Monday, 21 December 2020

Medieval Church, Saints and Religious Orders - 2

Here's my second glossary developed during research into the cults of Anglo-Saxons saints that continued to the later medieval era. Much of the data collected comes from a welter of religious documents from Antiphon to Versicles, not forgetting the Vulgate Latin that most were written in. The glossary was prepared so that I could understand a source document and weigh its importance vis-a-vis other sources. I hope you find it useful, and please share any comments or additions so that it can be updated.

Glossary of Church Terms


Antiphon: A short verse sung before or after a psalm, canticle or hymn. (Morgan 1988, 339)


Antiphoner: Book containing the antiphons and antiphonal chants sung by cantor, congregation, and choir at Mass (antiphonarium Missarum) or graduale and at the canonical Hours (antiphonarium officii). 


Book of Hours: Functional prayer books made for the nonordained, very popular between the mid-thirteenth century and the late seventeenth century. Although prepared for an individual and their interests, books of hours share one group of devotions: a set of prayers in eight sections meant to be said at regular intervals throughout the twenty-four-hour day, called the Hours of the Virgin. The practice of praying at multiple times of the day and night was based upon the Divine Office (see Office below). In addition to the Hours of the Virgin, books of hours included five to twenty-five further elements. The most common are a calendar, a set of gospel lessons, hours focusing on the Cross, a group of psalms that express penitence or regret, and prayers to saints called Suffrages.



Breviary: A liturgical book used for praying the canonical hours. It consists of psalms, lessons taken from the Scriptures, and the writings of the Fathers, versicles and pious sentences brought together into the shape of the antiphons, responses, or similar forms, hymns and prayers. (Smith and Cheetham 2005, p. 247). The book containing all the offices for the daily offices of the public liturgy of the church. (Morgan 1988, 339)


Calendar: The calendar of saints organizes the liturgical year by associating each day with one or more saints and referring to the day as the feast day or feast of said saint. "Feast" means an annual religious celebration, a day dedicated to a particular saint. The feast day is almost always the date of the saint’s death (and birth into heaven)


Canon Law: The laws of the Church relating to ecclesiastical discipline, faith and morality. (Morgan 1988, 339)


Casuals: Rites of baptism, confirmation, marriage, and burial (as in Book of Common Prayer). [Leuenberger, 1990, xxviii].


Canticles: Certain recitations from the Old and New Testaments sung during the daily offices. [Te Deum not included as it is believed to be by St Ambrose]. (Morgan 1988, 339)


Collect: [Modern] A collect is a prayer meant to gather the intentions of the people and the focus of worship into a succinct prayer. Most collects fit a pattern developed by Archbishop Cranmer in the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), which were translated from Latin prayers for each Sunday of the year. The form of collects is straight-forward: There is an address to God and to his character or actions in the world on our behalf; There is a request; There is an invocation and doxology. And there is The Amen.


Confessor: A male saint who is not a martyr. (Morgan 1988, 339)


Convent: An enclosed and regulated monastic institution


Conventual Use: The liturgical practices of communities of regular canons (Augustinians, Premonstratensians) and friars (Dominicans, Franciscans). Their liturgy is much closer to that of the secular church than that of the monastic church, and increasingly in the later Middle Ages comes under its influence. (Morgan 1988, 340)


Daily/Divine Office: Daily cycle of choir services performed by clergy; also referred to as divine office


Diocese: Territorial unit of administration in the church, governed by a bishop; also known as a See 


Epitome: A précis of a bible story or hagiography, written for homiletic use in sermons (see Aelfric’s Lives of Saints)


Feast: Annual religious celebration of the day dedicated to a saint, usually the date of their death.


Gloss: A commentary on a text. (Morgan 1988, 340)


Grading (of feast days): “Each feast day in a calendar has a grading at the end of the line, which indicates the importance of the feast in rank: e.g. D indicates ‘double’ for the highest rank, with most being listed as l ix or l iii, which indicate the number of lessons at matins as expressed in the Breviary. The lowest rank is mem, indicating a memoria. Quite often these rankings, some of which changed between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries, are not included, even though the calendar text is otherwise accurate in the saints it lists.” (Morgan 2017, 20)


Gradual: The Gradual is one of the responsorial chants of the Mass. It may have gained that name because it was sung on the step (Latin: gradus) of the altar. A book of graduals sets out the responses (chants) for a cycle of days, similar to a lectionary (readings) and a missal (masses).


