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St KENELM'S TRAIL

INTRODUCTION

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Saint Kenelm is one of the most important Saints of medieval England, one referred to in the Canterbury Tales and venerated throughout England. Indeed, William of Malmesbury, writing in the twelfth century, reported that 'there was no place in England to which more pilgrims travelled than to Winchcombe on Kenelm's feast day'. His legend identifies him as a member of the royal family of Mercia, a Boy-King and martyr, murdered to further the interests of an ambitious relative. After his body was concealed, it came to light by virtue of miraculous intervention and was transported by the Monks of Winchcombe to a major shrine where it was venerated for several hundred years.

The Clent Hills - Start of The St Kenelm's Way

The two places most commonly associated with the legend of Kenelm are the Clent Hills, south of Birmingham, identified as the scene of his murder and the small Gloucestershire town of Winchcombe, near Cheltenham where his body was eventually interred. This trail links these places and recalls the journey recorded as being taken by the monks of St. Peter's Abbey, Winchcombe, with the Saint's remains. It is a journey across many memorable landscapes, visiting numerous ancient villages, passing by several places of historic interest such as the picturesque, historic yet obscure Huddington Court and conclude with a spectacular finish through the grounds of the more famous Sudeley Castle.  

If the legend of St Kenelm is the central idea of the walk, I would suggest that the unifying theme can be identified as the religious life of Medieval England. As many as ten churches dating from the Middle Ages can be found on the route; in addition there are two holy wells associated with Kenelm and two ruined monasteries (Winchcombe and Hailes Abbey), which were also important pilgrim sites. If we also consider the famous monasteries that lie near the route at Halesowen, Worcester, Evesham, Pershore and Tewkesbury it can be seen that area covered by the walk has a rich and ancient religious tradition. Not surprisingly perhaps, this area figured prominently in opposition to the Reformation with many  nearby manor houses being associated with the Gunpowder Plot; in particular Coughton Court, Hagley Hall and Hewell Grange, all of which lie near the walk and Huddingdon Court which is actually on it.

The walk also recalls the Old Religion of England because it invites the participant to escape from urban life and glimpse the rural world of seasonal birth, death and regeneration which formed the reality of daily existance of the Medieval England and which were rendered meaningful by the cycle of liturgical and sacramental celebrations of the churches we still see today. In this context, we can begin to understand how the story of the murder and sanctification of a Boy-King offered hope of renewal and why it held such a hold on the collective imagination of the period. It is also something to contemplate as we view the fascinating trail of religious monuments present on this route. 

 

Buy the guide to the St Kenelm's Trail