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June 20, 2012

The Holy Rood of Bromholm
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:58 PM * 53 comments

Constantinople’s emperor
Possessed the holy cross
Rode with it into battle
And never suffered loss
A relic of the true cross
Its holy power employed
Until one day without it
His army were destroyed

(The Holy Rood of Bromholm — Stone Angel)

By what circuitous routes I came to learn of the British folk/rock group Stone Angel I shall not bore the reader. The Holy Rood of Bromholm is a free download on the band’s webpage. I’ll pause here to give everyone a chance to go listen to it.

The Holy Rood of Bromholm was recorded live at All Saints Church, Filby, Norfolk, in 1976. For all the traditional sound of the song, and the primarily traditional repertoire of the group, The Holy Rood of Bromholm is a modern composition by band member Ken Saul.

The Story:

But first, a Digression.

As all know, the True Cross was found by Saint Helena when she visited the Holy Land in the first decades of the fourth century. St. Helena promptly divided the True Cross into nine parts (for the nine orders of angels), and, of the wood most besprinkled with the blood of Christ, she fashioned a cross which she put into a chest of gold encrusted with precious stones, and sent to her son, Emperor Constantine.1 It eventually fetched up in Constantinople.

1. Paraphrased from Ancient Funeral Monuments of Great-Britain, Ireland, and the Islands adjacent, by John Weever, published by W. Tooke, London, 1767. p. 571.

Fast forward nine hundred years.

The Holy Land was controlled by the Muslims. The First, Second, and Third Crusades had had variable success in getting control of the Holy Sepulcher, but at the end of the Third Crusade (Richard the Lionhearted, Robin Hood, all those fellows) Jerusalem was still in the hands of Saladin. In 1198 Pope Innocent III preached a new crusade to free the Holy Land from the unbelievers.

Vast oversimplification alert!

The Fourth Crusade got rolling in 1199. The Crusaders hired Venice to build ships to take them to Egypt. Alas! when it came time to sail in 1201, the Crusaders didn’t have the money to pay the Venetians.

Enter Alexios Angelos, who (by the rules of western feudal succession2) was the true emperor of Byzantium. Alexios offered to pay off the entire Venetian debt, plus an additional 200,000 marks of silver, plus supply 10,000 professional soldiers to fight beside the Crusaders, plus the use of the Byzantine navy to transport the Crusaders to the Holy Land, plus put the Eastern Orthodox Church under the authority of the Pope, plus a few other inducements, if the Crusaders would only put him on the throne that was rightfully his. Long story short: The Crusaders took him up on his offer and arrived at Constantinople in the summer of 1203 convinced that the people, seeing their rightful emperor, would rise up and overthrow the usurper. The people of Byzantium would greet the Crusaders as liberators, the Crusaders would get tons of cash then head to Jerusalem to kick some Saracen tail, and everything would be swell.

2. Which the Byzantines did not acknowledge.

The Latin knights had apparently never heard the saying about things that seem too good to be true.

So the Crusaders rowed up the Bosphorus with Alexios Angelos. The people on the city walls, far from rising in his support, made rude remarks. The Crusaders went to Plan B: By force of arms they put their Alexios Angelos on the imperial throne as Alexios IV Angelos. Then it turned out that he didn’t actually have the money he’d promised. This worked out poorly for him.

By spring of 1204, Alexios III Angelos, his brother Isaac II Angelos, Isaac’s son Alexios IV Angelos, and some guy named Eyebrows (Alexios “Mourtzouphlos” Doukas) had all been Emperors of Byzantium at one time or another during the preceding twelve months and were all either dead, in exile, or both. The Crusaders murdered, pillaged, plundered, raped, sacked, and burned Constantinople in what ranks right up there on the list of Greatest Crimes Against Humanity in History. When the smoke cleared, the dust settled, and blood stopped running in the streets, Count Baldwin of Flanders was left standing as Emperor Baldwin I, ruling the Latin Empire of Constantinople.

Eleven months later, in spring of 1205, Baldwin I was at Adrianople (site of one of the original Emperor Constantine’s famous victories), and came off second-best in a fight against Tsar Kaloyan of Bulgaria. The scene was so chaotic, and the Latin defeat so through, that for a year after the battle no one in Constantinople knew for sure whether Baldwin were living or dead.3

3. As it turned out Baldwin actually had been captured but later died in captivity. Tsar Kaloyan had Baldwin’s skull made into a drinking cup.

The digression has now concluded.

Baldwin had a chaplain named Hugh, an English priest who had taken the place of Baldwin’s original chaplain when the latter had died on crusade. Baldwin had looted a bunch of relics during the Sack of Constantinople, including the True Cross that St. Helena had sent to her son. Hugh’s job was to take care of Baldwin’s looted relics. As long as Baldwin rode with the True Cross he couldn’t lose in battle, but that ill-fated April day he’d left home without it. When Baldwin turned up missing after Adrianople, Hugh skonkered off with the loot and headed back to England, selling the relics along the way to fund his travels. 4

4. We only have Hugh’s word that anything in this paragraph (including but not limited to “Baldwin had a chaplain named Hugh”) is true.

In discussing this in correspondence with the Lovely and Talented Miss Teresa, she commented:

I’m inclined to doubt the story. If he’d had time to grab the relics, he’d also have had time to grab some of the smaller reliquaries, and use those to pay his way. But if you don’t think too hard about that, it’s exactly the kind of imagination-inspiring but slightly louche story that makes a good con. Baldwin could have swiped any major relic you can imagine from Constantinople, and doubtless did. It’s entirely imaginable that his chaplain would flee after the battle, and not surprising — creditable, even — that he’d take the relics with him. But supporting himself on his travels through Europe by selling them off piecemeal? That presents a rather different image.

