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Out of the question: Restored shrines

by
20 October 2010

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.

Your answers

In several English cathedrals there used to be a shrine of a saint, con­taining a relic. Some have been rebuilt, copied, or left as a space for prayer. . . In each destroyed shrine, there remains material, even if only the flooring, that once touched the relics. Can this be justifiably re­garded as a secondary relic? May we regard a reconstruction or replica as a true shrine, and hope for miracles?

Hereford Cathedral is one of a hand­ful of English cathedrals where sub­stantial parts of the saint’s shrine have survived, and, in recent years, these remains have, in several cases, been restored and developed. I can think of only two major shrines where the saint’s body remains — Westminster Abbey and Durham Cathedral — but others, such as Hereford, St Albans, and Chichester, do possess small relics that have been returned to their original rest­ing place.

In “restoring” medieval shrines, we are not, I think, aiming to re­create a “pre-Reformation cult”. It is true that these shrines were power­ful focuses of prayer and healing: in Hereford alone, at the shrine of St Thomas of Hereford, between 1287 and 1307, some 470 miracles are recorded (second only to Canter­bury’s Thomas, where more than 660 are recorded). Many of these healing miracles were dramatic and immediate. But today, restored shrines are there, I think, to provide a focus for prayer, intercession, and healing in the broadest sense. We have cer­tainly not restored them with the intention of “hoping for miracles”.

While some might regard such an interpretation of medieval practice as rather un-Anglican, there is little doubt that these shrines are places where the boundaries between heaven and earth are extremely thin. Visitors and pilgrims feel this power­fully, and our shrine’s intercession board is nearly always full of the most moving prayers — and, yes, the same people might well testify to healing that they have experi­enced at these places.

(The Very Revd) Michael Tavinor
Dean of Hereford

Your questions

My great-grandparents were married in a church in Bridgewater on 25 April 1882. The banns were called only once in my great-grandfather’s church, Holy Trinity, Barnstaple, on 9 April. Why might this be? C. W.

Address: Out of the Question, Church Times, 13-17 Long Lane, London EC1A 9PN.

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