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Glastonbury Shrines
Part 5: Bones from the North

From Lindisfarne: St. Aidan
From Whitby: St. Hilda
From Wearmouth: St. Ceolfrith, St. Benedict Biscop, St. Esterwin, St. Hwaebert, St. Sigfrid
From Melrose: St. Boisil
From Jarrow: St. Bede
From York: St. Paulinus

There are two stories as to how the Abbey obtained the bones of so many of Northumbria's most revered saints. The first suggests that, during Viking invasions of the North, an abbot, named Tyccea, fled south to the West Country with a vast collection of holy bodies. He became Abbot of Glastonbury around AD 754. Unfortunately, Viking raids on Britain did not start until around AD 790. However, an alternative explanation has King Edmund the Magnificent presenting these relics to the abbey for safe-keeping in the 10th century.

The monks of Glastonbury claimed that they held the bones of St. Aidan of Lindisfarne (in Northumberland) as early as the 11th century. We know that this was not his whole body, as it was accepted that half of it lay at Iona in Scotland, and some relics were also claimed by Durham Cathedral. As only a partial saint and the earliest recorded, it seems likely that Aidan may have been the only Northern relic brought south by Tyccea, though not apparently because of the Viking threat.

Perhaps Aidan's popularity caused the monks to seek permission, from King Edmund, to acquire the bodies of other Northern saints lying in monasteries left ruinous by Viking attacks. The claim to the body of St. Hilda, Abbess of Whitby appears to have been the strongest and Whitby monks seem to have accepted the status quo upon the Abbey's refoundation in the 11th century. They were obliged to make do with lesser saints for veneration. The name of St. Ceolfrith, Abbot of Wearmouth, is often mentioned as lying at Glastonbury. It is possible that his fellow Abbots, Saints Esterwin, Hwaebert and Sigfrid were removed at the same time. St. Benedict Biscop, however, was widely accepted as having been translated to Thorney Abbey by St. Aethelwold in AD 980.

The assertion that Saints Boisil, Bede and Paulinus of York were translated to Glastonbury is highly unlikely. Boisil was buried at Melrose Abbey, unaffected by the Vikings, and later translated to Durham. Bede was largely accepted as having been stolen from Jarrow and discovered hidden in the coffin of St. Cuthbert at Durham. He now rests in the Galliee Chapel there. Paulinus did not die in the North, but fled to Rochester in Kent where he became Bishop and was buried in a suitable shrine.

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