Gradual Psalms: Psalms 119-133 (Vulgate numerations) mostly concerned with trust in God’s aid. These were read daily before Matins in monastic use but only during Advent and Lent in secular use. (Morgan 1988, 340)


Hours, Books of: From the 11th century an addition to the daily monastic office, and from the 12th century also the secular office, were the Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These came to form a separate book containing additional prayers, the Office of the Dead, the Penitential Psalms, the Gradual Psalms and occasionally certain special Hours (e.g., the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Name of Jesus). In the late 13th and 14th century it became popular for the laity to possess Books of Hours for their private devotions although such books were also made for clerics and even monks. (Morgan 1988, 340)


Inventio(n): The discovery of the relics of a saint. The day of this occurrence is occasional celebrated as a liturgical feast.

Lectionary: A lectionary (Latin: Lectionarium) is a book that contains a collection of scripture readings appointed worship on a given day or occasion. Each yearly cycle of readings begins on the first Sunday of Advent (the Sunday between November 27 and December 3 inclusive).


Legendary: A legendary contains the lives of the saints celebrated in the liturgy. The legendary could be a source of the hagiographic texts recited in the second nocturn of Matins (see also Office Lectionary). Legendaries vary widely in their selection of saints and of texts. While contents may vary, their order normally follows that of the liturgical year.


Litany: A form of prayer consisting of a series of petitions sung by a deacon, a priest or cantors, to which the people made fixed responses: “The litany of the saints was one of the most common, and also most characteristic, liturgical forms of the Middle Ages” (Lapidge 1991, i); “A form of invocatory prayer in which are included invocations to various saints. Local saints enable some conclusions to be made concerning the area or place for which the Litany may have been intended.” (Morgan 1988, 340)


Liturgy: Standardised order of events observed during a religious service, be it a sacramental service or a service of public prayer.


Majuscule: Large capital lettering in which all the letters are the same height


Manual: Book of special services for occasional use, such as baptisms, marriages and visiting the sick


Martyrological Calendar: “A Calendar with a saint entered for every single day of the year. These saints are derived from the martyrology and rarely reflect local feast days.” (Morgan 1988, 340)


Matins lections (for saint): A lection, also called the lesson, is a reading from scripture in liturgy.


Minuscule: Lower case letters or upper (capital) and lower-case letters in one word


Missal: Book that contains all the texts required for celebrating Mass, the central service of the liturgy; “The book containing the masses for the feast days and saints’ days of the year and also other votive masses.” (Morgan 1988, 341)


Monastic Use: “The liturgical practices of the enclosed orders (Benedictine, Cluniacs, Cistercians and Carthusians).” (Morgan 1988, 341)


Obit: “The record, usually in a Calendar, of the date of the death of a person, which can sometimes provide a clue to the provenance or date of a manuscript.” (Morgan 1988, 341)


Octave: The eighth day after a feast which always falls on the same day of the week as the feast itself. For example, the octave of Thomas of Canterbury is on 5th January, eight days after the feast day of 29th December. The octave could either be an eighth day feast or an eight-day period of liturgical observance from the feast date to the octave date. Used for BVM and important saints,


Office: The Divine Office was/is a liturgy chanted in religious communities that gathered for prayer at Matins (before daybreak), Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext (around noon), None, Vespers, and Compline (after sunset).


Office Lectionary: An office lectionary contains readings for the office of Matins (also called Nocturns). Medieval Matins services consisted of two or three nocturns. The lessons of the first nocturn were drawn from the Bible; the second nocturn from hagiographic or patristic texts; and the third nocturn from patristic commentaries on scripture, often taken from a homiliary.


Office of the Dead: First Vespers, Matins and Lauds for the dead.


Ordinal: Book of rites for the ordination of deacons, priests, and bishops


Processional: Book containing litanies and hymns for use in religious processions, especially at the beginning of a service.


Province: 1) unit of ecclesiastical administration comprising a group of territorially contiguous dioceses: 2) in relation to later developments of monastic orders, geographic units of administration within the order.


