Christmas treasures including pieces of Christ’s manger were among a host of precious objects gifted to one favoured English abbey, new analysis has revealed.
Expert study of a 580-year-old manuscript details an array of festive relics that were given to Battle Abbey by William the Conqueror and King John.
The astonishing list of objects stored at the abbey, situated near site of the Battle of Hastings, was revealed by English Heritage.
Dating back to the mid-15th century, the manuscript is one of only 30 or so relic inventories to still survive from medieval England, and mentions 175 individual relics.
From pieces of what was believed to be the manger where Christ was born, to the hair shirt and finger bone of St Nicholas – the original Santa Claus, the relics housed at Battle Abbey were some of the most prestigious objects gifted to any abbey in England – some more significant even than those given to Westminster Abbey, English Hertiage said.
Dr Michael Carter, English Heritage historian, said: “The collecting and cherishing of relics was an important aspect of medieval monasticism and I am thrilled to think that I could have been the first person in over 500 years to study the glorious list from Battle Abbey in detail.
“It’s fascinating how connections to our Christmas today can be traced back almost a thousand years and despite Henry VIII’s violent suppression, these great monasteries are still giving up their secrets.
“There’s no greater endorsement than a king giving a gift of relics so this list reveals just how significant a place Battle Abbey was.
“William the Conqueror alone gave far more to Battle Abbey than any other abbey in England, illustrating just how important the site of his victory at the Battle of Hastings remained.”
Seasonal highlights transcribed from the inventory include:
– Relics from the ground where Christ was born
– Relics from the manger
– Hair shirt and finger bone of St Nicholas, obtained possibly by the Battle monks themselves in 1089 when the saint’s relics were moved to a shrine in Italy
– Stones used to stone St Stephen (his feast day is 26th December, Boxing Day)
– Relics of several of the Holy Innocents killed on the orders of King Herod (feast on 28th December) thought to have been part of William the Conqueror’s gift
Other gifts were given by King John when he visited the abbey in 1200 and presented the monks with the very holiest relics of the Holy Sepulchre (Christ’s tomb) and True Cross (the very cross on which Christ suffered and died).
Dr Michael Carter’s research is published in The Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies.
Picture: Battle Abbey in East Sussex. (Dan Tsantilis/English Heritage/PA).