Still, it’s a one-time offer, never to be repeated. You have to act now — he’s travelling on, and if you don’t buy it, some other town further along will. And having the seller’s motives be a little questionable makes it easier to pay him a bargain price for a major relic. A particularly elegant bit of social engineering is that the story explains multiple relic sales, so if someone turns up who was around when he made one of his earlier sales, he’s covered.

On his arrival in England in 12235, Hugh sold the next-to-last of his wares to the monks of St. Albans: Dubious relics of that most dubious of saints, Margaret of Antioch. All that remained to him were the pieces of the True Cross that he had been unable to convince anyone to take during his travels across Europe.

5. Two years later, in 1225, a fellow claiming to be Baldwin himself showed up in Flanders. It didn’t end well.

Try as he would, Hugh was unable to sell the True Cross. This might be because by then Europe was awash in pieces of the True Cross. Ingenious theories were suggested for why pieces of the True Cross were variously pine, balsam, cedar, olive, or other woods. Pious priests and nuns made jokes about how many ships it would take to carry all the fragments if they were gathered at one place. No one was interested in buying a couple of pieces of wood that might have been pried out of a stable one town up the road.

So Hugh wandered the lanes of England until he fetched up at Bromholm (or Bromeholme, or Bromeholm, or Bromholme, or Bromcholme or Bacton) Priory in Norfolk, an impoverished house reduced to just eight black friars dedicated to St. Sepulcher, and traded the cross for being allowed to stay.

Quoting Matthew Paris:

“There he sent for the Prior and some of his brethren, and showed them the above-mentioned Cross, which was constructed of two pieces of wood, placed one across the other, and almost as wide as the hand of a man; he then humbly implored them to receive him into their order with the cross and other relics which he had with him, as well as his two children.”
(Quoted in Pilgrim life in the middle ages by Sidney Heath, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston & New York, 1912)

In 1224 the Chronicle of London recorded :

“…the emperour Baldewyn, which whanne he wente to bataile to fyghte with Godes enemyes, he hadde a croos boren before hym, whiche crosse seynt Eleyne made of the crosse that Cryst dyde upon; and there was an Englyssh prest that tyme with hym that was called Sir Hughe, and he was borne in Norfolke, and which prest broughte the same crosse to Bromholm in Norfolke.”
(Quoted by W. W. Skeat in the notes to his edition of Piers Plowman, EETS, 1885)

There the story would have ended, except for one thing: This True Cross was truly the True Cross. It performed miracles.

Miss Teresa comments:

If I were a town father of Bromholm, and there was a potential market fair to be had, I’d be encouraging about miracles.

Word began to spread that the miraculous relic at Bromholm was turning water to wine, making the blind see, the deaf hear, and raising the dead to life.

Soon enough pilgrims were coming from all over. The priory had to lay on an additional six priests just to hear the pilgrims’ confessions. Bromholm Priory was about thirty miles by road from the popular pilgrimage destination of Our Lady of Walsingham. Folks who were making one pilgrimage could add a day or two to their trip and visit both.

Twenty years after the cross arrived at Bromholm, King Henry III sent a silver model of a ship and granted Bacton a three-day market fair each year at the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross6. The town prospered.

6. September 14, the anniversary of the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, on the site where St. Helena found the Sepulcher (buried under a temple to Venus) and the True Cross.

The priory is at the south end of Abbey Street in Bacton.

“Help! hooly croys of Bromeholm,” she seyde,
“In manus tuas! Lord, to thee I calle!
Awak, Symond! The feend is on me falle.”
The Reeve’s Tale (Geoffrey Chaucer)

But wenten to Walsingham, and my wife Alis
and byd the Roode of Bromholme bring me out of dette….
The Vision of Piers Ploughman (William Langland)

The True Cross (fashioned in the form of a patriarchal cross) was set into a larger wooden cross, which was silver-gilt and adorned with a portrait of Our Savior, and kept in a magnificent reliquary. Bromholm started to pick up more relics.

THOMAS RUDHORNE, bishop of St. Davids, who flourished in the reign of Henry IV, hath, in his history, these words to the same effect:

Capulanus quidam porauit quandam crucem ligneam in Angliam, quam affirmauit esse de ligno in quo perpendit CHRISTUS et monachis de Bromholme obtulit et postea locus coruscabat miraculis.

A certain priest brought over with him, saith he, a wooden cross into England, which he affirmed to be the cross whereupon our Savior CHRIST was crucified; which he delivered to the monks of Bromholme, after which the place did shine gloriously with miracles.

But the story of this holy cross is more fully delivered by CAPGRAVE, …  By the virtue of this holy cross, cooperante Domingo, GOD assisting, thirty and nine persons, were raised from death to life; and nineteen which were blind, received their sight, besides many other miracles wrought, if you will believe my author.

Hic apparuit multa superstitio circa crucem quae vocatur, the holy cross of Bromholme, et dieunt illie se habere zonam beate MARIE et lac eiusdem, et fragmenta crucis sancti PETRI et sancte ANDREE, saith a book in the treasury of the exchequer of the visitation of abbeys7.

Here appeareth great superstition about a cross, which is called the holy cross of Bromholme; and here they say they have the girdle and milk of the blessed virgin, and a fragment of the cross of St. Peter and of St. Andrew.

(See Note 1. Weever, p. 572)

7. Likely the visitation of Layton and Leigh.

Royal visitors to Bromholm allegedly included both Edward II and Richard II.

But all was not well at Bromholm, regardless of their relic. The Priory’s rents were diminished when changes in the coastline washed a great deal of their land out to sea in 1385. (Personally, I suspect a mermaid was involved. The Merry Maids do that kind of thing.) A fire and a pestilence added to their woes. The priory needed a patron.

In 1401, to relive their distress, Pope Boniface IX granted to the Priory at Bromholm an indulgence equal to that of St. Mark’s in Venice.

