From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

St Kenelm's Church

52°25'29.0"N 2°04'59.7"W
12th Century

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St Kenelm's Church is located at the foot of the Clent Hills, close to the village of Romsley, Worcestershire.

Saint Kenelm , Cynehelm, was an Anglo-Saxon saint who was venerated throughout medieval England. He was even mentioned in the Canterbury Tales, part of the Nun's Priest's Tale, in which the cockerel Chaunteecleer tries to demonstrate the reality of prophetic dreams to his wife Pertelote. William of Malmesbury, writing in the 12th century, recounted that "there was no place in England to which more pilgrims travelled than to Winchcombe on Kenelm's feast day"

In the legend of St Kenelm, he was a member of the royal family of Mercia, a boy king and martyr, murdered by an ambitious relative despite receiving a prophetic dream warning him of the danger. His body, after being concealed, was discovered by miraculous intervention, and transported by the monks of Winchcombe to a major shrine. There it remained for several hundred years.

The two locales most closely linked to this legend are the Clent Hills, south of Birmingham, England, identified as the scene of his murder, and the small Gloucestershire town of Winchcombe, near Cheltenham, where his body was interred.

St Kenelm's legend has little relation to any known facts. It can be ascertained from the wider historical record that, on the death of Offa of Mercia, his son Ecgfrith of Mercia was crowned but his reign lasted only 20 weeks and he was presumably killed in battle. He was succeeded by a distant cousin, Coenwulf of Mercia, whose son was Kenelm.

It is likely that Coenwulf 'hallowed' Kenelm to the throne, for a letter dated 798, allegedly from Pope Leo III to 'King Kenelm', gives his age as 12. In 799, Kenelm witnessed a deed of gift of land to Christ Church, Canterbury, and from 803 onwards his name appears on a variety of charters. He died in 811, aged 25. The historical records also indicate that Kenelm's sister, Cwenthryth, Quendryda, had entered the cloister at the time of her father's death and was the abbess of Minster-in-Thanet.

For many years, villagers celebrated St Kenelm's Day, the 17 July, with a village fair and the ancient custom of "crabbing the parson" - bombarding the unfortunate cleric with a volley of crab apples.

The church was restored in 1846, although it dates back to the 12th century. The church has been altered many times, it shows in the architecture. Doors and windows have been added with old ones blocked off, it is a mix of Norman, English and 19th Century designs. The building consists of red and grey coursed sandstone rubble with sandstone ashlar dressings and repairs, the plain tiled roof has gable-end parapets and kneelers with crocketted corner pinnacles situated above winged gargoyles. Nave and chancel are Norman and the slim west tower was added in the 15th century. The undercroft once held the shrine of St Kenelm, this and a holy spring nearby, attracted many pilgrims.