James Rice: A 15th century Irish pilgrim to Santiago de Compostella

The names  and stories of the vast majority of  medieval pilgrims  have gone unrecorded in the Irish historical sources but thankfully there  are some  exceptions to this rule.   During the 15th century, two  pilgrimages of a Waterford  man  called James Rice to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostella were recorded in  contemporary sources.

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St James Cathedral Santiago de Compostella

Who was James Rice?

James Rice was born into a wealthy Anglo-Irish merchant family in the port town of Waterford in 15th century.  The exact date of his birth is known but  the name chosen by his parents suggests they had a devotion to St James whose cult from the 12th century onwards enjoyed great popularity across Europe.

We know also that James’s father Peter Rice  held the office of Mayor of Waterford on two occasions the first in 1426-27 and the second in 1427.  Following in the footsteps of his father,  James also  became a politician and held the office of Mayor of Waterford a staggering  eleven times.

Like the majority of people living in medieval Ireland,  James would have performed many pilgrimages  throughout his lifetime.  He  would have visited  local and regional pilgrim sites perhaps heading to Ardmore,  Co Waterford or to Lady’s Island in Co Wexford.   Unfortunately local and regional pilgrimages  tend not  to be recorded in contemporary sources as they were seen as everyday  occurrences.

Long distance pilgrimages  were very expensive and would have been beyond the finances of  most ordinary of people. Therefore to embark on a long distance pilgrimage was a rare and significant occurrence and when undertaken successful brought prestige to the pilgrim.  Being a man of means James Rice was able to  go on at least two long distance pilgrimages that we know of  to the shrine of St James at Santiago do Compostella in Spain.  To give you some idea of the  expense of such  a journey,    Irish pilgrims making the return journey from Spain to Ireland  on-board the ill-fated ship the  La Mary London  in the 15th century paid seven shillings and six pence per head  just for the return leg of  the journey (1400 miles sea voyage).   This was the equivalent  of several weeks wages for an average working man.

So why go all the way  to  Santiago  when there were many pilgrim sites closer to home?  At a basic level James Rice probably had  a great devotion to his namesake St James who was one of the most popular saints in  Ireland.  Santiago was also a high status pilgrim site,  one of the most popular pilgrim destinations in the  medieval  world,  attracting vast numbers of pilgrims from across Europe. It was  also associated with miracles and  it was a place where  indulgences could be obtained.

Pilgrimages to Santiago

In  1473 James made his first pilgrimage to Santiago.  At the time he held the position of  Mayor of Waterford.  His pilgrimage was recorded as he was vacating his office for the duration of the pilgrimage  and protocol required that he applied for permission to parliament to appoint a deputy mayor in his absence.  His request was  granted and  he embarked on  pilgrimage.

As Waterford was a port town  with trade links with France and Spain its likely James travelled by boat to the port of Corunna and then headed  on foot to Santiago. Having arrived at his destination he  would have found somewhere to stay.  Most pilgrims spent the night  in a vigil within the  cathedral in front of the high altar. The next day pilgrims  attended mass and  during the ceremony they presented their  offerings.  Pilgrims would also have made confession and  obtained  certificates of pilgrimage in the Capilla del Rey de Francia.  There are no records detailing James experiences but he must have visited the relics of the saint and perhaps even purchased some souvenirs.  From the 12th century scallop shells were sold to pilgrims in the cathedral square and a small number have been found in Irish medieval burials.

 

Ten years later Rice decided to go on a second pilgrimage to Santiago in the year 1483.  1483 was the Jubilee year at Santiago. In 1181  Pope Alexander III granted jubilee years to the shrine, whenever the feast of St James fell on a Sunday.  Pilgrims  who came at this time  received a plenary indulgence (a remission from all sin) once they made their confession, attended Mass, gave a donation for the upkeep of the shrine, and undertook to perform good works.

Rice was again in public office as the Mayor of Waterford.  The Statue Rolls of the Irish Parliament record that prior to his departure  on pilgrimage, Rice’s made a formal requested to take up the pilgrim staff.  Permission was granted  to embark on his  second pilgrimage under the proviso that the mayor and  the two bailiffs who accompanied him were to appoint replacement deputies acceptable to Waterford city council for the duration of their absence ). The names of his bailiffs were Patrick Mulligan and Philip Bryan.

Prior to departure on this second pilgrimage Rice commissioned a chapel dedicated to St James and St Catherine  connected to Christ Church Cathedral  in Waterford.  The chapel was  consecrated in 1482 (Bradley & Halpin 1992, 119).  Following the completion of his pilgrimage James returned to Waterford where he lived out the rest of his days. He was eventually laid to rest with the chapel in an elaborate  tomb. The chapel was later taken to extend the cathedral yard and moved into  the nave of the  Cathedral church.