Post-communions: Text said or sung on a reciting tone following the Communion of the Mass.


Psalter: The Book of Psalms. “All the psalms were recited during the week in the breviary offices of both monastic and secular use … The Psalter usually contained in addition to the psalms, a Calendar, Litany and occasionally private prayers, the Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Office of the Dead.” (Morgan 1988, 341)


Psalter of the Virgin: “A devotional text composed of 150 invocations corresponding to the 150 Psalms, with the word Ave taken from the angelic salutation to the Virgin Mary. The tests are appropriate to Marian devotion.” (Morgan 1988, 341)


Purgatory: “The condition in which the souls of the faithful departed are purified before they can enter Heaven.” (Morgan 1988, 341)


Sanctoral: The sanctoral cycle (Proper of Saints) is the annual calendar or cycle of saints’ feasts; in Latin, sanctorale.


Sarum Use: “From the second quarter of the 13th century the various dioceses in the province of Canterbury adopted the Calendar and the liturgical texts and practices of the Cathedral Church of Salisbury (Sarum Use) as they had finally come to be systematized under Bishop Richard Poore (1217-28) … The period of transition to new liturgical practices is at least fifty years and only in the 14th century do relatively pure Sarum texts become the norm. Most dioceses added to Sarum a few local feasts (supplements) sometimes called synodial feasts if officially declared by the synod of the diocese. The increasing appearance of the Sarum Calendar is a marked feature in 13th century Calendars.” (Morgan 1988, 341)

Secular (adj): 1) in relation to clergy, priests living in the world, not under a rule, who are bound by no vows and may possess property, working under the authority of a bishop: 2) more generally, refers to people who are not clergy, the laity.


Secular Use: “The liturgical practices of the non-monastic church: i.e. the secular cathedrals, the collegiate churches and chapels and the parish churches. Sarum Use comes to be the standard liturgy of the secular church, although in the first half of the 13thcentury, and frequently in the second half, it seems that pre-Sarum local diocesan Uses were still widespread. The liturgy of the conventual orders of regular canons and friars occupies a position midway between that of the secular and monastic church although is rather closer to the former.” (Morgan 1988, 341)


Secrets: Latin: Oratio secreta (lit. 'Secret prayer') is a prayer said in a low voice by the priest or bishop during religious services, notably during the offertory. The Secret alludes to the saint or occasion of the day.


Suffrages: “Brief devotions in honour of God or a saint, consisting of an antiphon, versicle and response, and a final prayer. Also called Memoriae.” (Morgan 1988, 341).


Synod: [Modern] An assembly of clergy and non-clergy church members to discuss and debate church matters. They can meet as a deanery, a diocese or a General Synod. [, 2nd October 2019].


Temporale: The Temporale (or Proper of Time) organizes the moveable feasts, those that are centered on Christ. Some are fixed, such Advent and Christmas; others including Lent and Easter vary each year.


Translation: The removal of holy objects from one locality to another (often a higher-status location). The date of a translation of a saint's relics was sometimes celebrated as a feast day in its own right. (St Swithun’s translation feast of 15 July has, over time, become his main feast day).


Use: A variant ("use") of the Roman Rite used for the ordering of public worship, including the Mass and the Divine Office. Viz., Uses of Hereford, Sarum and York.


Versicle: A short sentence, often from the Psalms, sung antiphonally during worship; it is answered by a response from the other part of the choir.


Visitation: The visit of Mary, pregnant with Jesus, to Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist (See Luke 1:39–56) celebrated on 31 May; the periodic inspection by a bishop of the temporal and spiritual affairs of a diocese which are under his control, or by an abbot or monastic official of houses within his jurisdiction.


Vulgate: “The Latin text of the Bible as translated by St Jerome [c.341-420]. This was the text which with some revisions, notably in the 13th century in Paris, was the norm in the Middle Ages”. (Morgan 1988, 341). The numbering of Psalms in the Vulgate differs from the English Authorized Version of the Bible; largely because certain Psalms were divided into two parts in the two versions in the two versions in different ways.




The online sources were accessed in October 2019. The main source was:, unless marked;;;


Lapidge, Michael, ed., Anglo-Saxon Litanies of the Saints. London: Henry Bradshaw Society, 1991.