Paston Hall, home of the letter-writing Paston family, was located just two miles from Bromholm Priory, and the Pastons became the Priory’s patrons.

In 1419, the Prior was a witness to Clement Paston’s will. Thereafter the Pastons took a special interest in Bromholm.

Fox gives a curious account of the alleged burning of this cross at the beginning of the fifteenth century. He states that one Sir Hugh Pie, chaplain of Ludney, was accused before the bishop of Norwich on 5 July, 1424, for holding that people ought not to go on pilgrimage or to give alms save to beggars at their doors, and that the image of the cross and other images ought not to be worshipped. He was also accused of having ’ cast the cross of Bromholm into the fire to be burned, which he took from one John Welgate of Ludney.’ However Sir Hugh utterly denied these articles, and purged himself by the witness of three laymen and three priests. At any rate the cross was not burnt, for it is in evidence more than a century later.

What this tells me is that the Holy Rood was not openly displayed at this time nor was its exact location common knowledge, for, if it were, Sir Hugh Pie would not have needed to conjure, but rather point to the altar and say, “I am not guilty, for there it stands.”

As the century progressed: At John Paston’s funeral in 1466, held at the Priory, a special barber was employed for five days to freshen up the monks and brethren. One man was employed for three days in flaying beasts, which included forty-one pigs, forty-nine calves, and ten head of cattle. They also ran through 1,300 eggs, twenty gallons of milk, eight gallons of cream, thirteen barrels of beer, twenty-seven barrels of ale, a barrel of beer of the great assize, and a runlet of wine of fifteen gallons. Twenty pounds of gold was struck into coins to give to the poor.

Seventy years later the end came for Bromholm Priory and its Holy Rood. In 1535, in the midst of Henry VIII’s break with Rome, the king appointed Thomas Cromwell royal vice-regent and nationalized the monasteries. All monasteries with an annual income of under two hundred pounds were declared property of the king, followed, a couple of years later, by all the rest of the monasteries. (The story at the time was that, once the king had the rents that belonged to the monks, there’d never again be a need for taxation on anyone. We’ve seen how well that worked out.) Cromwell send around visitors to determine the values of the religious properties and enquire into the virtue of the clergy. Bromholm only had four monks (all accused of incontinence) and an income of just over £100 per annum.

Something must necessarily be said of the actual process which was followed by the Crown agents in dissolving these lesser monasteries. It was much the same in every case, and it was a somewhat long process, since the work was not all done in a day. The rolls of account, sent into the Augmentation Office by the commissioners, show that it was frequently a matter of six to seven weeks before any house was finally dismantled and its inmates had all been turned out of doors. The chief commissioners paid two official visits to the scene of operations during the progress of the work. On the first day they assembled the superior and his subjects in the Chapter House, announced to the community and its dependents their impending doom; called for and defaced the convent seal, the symbol of corporate existence, without which no business could be transacted; desecrated the church; took possession of the best plate and vestments “unto the King’s use”; measured the lead upon the roof and calculated its value when melted; counted the bells; and appraised the goods and chattels of the community. Then they passed on to the scene of their next operations, leaving behind them certain subordinate officers and workmen to carry out the designed destruction by stripping the roofs and pulling down the gutters and rain pipes; melting the lead into pigs and fodders, throwing down the bells, breaking them with sledge-hammers and packing the metal into barrels ready for the visit of the speculator and his bid for the spoils. This was followed by the work of collecting the furniture and selling it, together with the window frames, shutters, and doors by public auction or private tender. When all this had been done, the commissioners returned to audit the accounts and to satisfy themselves generally that the work of devastation had been accomplished to the king’s contentment — that the nest had been destroyed and the birds scattered — that what had been a monument of architectural beauty in the past was now a “bare roofless choir, where late the sweet birds sang.”
(Catholic Encyclopedia, “Suppression of English Monasteries under Henry VIII”, 1917)

Bromholm Priory was dissolved in 1536. Its houses and lands were sold to Sir Thomas Wodehouse. Everything of value was stripped. The relics were sent to Thomas Cromwell in London, and Cromwell did not treat relics with respect.

On 2 February, 1537, Richard Southwell wrote to Cromwell that he had in his charge the cross of Bromholm, which he would bring up after the suppression was finished, or sooner if Cromwell wished it. On 26 February he wrote again to Cromwell, saying that he had delivered the cross of Bromholm to the late prior of Pentney, the bearer of both letter and relic.

This was the last documented sighting of the Holy Rood of Bromholm.

In later years the buildings were quarried for local stone.

Photos of the ruins.

The end came suddenly for Thomas Cromwell some three years later. He was arrested on the 10th of June, 1540. From the History of England From The Fall of Wolsey to The Death of Elizabeth. by James Anthony Froude, M.A. Late fellow of Exeter College, Oxford , Volume III, John W. Parker & Son, 1858, p.302:

‘The Lord Cromwell,’ says Hall, ‘being in the council chamber, was suddenly apprehended and committed to the Tower of London; the which many lamented, but more rejoiced, and specially such as either had been religious men or favored religious persons; for they banqueted and triumphed together that night, many wishing that that day had been seven years before, and some, fearing lest he should escape, although he were imprisoned, could not be merry; others, who knew nothing but truth by him, both lamented him and heartily prayed for him. But this is true, that, of certain of the clergy, he was detestably hated; and specially of such as had borne swing, and by this means were put from it; for indeed he was a man that, in all his doings, seemed not to favour any kind of Popery, or could not abide the snuffing pride of some prelates.’

