Eadmer’s letter to Glastonbury monks.
How it is that the monks of Glastonbury claim to have the body of St Dunstan.
Brother Eadmer, one of the least in goodness and learning among the sons and brethren of Christchurch, Canterbury, greets the glorious community of monks at Glastonbury Abbey with the loyal friendship and loving service in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I remember how I came to visit you once, some time ago. You received me with great rejoicing and honour, and for as long as I wished to remain with you, you kept me with great celebration and jubilation. Even now I feel grateful to you for this, and I shall continue grateful to you as long as I live. While this, therefore, ought to be and is my attitude toward you, I fancy it will surprise no one if I love your honour, if I applaud those things which benefit you, and if I loathe and detest whatever causes your shame. If I did otherwise, how could I be your loyal friend? How could I be said truly to observe the duty of brotherly love? The importance this should have for a Christian who would attain the Kingdom of God is seen by the man who puts his faith in the words of the apostle, saying that everyone who does not love his brother is a homicide and that such a man should have no share in the Kingdom of God and Christ. You will see my reasons for saying this at the beginning.
There are some among you, recent members of your community, as I am aware, who claimed that your fathers of old were thieves and robbers and, worse, that they committed sacrilege. They make it a point of praise that they did so, perhaps drunk on the same desire, ignoring the words of Sacred Scripture,’ nor thieves nor robbers shall inherit the Kingdom of God’. Moreover, they reinforce their point, affirming that those men were like Judas the traitor who, though he kept the Lords purse, wickedly stole what he should have kept. Oh, men, who know your brethren! Who hear attentively the Lord’s words! A hundred and more years have passed since they left this present life, those men whom these now claim to have been thieves and robbers. And now only at this late stage is such a grave reproach brought against them, and most unhappily they are now newly consigned to eternal punishment, to which according to judgement of these accusers they are condemned for torment. Truly, a great irreverence. For if those old men were not such as these now claim they were, the irreverence of their accusers is not lessened; no, without a doubt, it is worse, because they defame the innocent and reveal themselves to all and sundry as shameless liars.
God’s truth is my witness, all knowing and all ruling. For when I was still a boy at school, Archbishop Lanfranc of blessed memory, Primate of all Britain, had all this performed: the whole people of Canterbury were ordered the fast; the body of the blessed farther Dunstan was lifted from its first burial place, in the presence of Scotland, Abbot of St Augustine’s and of Gundulf (who was later to become Bishop of Rochester) and of the whole company of monks of both churches, that is of our own Christ church and of the neighbouring church of St Peter and St Paul, now usually called St Augustine’s. An untold crowd of men and women assembled, who all followed the heavenly treasure, rejoicing at with voice and heart, to the place where it was to be reburied. The whole day was spent full of joy and solemnity and made bright with divine miracles.
It is 50 years since that happened and now some of your community… if they really are your community…. have stood up and put it about wherever they like that, 100 years ago there were monks from your church assigned as keepers for ours, which was at that time left desolate, so they say, on account of the martyrdom of our glorious father Elphege, and that these keepers with deceitful cunning stole what was held most precious. Alas, men more wicked than all others! The mother church of all Britain was afflicted by the death of its father and its sons, and she took refuge as with a uniquely beloved daughter and… supposing for the sake of argument that this happened… They thereby trusted that your church should safeguard her relics and her very self.
Your church, as you yourselves claim, sent the best of her sons to do what was requested, but these men, having become keepers of the relics, invaded the womb of the mother they had come to protect, tore it open, looted her heart and bowels, snatched in carried away. The Jews, when they took custody of our Lord’s body for fear that it might be carried off by the apostles, did not fail to regard it as long as they were able, nor did they attempt to steal it or otherwise to make off with what was entrusted to them. Rather they accused others of having stolen it while they themselves slept.
If those keepers from Glastonbury had done this, that is, if they had said that the sacrilege for which they are praised had been committed by others while they themselves were asleep, perhaps they would have had some regard for their own reputation and would not have besmirched it in this detestable way. As it is, what are we to say? As we stated out at the beginning, we show that they were like Judas in their theft. But it is not we who says so; rather it is their own modern brethren at Glastonbury. Assuredly we know for certain that those men are not guilty of this sin.
What does this matter to the fellows who accuse their own brethren, nay, their own fathers, with such silly concocted lies. Surely neither brethren nor fathers. For if these fellows were brethren or sons of those men, surely natural affection or even common decency would teach them to curb their tongues and the mind their own reputations. But granted that the whole brethren of Glastonbury used their cunning to make possible the concealment of their theft from everyone, they are said to have brought with them the courts of one of their own abbots, whose name is unknown to those who put about the story, and have set this in the holy father Dunstan’s coffin so that it should not stand empty. What forethought! Were there not bones of dead men between Canterbury and Glastonbury that it should have been necessary for them, in order to conceal their theft, to have carried the corpse of someone they knew not over a distance of perhaps 200 miles?