Leuenberger, Samuel, Archbishop Cranmer’s Immortal Bequest. Translated by Samuel Leuenberger and Lewis J. Gorin, Jr. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990.

Morgan, Nigel, Early Gothic Manuscripts [II] 1250-1285. London: Harvey-Miller, 1988.

Smith, William and Samuel Cheetham, Encyclopædic Dictionary of Christian Antiquities. Concept Publishing Company, 2005.



Tom Watson

December 21, 2020

Medieval Church, Saints and Religious Orders 1

While undertaking research into the cults of Anglo-Saxon saints that continued into the late medieval era, I prepared two glossaries to help explore the thick undergrowth of church terminology. One was of Church terms and the other was my summarised guide to religious orders. I thought that other researchers on a similar journey might find them helpful, and also help improve their accuracy and the width of coverage. Please post comments and the Glossary can be updated.

This is the Glossary of Religious Orders, written from an English aspect:

Glossary of Religious Orders


Augustinian: 1) order of regular canons following the Rule of St Augustine; established from pre-existing orders in Italy and France in the 12th century: 2) order of mendicant friars founded in Italy in 1244; known in England as the Austin Friars, arriving in 1248. They were invited by Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, who gave land at Clare for the first Augustinian foundation. In 1253 they settled in London where ‘Austin Friars’ was to become the most important house of the Order in England.


Benedictine: Order of monks or nuns living according to the Rule of St Benedict. Monks take vows of personal poverty, chastity and obedience to their abbot and the Benedictine Rule. The first Benedictines came to England in 597 with Augustine’s mission. Known as the Black Monks, the Benedictines were most prominent of monastic orders in England. 


Canons Regular: Regular canons were ordained priests, living a quasi-monastic, regular life (i.e. life according to a rule) in a community; a term applied to Augustinian canons


Carmelites: Order of mendicant friars originally founded in Palestine in the 12th century, then reformed in Europe in the 13th century after the failure of the Crusades; also known as the White Friars


Carthusian: Monastic order founded by Bruno of Cologne at Chartreuse in 1084; a contemplative order whose brethren were bound to vows of silence and renunciation of the world. The first English house was founded by Henry II at Witham Friary, Somerset in 1181, as penance for the murder of Thomas of Canterbury. Hugh of Lincoln was its first prior. There were nine Carthusian monasteries in England at the time of the Dissolution, and one in Scotland


Cistercian: Monastic order derived from the Benedictines, founded as reformed order at the French monastery of Citeaux in 1098. Supported by William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester, the first Cistercian house in England was founded at Waverley, Surrey in late 1128. All monasteries were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.


Cluniac: Reformed Benedictine order, founded at Cluny in France in 910. They operated under a modified Rule of Benedict. The first Cluniac house in England was at Lewes in 1077. By the Dissolution, there were 33 to 35 houses (sources vary) in England and Wales, with a further three in Scotland.


Conventuals: Members of the Franciscan order advocating change to the original rules on property


Dominican: Order of mendicant friars founded in the early 13th century by the Spanish St Dominic; also known as the Friars Preacher or the Black Friars. The first Dominicans arrived in England in 1221


Franciscan: Order of friars founded by St Francis of Assisi in 1217 in Italy; also known as the Friars Minor or the Grey Friars. The first Franciscans arrived in England in 1224, led by Agnellus of Pisa


Friars of the Sack: Also called the Friars of the Penance of Jesus Christ; the largest of the lesser groups of friars in England. All of their houses were abandoned by 1314 and members obliged to join one of the major mendicant orders


Gilbertines: The Gilbertine Order of Canons Regular was founded around 1130 by St Gilbert in Sempringham, Lincolnshire; a double order comprising male and female members under the spiritual guidance of the Augustinian canons.


Hospitallers: Military order first recognised in 1113, founded to assist in the Crusades; their full name was Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem


[Mendicant orders: Term for the friars which refers to begging because of their dependence on alms for support]


Pied Friars: Also called the Friars of Blessed Mary or the Friars De Domina; disbanded and the members obliged to join one of the major orders in the early 14th century


Poor Clares: Female branch of the Franciscan order, maintaining an enclosed monastic life rather than one equivalent to that of the friars


Premonstratensian: The Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré (near Laon), founded by Norbert of Xanten in 1120 or 1121. Influenced by the Cistercians and living to the Rule of Augustine. Known in England as the White Canons; elsewhere as Norbertines. They arrived in England around 1143. By the Dissolution, there were 35 houses, including Dryburgh Abbey.