Froude footnoted the quote to Hall’s Chronicle p.838

Thomas Cromwell was executed without trial on 28 July, 1540, following a bill of attainder. There ended the man who would have known for certain what had become of the Holy Rood of Bromholm. It was widely supposed to have been destroyed by him. Except for this one odd little coda:

… Although it [the Holy Cross of Bromholm] is supposed to have been burned at the Reformation there are strong reasons for thinking it is still in existence. Mr. Dutt quotes, in the book8 already referred to, a note that appeared in “Eastern Counties Collectanea” (1872-3) as follows:
“A convent of nuns in Yorkshire, who have a large piece of the Cross of our Lord, set in silver in the shape of a Jerusalem cross, desire to trace its history. A member of the family of Paston was at one time Superioress of this convent. Now the Pastons were intimately connected with the Priory of Bromholm, and lived in the next parish, and it does not seem improbable that at the Dissolution the celebrated relic of the true Cross, for which Bromholm was famous, may have come into the possession of the Paston family.”

It would be interesting to learn which of the convents of Yorkshire desired this information, and if the relic is still in their possession.
(Pilgrim Life in the Middle Ages, Sidney Heath, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston & New York, 1912 (p.250-251))

8. The Norfolk and Suffolk Coast by W.A. Dutt, published by T. Fisher Unwin, 1909

Owls do shriek where the sweetest hymns
Lately were sung;
Toads and serpents hold their dens
Where the palmers did throng.

—Philip, Earl of Arundel, Lament for Walsingham

Comments on The Holy Rood of Bromholm:
#1 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2012, 08:33 PM:

What happens to milk stored for extremely long periods of time? Cottage cheese?

#2 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2012, 08:56 PM:

I greatly enjoyed both tale and digression. I do have a complaint about formatting: scrolling back and forth to read the endnotes was unnecessarily difficult and tedious. I've seen documents that hyperlinked the note-markers so that you could click on the number to go to the note and then click again to return; that could have been done here. Another alternative (one I support) would be to put the notes between paragraphs rather than all at the end.

#3 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2012, 09:12 PM:

#2: I'll try out the formatting for hyperlinked notes, to see if they work in Moveable Type.


#1: When Erasmus visited Our Lady of Walsingham, where they had another vial of the Blessed Virgin's milk, he reported that it looked exceedingly like chalk mixed with egg whites.

#4 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2012, 09:19 PM:

BTW, FWIW, St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, was the daughter of Old King Cole (the merry old soul).

Thus, Constantine himself was British.

(So says Geoffrey of Monmouth, and would he fib about something that important?)

#5 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2012, 09:46 PM:

I hope that question is rhetorical or something. (My answer: anything he wrote that he didn't know about personally is probably less than factual.)

#6 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2012, 10:20 PM:

Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the kings of Britain was notorious at the time as a pack of (entertaining) lies. Still, not only do we get Old King Cole, we also get King Lear and his daughters from Geoffrey of Monmouth and quite a number of things about King Arthur that no one had previously suspected.

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2012, 10:32 PM:

Giraldus Cambrensis is rather acerbic, as I recall on the subject of Geoffrey of Monmouth.

I get more than acerbic on the subject of James Anthony Froude. I hope one day to make a pilgrimage to his grave. My objective being to micturate upon it.

#8 ::: David Perry ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 12:09 AM:

Professional medieval historian, specialist in relics of the Fourth Crusade here. I could say many things, some perhaps interesting, but ...

Nice job seems to suffice.

#9 ::: Kaleberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 12:21 AM:

The story doesn't end here. According to Admiral Sandy Woodward's account of the Falklands War one of the captains of one of the ships in the task force, possibly the Ardent, carried a piece of true cross from the captain's family chapel. After the Argentines sank his ship, the British sent an underwater special forces team to recover it. The British won the war, so once again a relic of the true cross showed its power in battle.

#10 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 12:24 AM:

Oh, pray do comment. I promise to find it interesting. Bunches of stuff got cut for space. More was glossed over, or simplified to a cartoon of its glory, for I am confident that the comment thread will fill in those things that had to be neglected.

There's a thorn tree in Norfolk, not too far from Bromholm, that grew from Joseph of Arimathea's staff....

#11 ::: David Perry ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 12:45 AM:

Well, I'm not quite sure where to expand. I don't do a lot with the Holy Rood for various reasons, but think about Baldwin and his relics all the time. In chapter 1 of my book (finishing chapter 6, the last one, now) on topographies of relic acquisition in the aftermath of the crusade, I do a little on the Rood, mostly for comparison purposes. For example, I write:

"Walon of Sarton, canon of Picquigny near Amiens, became a canon of a church in Constantinople. Having decided that he had experienced enough of the East after the disaster of Adrianople, he acquired a few reliquaries that he had found hidden in his new church. He sold the silver reliquaries to finance his journey home, then gave the relics (a finger of St. George and yet another head of the Baptist) to the cathedral at Amiens."

I then turn to the Rood story, then follow it with other comparable acts of unlicensed relic donation, of which there were enough to make the Rood tale credible.

When I encounter a credible, but unsubstantiated, tale, I go in two directions (preferably at the same time). First, it's plausible that a chaplain of Baldwin acquired a relic fragment just as the story goes. Second, it's plausible that the hagiographer adapted an existing narrative framework to create a credible provenance.

#12 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 01:27 AM:

It's also possible that Hugh was a fast-talking con man who'd never gotten within 500 miles of Constantinople.

What I find more interesting is why the True Cross should be specifically a piece of battle-magic. IHS and all that.

Most of what I cut from this post, though, concerning the finding of the cross and some notes on Gestas and St. Dismas.

As to the Fourth Crusade, I don't see much middle ground between a one-paragraph summary and a book-length treatise.

I can tell you where the Holy Cross of Bromholm is located in my fictional universe: It's the real deal and the Templars have it.

#13 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 01:36 AM:

Ah, I see you've taken my suggestion about footnote placement. Excellent. People coming in late may be mystified about my comment @2 now, but that's their fault for not keeping up.

#14 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 02:34 AM:

One of the threads woven into my furry re-write of "Where Eagles Dare" was a bunch of Holy Relics, included the Habsburg Spear and the Iron Crown of Lombardy.

