The Holy Blood: King Henry III and the Westminster Blood Relic

Article excerpt

The Holy Blood: King Henry III and the Westminster Blood Relic. By Nicholas Vincent. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2001. Pp. xiii, 254. $50.00.)

Relics purported to be from the veritable body of Jesus Christ proliferated in Europe in the later Middle Ages. The response to these relics ranged from religious devotion to hysteria, from skepticism to wholesale condemnation. In 1247 King Henry III processed through the streets of London to present a relic of the Holy Blood, a gift from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to Westminster Abbey. The main source for this event is an account written at the request of the king by the historian Matthew Paris, a monk at St. Albans. Nicholas Vincent has discovered an important letter in the archives of Westminster Abbey that suggests that the Patriarch of Jerusalem offered the relic to Henry III in an attempt to gain the king's financial support and participation in crusading activities in the Holy Land, a bid that was not successful. Leading from the discovery of this letter,Vincent launched his own investigation of the events of 1247, and set out to answer one question above all others: why was it so difficult for the Westminster relic to find acceptance as a genuine relic of Christ's blood? In his quest Vincent goes well beyond the events of 1247 to provide a history of blood relics prior to 1247 and to recount the arguments of theologians from the twelfth to the fifteenth century who debated whether or not relics from Christ's body could or could not exist.

Vincent examines the great popularity of blood relics given to Hailes Abbey and Ashridge by Henry III's nephew, Edmund of Cornwall, this in contrast to the unsuccessful attempts to encourage veneration of the relic of the Holy Blood at Westminster. …


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