Spirituals: Members of the Franciscan order devoted to maintaining the ideals of the founder with respect to money and property


Templars: Order of military monks founded in 1119 to assist in the Crusades; also known as the Knights Templar or the Poor Knights of Christ


Waldensians: Sect organised in the 12th century in Lyons; the founder became a mendicant preacher and expounded against the worldliness of the established church; the sect survives today.



Monastic rules


Rule of St Augustine: A rule for religious community life first devised by a follower of St Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century; revived in the 11th century for use by the regular canons


Rule of St Benedict: Set of rules for monastic life devised by an Italian monk, Benedict of Nursia, in the 6th century; became the basis for Western monasticism



The main source was, accessed on 2nd October 2019, supported by a range of other sources. Orders marked are included in data published in Alison M. Binns, Dedications of Monastic Houses in England and Wales 1066-1216. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1989.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

From Academic to Student: Reflections on the experience

I've just finished a Masters degree, nearly three years after I retired as a professor. I enjoyed much of my time as a student exploring a topic that had eluded me as an undergraduate student. The two years of part-time study also made me reflect on the nexus between academics and students and on the administration of university programmes.

I won't name the university I attended as I'm also including my time in academic management in the UK and Australia, and as an external examiner in England and Ireland in these reflections.

The Good Things

  • It was a real pleasure on some modules (units/courses) to engage with academics who really love their subject and weave their research into teaching. Yes, that should always be the case but some folks do it better than others. The impact upon students was evident in seminar discussions and real academic communities were created.
  • Libraries and librarians are under-recognised for their value they give to students. Library staff at all universities where I have worked or studied during the past 15 years have been very supportive and always went a "bit-extra" to add texts to the stack or get books and articles through inter-library loans. They have sometimes struggled with new software (VLEs and reading lists) but kept trying till it worked.
  • Research group seminars and lectures were an important asset whereby students engaged with new research and different conceptualisations. They also give platforms for younger academics to present their work outside their home campus. Good universities have lots of them.
  • Making set times for consultations between lecturers and students worked well. The trend to treat students as academic consumers has implied there should be instant responses by email and through short-notice meetings. This consumerism just leads to stress on staff and short-termism whereas a scheduled meeting leads to greater consideration issues by staff and students. My meetings with lecturing staff were scheduled and produced thoughtful results for both of us. It's a discipline to be maintained.

The So-So Things

  • Wearing my recent student hat, I now realise how important the programme handbook is for students. Those who read them in detail, admittedly a minority, will find that they have often been slung together year-after-year with little thought other than meeting a production deadline. A recent example had conflicting information on the presentation of assignments and dissertations and an error-strewn guide to a specific referencing system. At least every two years or when there is a change of programme leader, handbooks should be prepared from scratch using, hopefully, a fresh perspective.
  • It was a similar problem with module or unit guides. Some don't align with the programme handbook or with university policies. As all universities have grand QA schemes and processes, these gaps between the floorboards should not exist.
  • As an academic manager, I defended the quality and consistency of marking by colleagues against student questions and criticism. As a student, I'm less certain as to whether criteria-based marking is as neutral and objective as is claimed. I found it very difficult to judge my progress when marks for similar, heavily researched-assignments varied by 10 marks when assessed against the same criteria. This was no crisis as I generally got good marks but other students had the same experience with marking that reflected the marker's theoretical preferences than the criteria. I'm not sure that, in the humanities, there's another route to use especially as the markers have barely 20 minutes to read and assess each assignment.
  • Rigid pedagogy was the bane of some modules. At Masters level, students should have done their reading and be prepared to discuss the week's topic. The reality in a few modules was that the majority didn't do so and were quite happy to let a small group do much of the reading and lead discussion. However, lecturers were so trapped into seeking positive student scoring of their modules that little was said to the lazy ones and no change was made to the pedagogic module. That just left the keen students dispirited. If a pedagogy isn't working, it should be changed!