These items are real, documented, were in Nazi hands at the time, and may pre-date Christianity in that part of the world, with claimed nails from the True Cross, and similar bits of metal, later added.

Spear and magic helmet, OK.

Borrowed from a few other places too, but you would think that a bunch of Nazi black magicians would know better than to hang a worshipper of Odin from an ash tree.

I'm not in Jim's league on this sort of thing. But why shouldn't there be a one-eyed Raven Master at the Tower of London.

(Veering off wildly, genetic evidence is accumulating that suggests the English/Celtic split in Britain may have its roots in the migrations which repopulated Europe after the last Ice Age. And, with Gaul divided into three parts (or was it four?), Caesar's account of Britain is consistent with a pre-Roman language split. Part of Gaul was Celtic, and yet the part of Britain he invaded was not. Goscinny and Uderzo were maybe more right than we knew.)

#15 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 02:57 AM:

The Crusaders went to Plan B: By force of arms they put their Alexios Angelos on the imperial throne as Alexios IV Angelos. [...] By spring of 1204, Alexios III Angelos, his brother Isaac II Angelos, Isaac’s son Alexios IV Angelos, and some guy named Eyebrows (Alexios “Mourtzouphlos” Doukas) had all been Emperors of Byzantium at one time or another during the preceding twelve months and were all either dead, in exile, or both.

You seem to have two Alexios IVs there. Or had the game of musical thrones already been going on when the crusaders showed up?

#16 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 03:28 AM:

History is what we think it is.

When Julius Fabricius, Sub-Prefect of the Weald,
In the days of Diocletian owned our Lower River-field,
He called to him Hobdenius--a Briton of the Clay,
Saying: 'What about that River-piece for layin' in to hay?'

#17 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 07:15 AM:

Jim@0: That's a really fun post.

David Perry@11: I'd love to hear more about your general topic. By "topographies of relic acquisition" do you mean the "final" location of relics, the paths they took (both of which I think are fascinating topics), or something else? (I suppose something else I could have listed there was the political effect, intended or otherwise, of the acquisition and location.)

#18 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 09:46 AM:

...Bromholm only had four monks (all accused of incontinence)...

Wait a moment while I bring my religious terminology language module online...

... that's a slightly different mental picture, and a more likely accusation.

#19 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 11:05 AM:

#15: Paul A.

You know why "Byzantine politics" is still a descriptor?

The Crusader's Alexios was the son of Isaac II.

Very, very simplified:

Isaac II was emperor of Byzantium.

Isaac II was overthrown (and blinded, and imprisoned, but not killed) by his younger brother, Alexios, who became Alexios III.

Isaac II's son, also named Alexios, who figured he (rather than his uncle) should be the next emperor, went to the Crusaders.

Alexios III abdicated in the midst of the siege and split for Adrianople with all the money he could carry, leaving Isaac II as the emperor again.

Isaac II's son wandered in and said words to the effect of "Dad, you're old, tired, sick, and blind. Plus, I'm backed by an army of heavily-armed and pissed-off barbarians. Therefore, I'm going to be your co-emperor." He was crowned Alexios IV. Alexios IV then said, "Oh, and by the way, we're going to have to empty the treasury and melt down the icons to pay off that band of filthy schismatic barbarians camped out there."

Alexios IV shortly wound up strangled (some say poisoned). Isaac II reportedly died of the shock (some say he was helped along) on hearing the news, which left the ground clear for Eyebrows1 (Alexios III's daughter's boyfriend, also named "Alexios") to become emperor as Alexios V.

So, yes, they were playing musical thrones over there, had been for years, and weren't planning to stop any time soon.

1. So called either because he had bushy eyebrows or because he frowned a lot.

#20 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 11:38 AM:

[Jim wrote] So called either because he had bushy eyebrows or because he frowned a lot.

Or maybe had only one?

#21 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 11:48 AM:

The Fourth Crusade (which never did get to Jerusalem) is the backstory for how Hugh of Norfolk wound up with the part of the True Cross that was covered with the Blood of Christ.

After Alexios V, the question of who was going to be the next emperor was wide open. At first it looked like the Doge of Venice was going to get the honor, but the Doge did as a Doge does and dodged. Boniface of Montferrat (military leader of the Fourth Crusade) was a strong early contender. But ... when the final bell rang it was Baldwin in a split decision.

#22 ::: Mags ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 11:50 AM:

If the True Cross shows up hidden away in a Yorkshire convent in Dan Brown's next novel, we'll know why.

#23 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 12:03 PM:

Actually, the True Cross is going to show up in an upstate New York convention center in the next Peter Crossman short story (for which this is some of the research).

(You occasionally see me doing research in public. E.g. Retreat Along the Wabash which was me tracking the Sword of the Butlers for our novel, Lincoln's Sword.)

#24 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 02:04 PM:

Jim Macdonald @12:

What I find more interesting is why the True Cross should be specifically a piece of battle-magic. IHS and all that.
Backreference to the Ark of the Covenant as battle magic? I mean, if they really cared about the peacefulness of G-d, the Crusades would have gone rather differently.

#25 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 02:59 PM:

Jim Macdonald@12 What I find more interesting is why the True Cross should be specifically a piece of battle-magic.

When you need battle-magic, I guess you use the strongest symbols you have handy. Consider the Apostle James (the Greater): not the most obvious military figure in most stories, but during the Reconquista you get Santiago Matamoros. (That's a particularly striking contrast on the Camino de Santiago, where most of the images are of "Santiago Peregrino".)

#26 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 03:39 PM:

Holy relics are such fun.

