Monday, 27 May 2013

Abbey of St Brelade

There is very little known about Brelade, or as his original name was Branwallader or Branwalator. We know that he was an itinerant Celtic saint; he is said to have been a bishop in Jersey, although at the time, there are no lists of bishops. It is believed that he worked with Saint Samson in Cornwall and the Channel Islands, where he is remembered in Jersey in the parish name St Brelade and at Cornwall in the parish name of St Breward.

In the Exeter martyrology, Branwalator is described as the son of the Cornish king, Kenen. This is the main source of hagiographical information regarding this saint, which otherwise is sparse. But the Saint's relics went to the Abbey in Milton Abbas, and browsing through an old copy of "The Pilot" from 1983, I came across these Parish notes by the Rector of St Brelade, Michael Halliwell, which gives more details of the relics - parts of the Saint's body - that were given to the Abbey. All I knew until reading these notes was that relics of the saint ended up there, but this tells us which ones. From a historical perspective, then, the Abbey was the final resting place of at least part of St Brelade!

The Abbey of St Brelade
Michael Halliwell
The Pilot 1983.
These notes are being written in a little oasis of peace, the Friary of the Anglican Franciscans at Hilfield near Dorchester. Here the brothers, offering work and a home for men without either, offer their daily sacrifice of prayer and praise. Like the brothers at Bec they begin with Morning Prayer before breakfast, continue with a Eucharist at midday, then Evening Prayer, followed by Night Prayer to end the day. Sometimes there are visitors in the congregation, sometimes not, but the worship is offered for God, not primarily for any who might be present.
In the brothers' library I browsed through the "History of Dorset", written in the last century by the Rev John Hutchings. Reading through the history of the Abbey of Middleton, Milton Abbas, I read an account of how in the tenth century King Athelstan, suspecting his brother Edwin of plotting against him, sent him to sea in a boat so that he was drowned. The King, repenting of his deed, confined himself for seven years at Langport, Somerset, subsequently founding the Abbey of Muchelney close by, in the year 933. That abbey was subsequently destroyed, and as a young boy, in my grandmother's house not far from there, I remember finding in the garden, and in many gardens in the village, beautiful carved stones from the Abbey.
Let us return to King Athelstan, however. Some forty years later, in 977, the King defeated an army of Scots and Danes. Hutchings continues, "Because of the festival of St Sampson, this success was foreshown him by God in the place where St Katharine's Chapel now stands of Milton, and a miracle was wrought by that saint in his favour, in restoring his sword which had dropped out of the scabbard. As well as to testify his repentance for his brother's death, he founded and endowed this Abbey."
The Saxon charter ascribed to Athelstan records, "He gave lands to God, St Mary, St Michael, St Sampson, and St Branwalader, for his soul and for the souls of his ancestors and successors Kings of England". And so King Athelstan founded the Abbey Church of St Mary, St Michael, St Sampson and St Branwalder at Milton in Dorset.
The King is also recorded as giving several relics to the Abbey, namely: "A piece of Our Saviour's Cross, a great cross of gold and silver adorned with precious stones; the arm and many bones of St Sampson, the arm of St Branwalader, and many others which he collected at Rome, Brittany and France with great labour and expense, and placed here in five gilt shrines."
A Cambridge manuscript adds that Milton possessed "the pastoral staff of St Sampson and the head of St Branwallador, a bishop." Butler in his "Memorial of British Piety" writes, "He is a bishop of whom nothing remains but the name, by the termination of which it was conjectured he was a native of Wales. His anniversary was June 3rd. June dates, incidentally, are also recorded at Exeter and Treguier.
We do not know exactly what the Church and Abbey looked like; it was burnt down in a terrible thunder storm on September 2nd, 1309, while the monks were at Mattins. The present, beautiful Abbey Church was the one that replaced it, and was probably never finished. However, the seal of the old Abbey is recorded: "Both sides of the seal appear to represent a fabric resembling the ancient church, though in one view there are three spires, and in the other not any, though rather the elevation of the east end, the two transepts with their great doors being both turned round to view in exaggerated perspective. In the first side, which may be regarded as the west end of the church, is enshrined a seated figure of the Virgin and her Son with two figures at the sides, possibly St Sampson and St Branwalader."
It is good to know that the sacred site where our saint was commemorated still offers its peace to visitors though his statue no longer adorns the entrance. Today, more than ever there is a need for such oases of peace where men and women can find God. Our church is one such place. How can we help those who visit it to find a living faith?
DAILY PRAYER. The first essential is daily prayer. All our clergy are bound by their ordination vows to read the Daily Offices in church and to encourage their parishioners to do so with them. This practise is based on the ancient custom of daily prayer began and continued in monasteries and cathedrals all over the Christian world. I am glad to say that more and more people are sharing these offices with us, but we need still more who will set aside half an hour to share in the church's daily sacrifice of praise.
GUIDES AND PICTURES. We hope soon to produce a new guidebook incorporating the latest conclusions of recent investigations into the archaeology of the church and chapel. But people are the best guides. How about offering to be available to talk to people about your church and your faith?
Of course many never see Christians at work or worship - so could we not prepare an exhibition of photographs telling the world something of how we live out our faith in worship and service? Who would like to undertake this? In these and other ways, as well as in the quality of our Sunday worship we can help the Holy Spirit's work in rolling back the tide of materialism which is threatening to engulf the world, and especially threatens our precious Island and its ancient Christian heritage.

No comments: