A Curious Find: The Tomb of Remigius in Lincoln Cathedral
by Timothy R. Jones
On the 8th May 1092, The body of Remigius De Fecamp was interred in the yet un-consecrated cathedral of Lincoln. The first Bishop of the newly-created diocese of Lincoln had passed away just days before his new seat of power was to be officially recognised as a cathedral by the Bishops and King William II. As the black marble slab was placed over the body of Remigius, the task of securing the consecration fell to his successor, Bishop Robert Bloet, who also had the future of his establishment in mind when orchestrating the final resting place of Remigius. The medieval practice of sanctifying high-ranking clergymen was widespread and lucrative and presented the perfect opportunity for the fledgling cathedral to secure a steady income in the form of ‘Saint Remigius’. Alas, this vision was not shared by Pope Urban II who forbade his canonisation. Remigius’ tomb was lost as a result of centuries of repair works to the cathedral, but was unearthed in the Angel Choir in 1927.
Pilgrimage in medieval England was deeply physical in nature. The faithful would travel vast distances and pay for the opportunity to pray directly in front of a saint’s tomb and to touch the stone which encased the sanctified remains This was a direct communion with divine power and one which possessed healing and invigorating qualities. As such, cathedrals often made detailed preparations for the canonisation of a deceased bishop so that this could be fully exploited. Remigius was discovered in the angel choir, located behind where the altar would have stood in the first design of the cathedral. This, in the context of eleventh century Lincoln is significant because it shows a concerted emphasis on the body of Remigius because he is placed in the most symbolically important space of the building. He is in proximity to where the clergy performed the consecration ritual and the implication of this is that this body was also seen as a manifestation of divine power, in the same manner as a saint’s might have been, and worthy of this position. The dynamic of space is also present in the location of his tomb. Remigius was placed at the very end of the church which allowed for a rotational system in which pilgrims could journey down the nave to the tomb and then return via the opposite side of the nave. This would have theoretically provided an efficient method of shepherding the faithful, preventing congestion and injury to those offering prayer and seeking spiritual intervention. Further evidence for this exists in the later early English decorated style of the later thirteenth century in which the two-way system is implemented and centred around the tomb of Lincoln’s long-awaited first saint, Hugh, and is even flanked by two large archway doors to allow for access to the tomb for pilgrims. This reflects the attention that was being afforded to Remigius immediately after his death in the understanding that he was to be canonised. He was essentially being treated as a saint-in-waiting.
The cathedral that Remigius built was ravaged by fire and partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1185 and his remains were unaccounted for following these successive tragedies. The excavation of his burial however, refutes this and further elaborates on the perception of Remigius in England. Whilst immediate canonisation had not occurred, there were still concerted efforts to make Remigius a saint, most notably Gerald of Wales who detailed the miracles that took place at his tomb, though these were ultimately unsuccessful. The reports of miracles, whilst deemed insufficient to grant papal beautification, were enough to maintain Remigius’s presence in the Angel choir and his regional prestige appears not to have suffered as a result of his papal rejection. This endearment appears to have dissipated when Lincoln acquired a legitimate saint in Bishop Hugh, whose Tomb occupied the new space in the thirteenth-century design of the Cathedral. Whilst the restriction of not being a saint did not dissuade the faithful from flocking to Remiguis’ remains, the presence of a genuine saint gradually eroded at his authority until his tomb became almost obsolete compared to that of his saintly counterpart. It was this evolution in the relationship between the church and the tomb of Remigius that allowed for it to become lost during the renovations to the building before it resurfaced and was reburied in the nave, facing the last visible trace of the Norman cathedral façade that Remigius raised almost 1000 years ago.
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Silvestri, Angelo. Power, Politics and Episcopal Authority: The Bishops of Cremona and Lincoln in the Middle Ages, 1066- 1340 (Cambridge, 2015).