From Wikipedia:

In 828, relics believed to be the body of St. Mark were stolen from Alexandria by two Venetian merchants and taken to Venice, where the Byzantine Theodore of Amasea had previously been the patron saint. A basilica was built there to house the relics.
A mosaic in St Mark's Basilica, Venice depicts sailors covering the relics with a layer of pork. Since Muslims are not allowed to touch pork, this action was done to prevent Muslim intervention in the relics removal.
Copts believe that the head of the saint remained in Alexandria. Every year, on the 30th day of the month of Paopi, the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates the commemoration of the consecration of the church of St. Mark, and the appearance of the head of the saint in the city of Alexandria. This takes place inside St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, where the saint's head is preserved. ...
In 1063, during the construction of a new basilica in Venice, St. Mark's relics could not be found. However, according to tradition, in 1094 the saint himself revealed the location of his remains by extending an arm from a pillar. The newfound remains were placed in a sarcophagus in the basilica.
I'd say the corpse has pretty serious provenance issues, but then I'm not a believer. (The Basilica of St. Mark is pretty nifty anyway.)

#27 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 05:14 PM:

The most embarrassing thing about all this for me is that I live just 30 miles from Bacton and have never heard about any of it.

What makes it slightly worse is that, given the history of erosion and accretion along the coast hereabouts, there's a good chance I'm currently living on top of soil washed away by those mermaids from the priory.

#28 ::: David Perry ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 05:30 PM:

I'm a conference and dabbling in these threads and apologize if my responses are laconic, overly discursive, or somehow both.

I'm 5/6ths of the way through a monograph on Stolen Relics and Contested Memory: Venice and the Hagiographies of the Fourth Crusade. It ought to go to the press at the end of the summer, hopefully they'll like it and send it to readers, and it might come into print in 24 months, but could take longer. Or obstacles could emerge.

I'll think about the battle magic issue (Jim@12) in case I come up with anything interesting to add. I know more about the Hodegetria (icon of Mary supposedly painted by St. Luke) and Byzantine battle magic, as well as the Crusader true-cross fragment, the Heraclian cross, lost at Hattin. There's a fragment of that cross in the Lateran, in Rome, interestingly enough, in 1215, but Innocent never uses it in crusade-related liturgy to my knowledge.

It's definitely possible that Hugh was a "fast-talking con man who'd never gotten within 500 miles of Constantinople." What I love about the crusade and relics is that 1204 enables a reasonable provenance for the creation of new stories. That some of those stories were true only adds spice to the deal. Of course, even with the fairly ample body of texts on relics after 1204, we hardly get any glimpse into the black market/forgery/fabrication end of things, even though the trade in relic fragments of this sort must have been vast. Mostly we get condemnation of same (Lateran canon 62, for example) or people going out of their way to demonstrate that /their/ relic wasn't illicit, even if so many were.

Jim writes @ 12 : "As to the Fourth Crusade, I don't see much middle ground between a one-paragraph summary and a book-length treatise." Me neither! That's why I said, "nice job." It's an excellent one paragraph summary.

Jim @ 19: There's a text from Halberstadt for which the author was either confused or (my hunch) was trying to obfuscate the outcome of the Crusade, and writes: “Qualiterque ultimo, civitate capta, Alexius Alexio suppositus fugatus fuerit, et ab Alexio Alexii patruo exoculatus.” If you can sort out which Alexius is which in that single sentence (all three show up there), you get a prize.

Jim@21: It seems fairly likely that Enrico Dandolo was NEVER going to be emperor and knew it from the outset, so steered his votes to Baldwin in order to thwart Boniface. If this is interesting, I can expand.

David@17: Chapter one of my book attempts to sort out all the different kinds of ways that relics left their Byzantine shrines and ended up in the west. I identify three phases (post-conquest chaos, initial divvying of spoils, and from 1206-1261, more or less) and two types (unauthorized and authorized). So by topographies I mean the defining of topoi or types in order to tease some things apart. For example, I believe there is a cognitive, narrative, and canonical difference between a group of seven thieves breaking into a church on Palm Sunday after the conquest to take a selective relic and send it home to their home church, a greedy Frank smashing apart a reliquary for the sake of the gems and gold, and a Bishop taking stock of his new chapel and selecting items to send home. They often get talked about as the same thing in both the medieval and modern literature. Hope that made sense.

#29 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 06:39 PM:

Andy #27: If you wander over to check it out I'm sure all will be amused by an account of your pilgrimage.

David #28: Please let us know when your book comes out; I can promise at least one sale.

As far as Enrico Dandolo (the Doge of Venice, for those who are playing along at home), you're right that he was probably never a serious contender. For one thing he was blind, and blind folks couldn't be Emperors of Byzantium (which explains why Alexios III had both his brother Isaac II and his son-in-law Alexios V blinded).

Alexios V, after being captured by the Franks, was thrown off the Column of Theodosius in Constantinople. People who read our The Long Hunt and wondered where we'd gotten certain things may now have some of their curiosity assuaged.

See the commonplaces on the front page of Making Light: "History is the trade secret of science fiction." (Ken MacLeod)

#30 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 08:01 PM:

The picturesque Norfolk village of Heydon, allegedly the seat of my 12th-century ancestors, is only about ten miles from Bromholm. I'm just sayin'.

Of course, the extent to which the Heydons of Heydon were the actual ancestors of Francis Hayden (b. 1628, Watford, Hertfordshire; d. 1694, St. Mary's County, Maryland) is unknown, since the main evidence for the connection appears to be a geneology compiled by a 19th-century prelate who may have been more imaginative than rigorous. I am almost certainly descended from Francis; the rest is entertaining semi-myth.

Confabulators, start your engines!

#31 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 08:11 PM:

This is wonderful stuff, and it also made me reread the "dubiousness" thread again. Boy there were some bozos commenting there! One in particular was clownish and silly, and watching him get taken down for his silliness was kinda fun.

Sure sounds like Hugh was a conman to me.

#32 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 08:13 PM:

David Wald #25: There's an image -- quite gaudy -- of Santiago Matamoros busily matando Moros in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

#33 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 08:39 PM:

The Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Relics.