The Don't Do Things

  • Many universities cut fees by 25% to 50% for Masters programmes in order to attract their graduates to stay on for another year or so. This chicanery boosts data for student employment, which includes staying on for further study, but at the end of their Masters studies, many younger graduates are no more ready for employment than 12 or 24 months before, and have increased their student loan borrowing. The discounting of degrees is a benefit for some students but hacks-off those who are paying full fees from their own pockets. It should be limited to those students with potential to progress to doctoral studies and be no more than 10-15% of normal fee levels.
  • There is a regular farce called something like a Programme Committee Meeting at which teaching staff, administrators and student representatives meet to consider how the course/programme is progressing. My experience as an academic manager was that student representatives seldom consulted their colleagues and usually expressed untested and occasionally malicious personal opinions. As a student, I found the our supposed representatives might put a message asking for feedback on a closed Facebook group a day or so before the meeting, if at all. They didn't ever tell fellow students about the issues being presented, nor did they report on the meeting's outcomes. Having seen these farcical events in operation for at least a decade, it's time that they were overhauled with a wider range of methods to gather feedback from both staff and students, as they provide little value.
Overall, being a student again was stimulating and enjoyable. On my Masters programme, there were several "mature" students among the majority of 23-24 year olds. We tended to stick together as we had different experiences and learning styles but not exclusively. The harder-working younger students had mostly come straight on from undergraduate studies in the same field and had greater awareness of the basic material and theorisation. Whereas as we tended to read with greater depth and to bring in multi-disciplinary perspectives. So there was a lot of learning and discussion in the better seminars. I hope these reflections will be of assistance to both academics and students. If you're considering a return to study, the benefits and the enjoyment outweigh any gripes that I've expressed.

Monday, 6 August 2018

100 years on - remembering Guthrie Reilly

100 years ago today (8th August 1918), my great-uncle Guthrie Wilberforce Reilly was killed in action at Villers-Brettoneux on the Somme battlefield in eastern France.

He was my grandmother Ruby's brother, known to the family as Goo or Joe, and had been a farmer at Goolmangar near Lismore in northern NSW before enlisting, aged 31, at the end of January 1916 in the 26th Battalion, 14th Reinforcement.

Guthrie was born in Sydney, son of Robert Reilly and Sarah (Wheeler), educated at Glebe State Public School and later at Hawkesbury Agricultural College. His father Robert Reilly, a former Irish policeman, was head carter at the Farmers Ltd department store in the city.

He travelled to France with his unit on the HMAT A50 Itonus which left Brisbane on 8th August 1916. When he was killed, he held the rank of Corporal. Although it's not in his records, the family story was that he was killed by a German prisoner on the first day of the Great Push.

The decisive Battle of Amiens, which pushed the German army back and led to the end of the war, started on 8th August 1918 and was led by Australian and Canadian forces.

I visited his grave at Villers-Brettoneux, which is the main Australian WW1 military cemetery, several years ago and, as with all CWGC sites, it was beautifully and respectfully tended.

He was the second of my great-uncles from Australia who was killed on the Somme. In November 1916, 19-year-old Private Thomas Watson of the 20th Battalion, AIF, was killed near Longueval. He is buried in the Caterpillar Valley cemetery, close to Longueval.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