 

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Tomb of James Rice

 

The tomb consist of a  chest  with images of saints carved on all sides.  The apostles are found on the north side; James the minor, Thomas, John, James the Major, Andrew and Peter and on the south side:  Matthias Jude, Simeon, Matthew, Bartholomew and Philip.

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St. James Major (N. side, 3rd from W. end of the Rice tomb taken from the Edwin Rae Collection TRIARC http://hdl.handle.net/2262/56205

The west end of the tomb bears the images of St Margaret of Antioch, the Virgin and Child and St Catherine of Alexandria.  The east end depicts St Edmund the Confessor, the Holy Trinity and St Patrick.  An elaborately carved  cadaver  lies on top the tomb. It is wrapped in a shroud knotted at the head and feet  which has fallen open.

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Image of Cadaver from the Edwin Rea Collection TRIARC  http://hdl.handle.net/2262/56072

Frogs and toads are emerging from the body which is surrounded by  a Latin inscription that translates as

Here lies ‘James Rice,one time citizen of this city,founder of this chapel,and Catherine Broun, his wife.

Whoever you may be, passerby, Stop, weep as you read. I am what you are going to be, and I was what you are.

I beg of you, pray for me ! It is  our lot to pass through the jaws of death.

Lord Christ, we beg of thee, we implore thee, be merciful to us!

Thou who has come to redeem the lost condemn not the redeemed.

 

James Rice is just one of many  Irish people who  went on pilgrimage to Santiago  its likely if he had not been in office at the time of his  pilgrimages they would have gone unrecorded.

References

Bradley, J. and Halpin, A. 1992. The topographical development of Scandinavian and Anglo-Norman Waterford City. In (eds) Nolan, W. & Power, T.  Waterford History and Society Interdisciplinary Essays on theHistory of an Irish County.  Dublin: Geography Publications, 105-130.

Connolly, P. (ed.) 2002. Statue Rolls of the Irish Parliament, Richard III-Henry VIII. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

McEneaney, E. 1995.  A History of Waterford and its Mayors, from the 12th century to the 20th century. Waterford: Waterford Corporation.

 

 

 

 

Irish pilgrims and the medieval shrine of St Wulstan at Worcester

St Wulfstan of Worcester

The 19th of January is the feast day of St Wulfstan (also known as Wulstan or  Wolstan) an 11th century Anglo-Saxon saint associated with Worcester. This post sets out to explore the saint’s connections with Ireland.

Wulfstan was born in the year 1008 at Long Itchington, Warwickshire.  As a young man he entered the priory of Worcester as a novice, he went on to become the cathedral prior before becoming the Bishop of Worcester in 1062. He had a reputation as a pious man.

He devoted his whole life to the care of his diocese, visiting, preaching, and confirming without intermission, rebuilding his cathedral  in the simple Saxon style, planting new churches everywhere, and retaining the ascetic personal habits which he had acquired in the cloister.  His life, notwithstanding his assiduous labours, was one of continuous prayer and recollection; the Psalms were always on his lips, and he recited the Divine Office aloud with his attendants as he rode through the country in discharge of his episcopal duties (Hunter-Blair, 1912).

Wulfstan was also a vegetarian.  It was said that once while preaching he became distracted by the smell of cooking meat and from that day forth abstained from eating meat.  He was an outspoken opponent of the slave trade between Ireland and Bristol and played a large part in the ending of the practice between the two countries.

Following the Norman Conquest of England, Wulstan submitted to King William I and was permitted to retain his position as bishop. By 1075 he was the only Saxon prelate left in England.  Wulfstan died at the age of 87 in the year 1095 during his daily service of washing the feet of twelve of the poor of Worcester and he was buried at the cathedral.  A rash of miracles were recorded at Wulfstan’s tomb in the year following his death. His  cult seems to have remained local until the early 1200’s.

Shortly  after his death, Wulfstan’s Life  was composed by his former chancellor Colman. The text which was written in English has not survived but it was translated into Latin by the medieval chronicler and historian William of Malmesbury in the late twelfth century,  prior Wulfstan’s canonisation in 1203 .  This text records many miracle by the saint performed during his lifetime and in the years following his death.  Fires at the cathedral and priory in the years 1113, 1147, 1189 and 1202  left Wulfstan’s  tomb  intact and without damage. This was seen by some as further evidence of his sanctity and fanned the flames of his cult.  Wulfstan was canonized in 1203 by Pope Innocent III following a papal commission into the authenticity of his cult and miracles at  his shrine.

By 1218 the earnings from offerings of pilgrims to Worcester was sufficient to have contributed to the rebuilding of the church and a new shrine for the saint (Spencer 1988, 40).  King John (1166-1216) who had a great devotion to Wulfstan was one of the most high status pilgrims to visit Worcester. Such was his devotion to the saint he went on pilgrimage several times and requested to be buried in front of the high altar between St Oswald and St Wulfstan.

So what are St Wulfstan’s connections with Ireland?