#34 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 09:23 PM:

Fragano Ledgister@32 There's an image — quite gaudy — of Santiago Matamoros busily matando Moros in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Yep, I've seen it. (We've done the pilgrimage from two different directions so far.) It's competing for attention with a lot of other more benevolent representations — not least the huge statue which is disconcertingly hugged from behind now and then — so it's not the first thing that catches the eye.

Likewise, there are a few other remarkably, um, enthusiastic sword-swinging Santiagos (and occasional San Milláns) at sites along the route, and the fact that they're greatly outnumbered by the other representations only makes them more startling. Except, of course, when you remember that the Cross of Santiago, found everywhere on souvenir scallop shells and pastries, is a sword.

#35 ::: Arkady Martine ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2012, 11:30 PM:

Delurking (after years of lurking!) because Byzantines. In my other life I'm a postgrad Byzantine historian, though the 4th Crusade is a bit after my area of specialization (9th-11th centuries, weird diplomatic shenanigans with Armenians and Bulgarians, basically.)

Jim at #12: I would link up the True Cross as battle magic both to the original in hoc signo vinces of Constantine I at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge -- there's a strong association of the cross, whether metaphorical or in relic form, with protection and victory in battle. That gets further emphasized during the sieges of Constantinople by the Umayyad caliphate, when the (recently retrieved from the Persians in the Byzantine-Persian wars of the 620s) relics of the true cross are paraded around the walls of the city and miraculously help to defend it.

It's only a small step from military defense to active battle-magic.


#36 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2012, 01:46 AM:

Amongst battle magic relics that make me itch to write a contemporary fantasy series about, none make me itch quite so fiercely as the Black Banner of Genghis Khan. From Wikipedia:

"The white banner disappeared early in history, but the black one survived as the repository of Genghis Khan's soul. The Mongols continued to honor the banner, and Zanabazar (1635–1723) built a monastery with the special mission of flying and protecting the black banner in the 17th century. Around 1937, the black banner disappeared amidst the great purges of the nationalists, monks and intellectuals, and the destruction of monasteries."

Directly affiliated with a great historical conqueror? Check. Abruptly severed provenance? Check. Hints of Cold War intrigue? Check.

#37 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2012, 02:11 AM:

Patrick @30

Surnames and placenames are strange. And the spelling can be imprecise. The Drakes family website talks about shifts in the spelling of that name, and about some of the genetic tools that are becoming available.

Briefly, the name "Drakes" is nothing to do with the name "Drake", and is solidly rooted in the north-east of Lincolnshire, and neighbouring Yorkshire. Variants of the name include "Drax" and "Dracas", and there is a suggestion that it comes from the placename "Drax" (near Selby in Yorkshire).

The twist in this is that using the placename as the identifier is pretty useless when you're living in the place. So the Drax families would be those that moved elsewhere. And that is echoed in the suggestion that the Drax family of Woodhall were named "de Raix" when they arrived in the Norman Conquest.

The stuff on that site about DNA tests, both mitochondrial DNA (inherited from the mother) and Y-chromosome DNA (male only, and inherited from the father) is interesting, but I wonder a little if the guy has a small bee in his bonnet. Still, it is intriguing what can already be inferred.

And at least it isn't a fill-in-the-blank placeholder page on a genealogy website. You could probably use the same trick for holy relics.

#38 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2012, 07:54 AM:

Jim Macdonald #12: "I can tell you where the Holy Cross of Bromholm is located in my fictional universe: It's the real deal and the Templars have it."

Of course! Where else? The Knights Templar being a standard discourse marker that shows some writing to be set in a fictional universe. If Dan Brown hadn't mentioned them, foolish people wouid believe his bollocks to be true! And as for "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail"...

Unfortunate corollary: genuine historians writing about the Templars have trouble getting themselves believed. Not being a historian I can only speculate on the secret scholastic language they might have to insert into their texts to convince each other than they mean it. (I have heard enough sermons and read enough books to know that Anglican theologians always put the phrases "as it were" and "over against" into any text they intend to be taken seriously) There were also interesting side-effects in the story of Dolly the Sheep ;-)

As for battle-magic - wasn't there a mid-mediaeval fashion of taking the consecrated Host into battle? As in the famous Battle of the Standard in Yorkshire (well, famous if your family is from both Scotland and the North of England and you read lots of books about the Middle Ages) The Wikipedia article about that links to one about Italian battle-altars or Carroccio, (about which I know nothing other than a vague memory that thes Wargames Research Group ancient wargames rules included special dice throws for them in a trial set of humorous Fantasy Warfare add-ons in the early 1970s). But anyway, as the consecrated host is really the body of Jesus Christ in the accidental form of bread, that would imply that the westerners were already in the habit of carrying Jesus around with them into battle, so taking his cross as well might have been a natural next step for them. (I assume Jesus himself would have been as horrified by that as his brother James woudl have been to hear that over a thousand years after his death people in a country he almost certainly never visited would call him "Matamoros")

Irrelevant factlet number N: the word "host" meaning consecrated bread is the same word as as "host" meaning an army and also as "host" meaning someone who looks after guests, (and therefore its extension in our lifetimes to mean a computer system or an entity connected to a network); and they only split off from the word "guest" in the early Middle Ages. All of them are also only one step away (via Old French) from "hostile" meaning enemy, and also hospital/hostel/hotel (borrowed into English from French at different times in different spellings) . Etymology really isn't meaning.

#39 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2012, 10:37 AM:

I ran a Constantinople 1204 RPG once, in which the time travelling characters showed up in Constantinople just before the sack hoping to get hold of some of the treasure only to find Constantinople defended by bronze robots.

