Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fighting Over the Body

St. Michael and All Angels, Haselbury Plucknett
On 20 February 1154, a fight broke out over a corpse. The corpse "belonged" to Wulfric of Haselbury, and two groups wanted it.

Wulfric was born about 1080 in southwest England. He became a priest—a very worldly one, who liked hunting, until an encounter with a beggar motivated him to focus on being a decent parish priest. In 1125, however, he took the additional step of going to be an anchorite at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Haselbury Plucknett, Somerset (without asking permission from his bishop, but the Cluniac monks nearby welcomed his choice). His devotion made him many friends and admirers. He would mortify his flesh through wearing chain mail, fasting, and immersing himself in cold water.

The local lord, Sir William FitzWalter, sent food and visited. The parish priest also visited, as did several others.

Even King Henry I and King Stephen visited and received his advice—not always advice they wanted to hear. Wulfric prophesied (correctly) Henry's death, and lectured the visiting Stephen on his government's many evils.

When Wulfric died, the monks of nearby Montacute that had consistently supported him felt that the remains of this saintly man should come to them for proper internment (and a potential shrine that would draw pilgrims and donations). They were opposed by the parish locals under the leadership of the parish priest, Osbern. Wulfric's body remained in his cell, buried there by the authority of the Bishop of Bath. Osbern moved the body twice in the church to keep the remains secret; no one knows the exact location now.

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