Your reverence must understand how, writing this, I am confounded by such patent stupidity, worthy of everyone’s scorn, especially because it is said that these tales were made up by Englishman. Alas, why did you not look overseas, where they have more experience, more learning, and know better how to make up such stories? You could even have paid someone to make up a plausible lie for you on a matter of such importance. Oh, poor pitiable you, and men of my nation, to be blackened with such stupidity that you are forever judged worthy of universal derision.
So I ask these men who lay claim to this remarkable sacrilege that they tell me, their compatriot, did they really carry the body of their supposed abbot, recently deceased and still intact, from Glastonbury to Canterbury? And did he wear the chausuble and the pallium with its pin, as an Archbishop should, was he shod with Bishop sandals, or not? And if he had all these, how did it come about? Forgetting the rest for the moment, how did he come to have the pallium? Surely the Abbots of Glastonbury did not wear the pallium in days gone by? This is only granted by Rome and the Holy See to patriarchs and primates and archbishops.
No one has ever heard of a patriarch of Glastonbury, or even the Bishop. So your predecessors carried to Canterbury a body dressed as an Archbishop in order to deceive posterity, they were committing an affront to the Roman pontiff and to all Christian men who keep the faith under the direction of St Peter, a notorious affront which deserves all manner of disgrace. It is known that they had no authority from the Apostolic See. They made it up at the devil’s prompting or they got it made up by persons like themselves. I can assure you that the body we found was in this condition, intact and fittingly adorned with chausuble, ring, pallium, pin, and sandals. With it was found in inscription on a lead tablet which clearly stated that there lay the body of St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Have you, pray, any writings to prove matters stood thus? Namely to say that the body of that Abbott was decked out as I have described? Again, I ask, did your fathers and brethren of old, who were brought…so you say…to guard the relics of our deserted church, did they bring with them that body to replace St Dunstan’s as being without worries as to the success of the coming theft? Or did they come here first and take away the Glastonbury the exhumed body of our father, and did they there despoil it of its pontifical garments, and then bring back here your own abbot, dressed in St Dunstan’s robes, to be placed in the grave from which our father was taken? Whichever of these you may say happened, it is easy even for a blind man to see that it would be madness to believe you.
O unhappy men! who are so entangled in their own stupidity that they cannot understand how wiser men could not fail to detect this blundering. Christ who is the Truth says,’ the truth shall make you free’. Yet your soothsayers today say, ‘our fathers theft and sacrilege and our own lies will bring honour to our church and to ourselves’. What a lie! ‘Our fathers, they say, stole the body of St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of all Britain, from his church, and they took our own abbot, removed the such sacrilege, since he was no use to us, to Canterbury and set him in St Dunstan’s grave’. Oh joy! O sorrow! Oh that your church should be enhanced by so great a gain.
But what will you do, I beg you, enemies of pure truth, when Truth himself will come to destroy all who spread lies? For it is clearer than the light of day to all that what you claim about your fathers is lies. When they were invited to Canterbury, they did not bring with them their Abbot’s corpse. Nor, when they dwelt here, did they remove Dunstan’s body and bring it in the other. The former would be an act of extreme and incredible stupidity… No, extreme and incredible madness; but the latter would be an act of audacity impossible to bring about. For when the saint himself had his grave dug, the account of his life truly bears witness to the fact that the depth of his grave was sunk as much as a man’s height into the ground.
What possibility could there have been for such as scandalous theft? Moreover, the church was at no point destitute of its own sons, nor was the city of Canterbury ever emptied of its people. In addition, one should consider that when the blessed martyr suffered death, the church itself was not burnt nor were its roof or walls damaged. For we know it was profaned and looted of many ornaments, and that an attempt was made to burn it, by a fire started from outside, so that the savage troops could force out the Bishop, protecting himself within when the invader had ordered him to leave.
When he came out and they seized him, they abandoned their fire and their other traps set to catch him. They killed a few monks in his sight and took him away, bringing him to the place intended for his death, where they afflicted him with tortures and injuries and destroyed him. Since these are the facts, how much effrontery does it take to claim that, in the sight of everyone, the floor of the church was dug up to the depth of the grave… 7 feet on all sides, for otherwise they could not reach the body? Then, the story goes, having removed the body of the Holy Father Dunstan, they left the grave open for a fortnight, while the monks return to Glastonbury with what they had stolen. There they found that their Abbot was dead on their arrival (I shall not say he was done to death), so they remove St Dunstan’s pontifical adornments and dressed the Abbot’s body in them. Then they hastily carried this body… was it on and ass’s back?…. to Canterbury and placed it in the grave.
How much effrontery? Again, I ask: What all the land between Glastonbury and Canterbury a deserted waste in those days, that they should be free to go and return without hindrance, carrying such a treasure wherever they would? Or was it not? Surely at the date when you claimed this was happening, the terror of the Danes swarmed all over. Nowhere was peaceful, nowhere safe, wars and troubles raged all around. On top of all this, as is surely known, the body of St Dunstan had been buried in the middle of the choir at the foot of the steps leading to the high altar, in a lead coffin, and a great depth, as the English once used to bury their dead.