The cult of Wulfstan would have arrived in Ireland through the long-established the trade links with Bristol and Dublin  and through settlers from Bristol (Spencer 1988, 38). Bristol was located at the edge of the diocese of Worcester the heartland  of Wulfstan’s cult.

John Comyn archbishop of Dublin, was on the panel religious appointed by the Pope Innocent III  to verify the authenticity of miracles attributed to the saint prior to canonisation (Darlington 1928, 141-3). Given his testament to  Wulfstan’s sanctity perhaps he also had a role in promoting the saints cult in Dublin.

Devotion to the saint is represented by the dedication of the  Abbey of St Wolstan’s  (a variant of Wulfstan), established near Celbridge Co. Kildare by Adam de Hereford, as a monastery in the Order of St Victor circa 1202. This was around the time  Wulfstan was canonised by Pope Innocent III  (Kildare Historical Website).  According to Cane (1918, 55) this abbey was also known as ” Scala Coeli” or ” the Ladder of Heavan” and it grew to become one of the largest monasteries in Ireland with extensive lands in Kildare and Dublin, its buildings covering an estimated 20 acres. It was the first Irish monastery to be dissolved on the orders of Henry VIII.  No physical trace of the monastery remains today but Crane states in the early 1900’s

The remains of the priory buildings consist of two large archaways which I imagine formed the north and south gates of the main enclosure, 200 yards apart, a tall square tower or keep 50 yards further.

We know of two Irish people went on pilgrimage to Worcester.  The first pilgrim was mentioned  in the Vita Wulfstani/Life of Wulfstan. The Vita records a miracle bestowed on an Irish pilgrim to Worcester.

This miracle refers to the healing of an Irishman named Pippard, whose tongue had been cut out by Hugh de Laci, Earl of Ulster from 1205 until his expulsion from Ireland in 1210. The Annals of Worcester record that Pippard built a church in Ireland in honour of St Wulfstan and gave it to the church of Worcester together, with 30 carucates of land (a carucate being the amount of land that could be tilled by a team of eight oxen in a ploughing season) (Roswell 2012; Darlington 1928, 141).

This passage implies Irish pilgrims were visiting St Wulfstan’s shrine in the late 12th/early 13th century prior to and following the canonisation although it is difficult to quantify in what numbers.  To reach the shrine pilgrims would have  travelled by ship to Bristol and  then on  to Worcester.

Evidence of a second Irish pilgrimage  and  devotion to the saint was discovered during excavations of medieval Dublin, when a pilgrim ampulla (tiny flask) from the shrine at Worcester, was found at High Street.  The ampulla  is now on display at the National Museum of Ireland at Kildare street.

Pilgrim ampulla found in excavations at High Street, Dublin in the late 1960s. The object is thought to date c.1225–50. © The National Museum of Ireland, published with permission

Pilgrim ampulla found in excavations at High Street, Dublin in the late 1960s. The object is thought to date c.1225–50. © The National Museum of Ireland (Image http://vidimus.org/issues/issue-58/feature/)

The flask is decorated on two sides, on one side there is an image of St Wulfstan dressed as bishop, the Virgin Mary appears on the other side. Worcester cathedral was dedicated to St Mary and from the 12th century  it  was in possession of a statue of St Mary which attracted great devotion and pilgrims. By the 15th century devotion to this statue suppressed that of Wulfstan and Oswald.

From the 12th century many pilgrim shrines sold specially designed souvenirs such as badges and ampullae, that depicted imagery specific to the shrine to pilgrims.  Ampullae were especially popular in England. The Dublin ampulla which dates to the 13th century was purchased by an Irish pilgrim at Worcester and would have contained holy water obtained at the shrine (Spenser 1988, 40). The Dublin find is very unique as it is the only known pilgrim souvenir from Worcester to have survived.

It’s very likely that these  two pilgrims represent only a fraction of  Irish pilgrims to who travelled Worcester.

References

Darlington, R. 1928.  (ed.), The Vita Wulfstani of William of Malmesbury, London: Royal Historical Society.

Flower, R. 1940. ‘A Metrical Life of St Wulfstan of Worcester’, National Library of Wales Journal, i/3, 119-130.

Hunter-Blair, O. 1912. St. Wolstan. In The Catholic Encyclopaedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved January 14, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15687a.htm

Kildare Local History. ‘History of Celbridge’, http://kildarelocalhistory.ie/celbridge/history-of-celbridge/churches-monasteries/

Roswell, R. 2012.  ‘Medieval Painted and Stain Glass at Worcester Cathedral Priory, Part II: The Priory Cloisters’ Vidimus Journal  Vol. 58, http://vidimus.org/issues/issue-58/feature/

Spencer, B 1988. ‘Pilgrim Souvenirs’, In Wallace, P (ed.) Miscellanea 1. MedievalDublin Excavations 1962-81(Series B) Vol.2 Fascicules 1-5. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 33-48.