept him that it never grieved him. And when she saw that she could not prevail against the king in that manner, she laboured to Askeberd, which was chief ruler about the king, and promised to him a great sum of money, and also her body at his will, if he would slay this young king her brother, and anon they accorded in this treason.

And in this while, and at that same time, this young holy king was asleep, and dreamed a marvellous dream. For him seemed that he saw a tree stand by his bedside, and that the height thereof touched heaven, and it shined as bright as gold, and had fair branches full of blossoms and fruit. And on every branch of this tree were tapers of wax burning and lamps alight, which was a glorious sight to behold. And him thought that he climbed upon this tree and Askeberd his governor stood beneath and hewed down this tree that he stood on. And when this tree was fallen down, this holy young king was heavy and sorrowful, and him thought there came a fair bird which flew up to heaven with great joy. And anon after this dream he awoke, and was all abashed of this dreme, which anon after, he told to his nurse named Wolweline. And when he had told to her all his dream, she was full heavy, and told to him what it meant, and said his sister and the traitor Askeberd had falsely conspired his death. For she said to him that he had promised to Quendred to slay thee, and that signifieth that he smiteth down the tree that stood by thy bedside. And the bird that thou sawest flee up to heaven, signifieth thy soul, that angels shall bear up to heaven after thy martyrdom. And anon after this, Askeberd desired the king that he should go and disport him by the wood’s side named Clent; and as he walked, the young king was all heavy and laid him down to sleep, and then this false traitor purposed to have slain the king, and began to make the pit to bury him in. But anon, as God would, the king awoke, and said to this Askeberd that he laboured in vain, for God will not that I die in this place. But take this small rod, and thereas thou shalt set it in the earth, there shall I be martyred. And then they went forth together, a good way thence, till they came to a hawthorn, and there he pight the rod in the earth, and forthwith incontinent it bare green leaves, and suddenly it waxed to a great ash tree, the which standeth there yet unto this day, and is called Kenelm’s ash. And there this Askeberd smote off this holy young king’s head. And anon, his soule was borne up into heaven in likeness of a white dove. And then the wicked traitor drew the body into a great valley between two hills, and there he made a deep pit and cast the body therein, and laid the head upon it. And whilst he was about to smite off the head, the holy king, kneeling on his knees, said this holy canticle: Te Deum laudamus, till he came to this verse: Te martyrum candidatus, and therewith he gave up his spirit to our Lord Jesu Christ in likeness of a dove, as afore is said. Then anon this wicked man Askeberd went to Quendred, and told to her all along how he had done, whereof she was full glad, and anon after, took on her to be queen, and charged, on pain of death, that no man should speak of Kenelm. And after that she abandoned her body to wretched living of her flesh in lechery, and brought her own men to wretched living. And this holy body lay long time after in that wood called Clent, for no man durst fetch him thence to bury him in hallowed place for fear of the queen Quendred.

And it was so that a poor widow lived thereby, which had a white cow, which was driven in to the wood of Clent. And anon as she was there she would depart and go into the valley where Kenelm was buried, and there rest all the day sitting by the corpse without meat. And every night came home with other beasts, fatter, and gave more milk than any of the other kine, and so continued certain years, whereof the people marvelled that she ever was in so good point and ate no meat. That valley whereas Saint Kenelm’s body lay is called Cowbage.

After, on a time, as the pope sang mass at Rome in Saint Peter’s church, suddenly there came a white dove, and let fall a scroll on the altar whereon the pope said his mass. And these words were written therein in letters of gold:

In Clent in Cowbage,
Kenelm, king born,
Lieth under a thorn,
His head off shorn.

And when the pope had said his Mass, he showed the scroll to all the people, but there was none that could tell what it meant, till at last there came an Englishman, and he told it openly tofore all the people what it meant. And then the pope with all the people gave laud and praising to our Lord, and kept that scroll for a relic. And the feast of Saint Kenelm was hallowed that day solemnly through all Rome. And anon after, the pope sent his messengers into England to the archbishop of Canterbury, named Wilfrid, and bade him, with his bishops, go and seek the place where the holy body lieth, which is named Cowbage, in the wood of Clent. And then this place was soon known, because of the miracle that was showed by the white cow. And when the archbishop, with other bishops, and many other people came thither and found the place, anon they Iet dig up the body, and took it up with great solemnity. And forthwith sprang up in the same place, whereas the body had lain, a fair well, which is called Saint Kenelm’s well unto this day, where much people have been healed of divers sicknesses and maladies. And when the body was above the earth, there fell a strife between them of Worcestershire and of Gloucestershire, who should have this body. And then a full good man that was there among them gave counsel that all the people should lie down and sleep and rest them, for the weather was then right hot. And which of the two shires that God would first awake, they to take this holy body and go their way. And all the people agreed thereto and lay them down to sleep. And it happed that the abbot of Winchcombe and all his men awoke first, and they took up the holy body, and bare it forth toward Winchcombe till they came upon an hill a mile from the abbey. And for heat and labour they were nigh dead for thirst, and anon they prayed to God, and to this holy saint to be their comfort. And then the abbot pight his cross into the earth, and forthwith sprang up there a fair well, whereof they drank and refreshed them much. And then took up this holy body with great solemnity. And the monks received it with procession solemnly, and brought it into the abbey with great reverence, joy and mirth, and the bells sounded and were rung without man’s hand. And then the queen Quendred demanded what all this ringing meant. And they told her how her brother Kenelm was brought with procession into the abbey, and that the bells rung without man’ s help. And then she said, in secret scorn: That is as true, said she, as both my eyes fall upon this book, and anon both her eyes fell out of her head upon the book. And yet it is seen on this day where they fell upon the psalter she read that same time. Deum laudemus. And soon after she died wretchedly, and was cast out into a foul mire, and then after, was this holy body of Saint Kenelm laid in an honourable shrine, whereas our Lord showeth daily many a miracle. To whom be given laud and praising, world without end. Amen.