How can it have happened, therefore, that the monks of Canterbury tolerated such a gaping hole for so many days until the nameless Abbot was brought and deposited in Dunstan’s empty grave? We know from what Osbern relates that at least four monks survived the slaughter, not to mention the clerks who assisted them in maintaining the service of the church. Their patience was wonderful, and more wonderful was their awaiting the arrival of the Abbot, whose name was perhaps Wlsinus.
For God’s sake, is there anyone who can help but laugh at such nonsense? We could go on to pile up more arguments, no less suited to show the foolishness of this pretence, but we should spare the embarrassment of your sacred Abbey. It is a shame and disgrace that Glastonbury fosters, feeds, embraces such men as so did fame it. No monks of Glastonbury came to Canterbury in those days as they make out, nor did they dwell here. There were none to snatch St Dunstan’s body, and it was never taken from us, nor ever brought to you. But your claim is not that it was brought by others on any other occasion. Confess therefore that your soothsayers have spoken falsehoods, and that it is in every way untrue to claim that you have anything of St Dunstan’s body. Look to your reputation, therefore, and curb your tongues from such vanities. Let truth be brought to mind, even if you have forgotten it.
Know… there is no room for doubt…that once Aethelnoth, Abbot, or rather former Abbot of Glastonbury, and one or two of his monks lived for a long time over Canterbury. I call him former Abbot because as a general synod of the English church he was deposed of his abbacy by Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, and he was placed under such confinement at Canterbury as fitted his position. At that time the number of the monks serving Christ and St Dunstan here exceeded sixty. If then there were ever monks of Glastonbury who stole St Dunstan’s body, I think it was those. Yet during the period when they were at Canterbury, the body had already been translated, as I have described above, from its first burial place into a place where they could have had no access. It was not taken by them; therefore, it was not taken by any of your monks.
If you listen to my advice, you will remove those bones which you have loaded onto the image of our Redeemer, before He is Himself angry with you. It is sufficient that He be honoured for Himself and there is no need to keep up holiness on Him through dead men’s bones or otherwise. My brethren, think and think again, what is it honourable for you to think, what is it proper for you to say, what is it right for you to do?
100 years and more have passed since the martyrdom of St Elphege. No one who was present is still alive today, or at least no one who remembers being present. To this day I have never heard that anyone who was there at the time has ever said or written anything concerning these matters which you have put about… Not a single word, spoken or written, that any sane man could accept.
Drop these playground stories, therefore, and behave like mature and intelligent men, love St Dunstan as your father and patron and speak the truth about him. Then truly you will deserve his love. He is a member and a friend of the highest Truth and he cannot admit to the bosom of his love any who depart from the truth. God knows, and he knows to who is our father and our most sweet advocate that what I say, I say for your honour and help, nor do I have any purpose other than that God who is the truth should be magnified, praised, and proclaimed in St Dunstan, as is right, by you as well as by us and, if I could achieve it, by the whole world.
I know that I have gone a little beyond the usual length of a letter addressing you so, but my subject was so important that, although I intended to use few words, my speech spread to the length it has. Do not wonder. The way of man is not His way. So, my lords and my brethren, to whom God has opened the means of understanding matters of reason, bridal the wanton violence of your foolish young men who open their mouths only in order to seem to know how to speak, on whatever the flightiness of their hearts lead them to, thinking that they are something because others are innocent enough to listen to what they say. I once knew such youths, and perhaps I was one, so I do not doubt that young men are the same these days. I am now older white-haired, and many things which I valued greatly as youth I now rate is nothing. This will come to today’s young men too by God’s gift.
The length of this letter however, demands an end, so this is my last word. Although your fathers of old are now dead who live at Glastonbury a century ago, I think there will be some still living who were fostered in the monastic life before our Norman age. If there are, ask them whether they remember an Abbot there who every year on St Dunstan’s day used to come to Canterbury with four monks or more. They would stay among our brethren in the six days and longer, giving themselves to rejoicing and celebration for reverence of the Holy Father. If any of these men remains alive today, I fancy he will confirm that what I say was the case. Anything else would be far from the truth. If then these men knew that they had sent Dunstan’s body at Glastonbury, why did they come to Canterbury to do reverence to it on his feast day? I say this to confound the errors of the foolish and to strengthen the sacred love of the wise towards us, which we much hope to receive. Farewell, therefore, in Christ Jesus. Pray for us.
It is fairly obvious to me that Eadmer cannot reference Henry Blois personally as the Grandson of William the Conqueror and Nephew to Henry Ist, but it is him as the propagator of the story that Eadmer is hoping to get his point across. One can tell in Henry’s interpolations in DA (even though there was no written record) Henry Blois establishes his polemic in rebuttal of Eadmer’s letter about Dunstan’s relics having been conveyed to Glastonbury in writing supposedly authored by William of Malmesbury. It was William who had refused to include Henry Blois’ concocted story of Dunstan’s bones at Glastonbury in VD1 which initiated the change of ‘plan’ for William to write the DA; even though he continued finishing VDII.