Anyway, I happened to mention it to Mike Ford, and he immediately said "Bronze robots, because they had the throne that went up and down and the birds that sang and the lions that moved their tails, so they were almost there." And I said yes, and he said "Oh, and we know the weight of bronze from the sack, so if the robots got melted your guys must have got away with some of the big statues!"

There really wasn't anybody like him.

#40 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2012, 10:53 AM:

A really lovely photo of the chapter house at Bromholm

Bromholm Priory was bombarded by Oliver Cromwell at Butt Hill, and the square tower was converted into a pillbox for coastal defense during WWII.

I pass over the legends of tunnels (closed with golden gates at their midpoints) running to and from the priory as too unlikely: such tunnels (and their golden gates) are reported almost everywhere you find ancient ruins, and secretly digging a usable tunnel of two to four miles would be a feat of engineering that might exceed their capability.

At its heyday Bromholm Priory was holding five Masses a day (three sung, two spoken). By the beginning of the fifteenth century, however, it was so reduced by the loss of land, a fire, and a pestilence, that the monks feared they would be unable to continue the Divine Office at all.

Shall we speak of pilgrim badges?

These were little tin (later pewter) badges with the symbol of the shrine pressed or molded on it. At first they had rings at the corners to allow them to be sewn onto clothing, but later had pin backs. Here's a reproduction pilgrim badge from Bromholm. I am totally getting one.

We still find similar objects (shot glasses, thimbles, demitasse spoons, refrigerator magnets, and lapel pins) in tourist spots to this day (say I who live in a tourist-rich environment).

#41 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2012, 11:06 AM:

And Byzantine history is why I'm "Theophylact".

#42 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2012, 11:13 AM:

Jim Macdonald@40: We still find similar objects (shot glasses, thimbles, demitasse spoons, refrigerator magnets, and lapel pins) in tourist spots to this day

The scallop shells I mentioned earlier, with or without the cross of Santiago, may be another early instance of that, and they're definitely a modern one. (One of many explanations for the symbol is that pilgrims to Santiago used to bring them back home as evidence that they'd been to Galicia. Nowadays there are more formal certificates of completion, but the shells are still in every tourist shop.)

#43 ::: gaukler ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2012, 01:29 PM:

Most pilgrim badges were cast in stone moulds. The most popular metal in England was eutectic pewter; some continental badges are lead (tin was expensive). The best reproduction badges are made by Billy and Charlie - better than the ones I make:)

#45 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2012, 07:12 PM:

Jim MacDonald@40 - The tourist kitsch that I remember most from Lourdes is the ashtrays with the picture of the Virgin on them. I guess if you've had your cancer miraculously cured, it's ok to continue smoking....

We weren't doing pilgrimage, we were just touring the area after a conference near Bordeaux, and I assume that the reason I got hit by lightning a day or two later was because I was at an observatory up in the mountains, not because I'd disrespected the tourist kitsch. (It bounced off the building before it hit me, so no damage was done.)

#46 ::: David Perry ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2012, 08:45 AM:

Jim@29 writes, "As far as Enrico Dandolo (the Doge of Venice, for those who are playing along at home), you're right that he was probably never a serious contender. For one thing he was blind, and blind folks couldn't be Emperors of Byzantium (which explains why Alexios III had both his brother Isaac II and his son-in-law Alexios V blinded)."

If you are interested in Enrico Dandolo, Tom Madden's recent monograph ("Enrico Dandolo") is definitely the best piece of work on him. Dandolo's one of those characters in history that would be unbelievable in fiction, it's always seemed to me. Then again, I'm a historian, not an author, so what do I know about making fictional characters believable.

Madden makes the argument that Dandolo, viewed through the lens of his career, constantly displayed enormous respect for internal Venetian political norms. So while he probably could have gotten the 6 (Venetian) + 1 (Frank) vote to be named emperor, he could not legally have taken the empire for Venice. He could have abandoned Venice to found his own dynasty, but this too would have been out of character. Instead, he negotiates his votes to vastly increase the Venetian quarter (which he did have the legal rights to do), and swapped Thessalonika (which he doesn't want) for Crete. It's not clear that the electors would have cared that Dandolo was blind, even if the Greek people might have.

#47 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2012, 10:04 AM:

Jim @#40: There's a thriving business in pilgrim badges, both historical repros and modern designs, at and surrounding Pennsic. For one thing, the site medallion one carries as proof of having paid the site fee could be considered a pilgrim badge...

#48 ::: Giscard ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2012, 03:26 PM:

The Greeks had it coming. Did they really think they could massacre thousands of Western merchants and sell the survivors to the Turks without any sort of well deserved retribution?

#49 ::: David Perry ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2012, 09:37 PM:

Giscard@48 - That kind of sentiment doesn't show up in the contemporary or post-facto sources. There are plenty of things the Latins say about the Greeks that are unflattering (and vice versa), but the 1170s stuff isn't really evoked. If references would please you, let me know.

#50 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2012, 10:27 AM:

Another reference:

"Ay but, by the rood of Bromholm, there was no romance in the matter," said Athelstane.
(Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott)

(Pray note that Sir Walter has Athelstane swearing by the Rood of Bromholm some thirty years before the rood arrived there. That's some powerful swearing.)

#51 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2012, 11:35 AM:

The Siege of Adrianople

From Memoirs or Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade and the Conquest of Constantinople, by Geoffrey de Villehardouin

#52 ::: Rev. Richard Woodham ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2012, 10:58 AM:

Exploring the place of the church in the landscape dimension of the ruins at Great Hautbois (dedicated to St. Mary though often known as St. Theobald after the shrine in the church) I became interested in it as a resting place on the way to Bromholm
Everything here I need! Brilliant work! many thanks!

#53 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2012, 12:44 PM:

Welcome, Reverend Woodham!

Your Norfolk Pilgrim blog is quite nice; I rambled through it as I was preparing this post.

Your experience with the heart attack ... well, that's another of my interests. Best to you in your continued recovery.

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