From the Gallows to the Holy Land: Medieval Pilgrimage on BBC Radio 3

31 October 2018 09:45
de Montfort memorial
Modern memorial marking the burial site of Simon de Montfort at Evesham

This week, Lancaster History's Dr Sophie Ambler took part in an episode of BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking, the station's flagship arts and ideas programme. The episode, made in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council, explores new research on medieval pilgrimage.

Dr Ambler discussed her research on the cult of Simon de Montfort, who was acclaimed a martyr and saint after his death at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. Hundreds of pilgrims from all levels of society travelled across the kingdom to visit the battlefield and to pray to Simon, hoping to be healed of their illness or disability.

The case of Simon's cult is unusual. His status as a saint was founded upon popular opinion at a time when the papacy was strictly controlling who could and could not be considered a saint. More than this, the widespread belief in his sanctity arose not only without official sanction but actually in opposition to the decrees of Church and king. Simon had led a revolution against the king and overturned the order of society; the pope declared him a rebel and excommunicate, while the king, after Evesham, strove to ensure that his actions were not celebrated and that his memory would be forgotten. Visiting his shrine was, therefore, a subversive political act.

Also taking part in the discussion we Professor Catherine Clarke of the University of Southampton, an expert on pilgrimage to the shrine of St Thomas de Cantilupe at Hereford Cathedral, and Professor Anthony Bale of Birkbeck College, University of London, whose expertise lies in journeys to Jerusalem, including the pilgrimage of Margery Kempe, who authored her own account of her experiences.

The episode is available to download via BBC Sounds.

Dr Ambler's new biography of Simon de Montfort, The Song of Simon de Montfort: England's First Revolutionary and the Death of Chivalry, will be published in May 2019 with Picador in the UK and OUP in the USA.

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