Category Archives: The English Tradition

Ideas about Christianity, other myths and folkloric traditions in Britain and the English church. Influenced by Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People and Matthew Parker’s mission to establish an historical precedent for a Church of England.

Colne Engaine: A Medieval English Parish

The usual narrative for the history of the development of the parish structure in England is fairly simple, as in this account by Roy Strong in A Little History of the English Country Church (London: Vintage, 2008):

The basic structure of our present parish system developed in the tenth century. The Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical system centred on the minster, or monasterium; these were major churches with attendant buildings that housed priests servicing the outlying areas. (Strong, p. 19)

These were followed by smaller churches built by local lords during the ‘Great Rebuilding’ from 1050 to 1150: (more…)

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Walking through Chalkney Wood

The OS map shows the track in a straight line through through wood, heading north-north-east; it is part of a track that ran – almost straight – from Colchester to Cambridge, known as ‘Wool Street’, or maybe, by the Romans, as Via Devana, and also called ‘Worstead Street’. This sounds like a medieval name for a route through the wool producing area to ports for the continent, which was a major market for English wool in the Middle Ages. For a stretch west of Colchester, the track follows the line of the river Colne; it is still visible in Chalkney wood as a hollow way. (more…)

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Returning home to Ilam

The walk we undertook in June – all 250 miles of it – was circular: while not describing a perfect circle, we ended up in Settle where we had started three weeks previously. In August we joined my brother and his family in Dovedale for a much shorter walk that nevertheless completed a large circle; we were bringing the remains of my mother back to the place where she had been born nearly ninety years before. (more…)

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Our Pennine Journey

A few years ago, when we walked St Giles Way in southern France, we stayed overnight in a Chambres d’hote and the next day our host gave us a lift to the start of the day’s walk. He was keen to improve his English, so when he wished us a ‘good journey’ we tried to explain that we wouldn’t use the word ‘journey’ for a day’s walk. And yet ‘journey’ seems the obvious term for a day’s occupation coming, as it does, from the French ‘jour’ and having the same root as ‘journeyman’, which originally meant someone who was paid by the day. When walking a long distance, the day’s occupation is to walk to that night’s destination: it is a journey in a very simple sense. Yet now ‘journey’ seems to suggest a trip of some length (more…)

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Bambi and Sir Peter Horsley

Now that all those who fought in the First World War have died, and those who fought in the Second are growing old, it is becoming more important to record their experiences. As we think about commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, there seems to be more interest in remembrance than when I was a child. My own father, who served with the RAF at a meteorology station near Basra in Iraq, told only the odd amusing story of his time out there, and, as far as I can recall, never talked about his older brother, Frank, who was recorded as ‘missing in action’ and never came home. (more…)

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Peregrinations and Paths

Beginning of Pilgrimages
Beginning of Pilgrimages

The word ‘peregrination’ comes from the Latin peregrinatio meaning a journey through life; a pilgrimage; the act of travelling abroad or from place to place, a course of travel; the condition of living as a sojourner in a foreign land; a systematic going through a subject, writing, course of study etc  It is also the root for the English word ‘pilgrim’.

Pilgrimages remain popular, partly as a way of recovering the past. Recently a group of pilgrims walked from St Paul’s Cathedral, London to Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, to mark the 1000th anniversary of the returning of St Edmund’s body to the shrine in the Abbey of St Edmund.


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Edmund of Abingdon’s Mirror of Holy Church

Edmund of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1234 until his death in 1240, was canonised soon after his death and a Life of St Edmund was written by Matthew Paris, but it is for his work, Speculum religiosorum (the only extant work apart from a ‘stray sermon’ [Lawrence, p. 27] and his Moralities on the Psalms, both of which remain unedited) that he is now known.  Edmund was a theologian educated in Paris and Oxford in the early days of both universities, (more…)

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What is an anchorite?

The tradition of anchoritism – of withdrawing from the world to live in solitude – has its roots in the practices of the early Christian desert fathers.  In the Benedictine rule, anchoritism is mentioned as an elite form of monasticism:  monks who wanted a more rigorous and ascetic life would withdraw from the community and be immured in a solitary cell to live a life of prayer and contemplation, fighting the temptations of the flesh as elite soliders.  (more…)

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Letter-writers to the Times used to compete to hear the first cuckoo; in local newspapers we get letters complaining about the first sighting of Christmas cards for sale in shops – this year it was in August.  Shops put up their decorations in October, pubs and restaurants cook turkeys and television advertisements count down to Christmas.  Christmas has started before the beginning of Advent.  The lead-up to Christmas has become a season of partying as firms try to fit in their work party before everyone collapses in front of the television for Christmas Day and Boxing Day – then it’s down with the decorations on the 27th and back to work.  It was not ever thus. (more…)

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Stephen Langton and Magna Carta

Our esteemed leader may not know what ‘Magna Carta’ means (what do they teach at Eton if not Latin?) but I’m sure the educated and well-informed readers of this website know that it means ‘great charter’.  One of the main signatories of the charter, and someone involved in the negotiations that led up to the historic moment at Runnymede in 1215, was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. Langton’s precise contribution to Magna Carta is still a matter of debate, however; a paper written by David Carpenter and published only last year in the English Historical  Review is titled ‘Archbishop Langton and Magna Carta: His Contribution, His Doubts and His Hypocrisy’; it seeks to ‘expose the seeming hypocrisy of Langton’s conduct when set against the principles of the charter and the canons of his own academic thought’.  Langton is certainly an interesting and divisive character.  (more…)

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