St Candida – a unique local saint with relics

St Candida and Holy Cross Church,
Whitchurch Canonicorum
At the village of Whitchurch Canonicorum in south west Dorset, set in a valley about a mile from the sea, is a unique English example of a local saint’s cult. It epitomizes the religious culture of the early Middle Ages and is still a place of pilgrimage.
Even the village’s name gives clues to its link to the saint: broadly translated it means the ‘white church that belongs to the canons’. However, ‘white church’ could be a play on words related to this saint whose relics are still stored in a lead lined coffin in the church’s north transept.
            The saint is known as St Whyte, St Wite, St Witta or St Candida,1 all alluding to the colour white. The church is dedicated to St Candida and Holy Cross and is the only non-urban church in England that retains the original medieval shrine and relics of the saint to which it was dedicated.2 Only Westminster Abbey’s shrine to St Edward the Confessor shares this status. How this saint’s relics survived the wholesale destruction of saints’ tombs and cults effected during the English Reformation is not known.
            Little is known about St Wite although evidence from 1900 when the tomb -marked in Latin with ‘Here rest the remains of St Wite’ - was opened for church repairs indicates that St Wite was a small woman aged around forty, probably a West Saxon who may have been killed during a Viking raid in 831 at nearby Charmouth.3
St Candida/Wite's tomb is above a foramina
The Oxford Dictionary of Saints offers three versions of the saint’s identity: A West Saxon woman; a Welsh saint whose relics were given to the church by King Athelstan (d. 939); and a monk, a martyred companion of the missionary St Boniface, whose remains were translated from Germany back to Dorset.4 Locally, there is speculation that Wite was a virgin hermit or anchoress and her hermitage was close to the current site of the church, which was built on the site of a previous church in the late twelfth century.5
The site is recorded as being given by King Alfred (d. 899) to his youngest son Ethelwald in 881 with the Anglo-Saxon name of Hwitancircian (Whitechurch) which indicates that it was already established as a place of worship.
Although Whyte or Wite was the church’s original dedication, it changed to Candida, occasionally varied with White, sometime between 1200 and the early sixteenth century. During the fifteenth century, the dedication of Holy Cross was added.6
            No Vitae (Life) was written about St Wite or has survived, but her relics are mentioned in much later writings of William Worcester (fifteenth century) and the Jesuit John Gerard (sixteenth century)7 indicating that the cult continued long after her death.
Locally, the church became known as the ‘Cathedral of the (Marshwood) Vale’. Pilgrims travelled to Whitchurch by tracks and paths to visit the Purbeck marble-topped tomb placed on a stone base (foramina) with three oval openings into which afflicted body parts were inserted for healing.8
These pious visitors made an important contribution to the local economy and sustained a nearby hostelry, the Shave Cross Inn built in the fourteenth century. After leaving the shrine, pilgrims could travel to the saint’s well at nearby Morcombelake which reputedly cured eye conditions. In late 2017, this author found that pilgrims still visit the tomb to place messages of hope, thanks and prayer into the oval openings, thus continuing a tradition that has lasted a millennium.
Pilgrim's messages in
            The cult of St Wite/Candida was just one of several hundred, possibly as many as one thousand, saints’ cults to be found in England from the seventh century onwards to the early Tudor period of the sixteenth century. It is an exceptional example of a local cult that would probably have been erased by the English Reformation which obliterated all others except that of the monarchs’ preferred cult of St Edward the Confessor whose shrine area became the royal mausoleum from Henry III onwards.9
It was one of several cults that existed in the south and south-west of England including St Aldhelm (Malmesbury), St Birinus (Dorchester/Winchester), SS Grimbald, Hedde and Swithun (Winchester), St Edward the Martyr (Shaftesbury), St Piran (Cornwall), St Sidwell (Exeter), St Petrock (Bodmin), St Cuthburga (Wimborne), St Edith (Wilton), St Melor (Amesbury), SS Augustine and Dunstan (Canterbury).
            The Dorset cult shared characteristics with the other cults. Pilgrims came to the saint’s tomb to seek intercession with God, both by prayer and physically touching the tomb. Physical access to the tomb was common, unlike modern times. Pilgrimage was an important aspect of religious practices as well as being economically beneficial to the church and its surrounding community.
It is highly probable that the saint’s feast day of 1 June was included in the regional church calendar of festivals and commemoration, and that prayers and liturgy had regular reference to St Whyte/Candida. However, unlike many other saints, there does not appear to have been any hagiographic Vitae written. This may be the reason that there are so many stories about who the saint may have been. Even the gender of Whyte/Candida is still under question, although it seems highly likely from the evidence of the tomb that the saint was female.

1.      Farmer, David Hugh. Oxford Dictionary of Saints. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, 447.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Syer, S. G. The Cathedral of the Vale, revised edition. Bridport: Creeds the Printers, 2005, 21.
4.     Farmer, op.cit., 447.
5.     Syer, op. cit., 21
6.     Ibid., 5
7.     Farmer, op. cit., 447.
8.     Syer, op. cit., 21.
9.     Tavinor, Michael. Shrines of the Saints in England and Wales. Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2016, 25.