The University of Southampton
News

Research brings medieval pilgrimage back to life

Published: 9 July 2018
Walk near Longtown
Walk near Longtown, Hereford. Image credit: St Thomas Way project

University of Southampton researchers are helping visitors to the Welsh borders follow in the footsteps of a medieval outlaw and explore the historic route of a remarkable pilgrimage.

A new trail is being launched, inspired by the journey made by William Cragh, who was hanged in 1290 but seemingly, miraculously came back to life and then went on a pilgrimage, accompanied by the Norman Lord who’d tried to execute him.

The new St Thomas Way runs from Swansea to Hereford and is launched with a special day of events at Hereford Cathedral (Saturday 7 July). The route is based around 13 locations – each with interactive, multimedia digital content, as well as a self-contained circular walking route. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Professor of English at the University of Southampton and Director of the project, Catherine Clarke, says: “This project taps into a current resurgence of interest in pilgrimage routes and ‘old ways’ in the British Isles. It brings together new research, the latest digital technology and medieval history to offer an immersive and engaging experience of the past.”

William Cragh was a supporter of a rebellion against the local Norman Lord, William de Briouze, who then capture him and sent him to his death. However, Cragh showed signs of life after his hanging and eventually fully recovered – apparently rising from the dead. Local people understood this as a miracle of St Thomas of Hereford, a deceased Bishop of the town. Cragh then set off from Swansea to Hereford on a pilgrimage, together with Lord William and his wife, to give thanks at the shrine of the saint.

“It must have been the most awkward road trip of all time,” says Professor Clarke. “But this weird and wonderful story of Swansea’s hanged man is a brilliant way into the strange and fascinating world of the medieval March of Wales – a historic area of land between England and Wales.”

Locations on the trail route range from Caerphilly Castle and Hereford Cathedral, to the medieval hermitage and holy well at Patrishow, the ruined keep at Longtown, and the Norman church and lost medieval village at Kilpeck. In Swansea, visitors can see the castle and dungeon where Cragh was held, before he was hanged on Gibbet Hill (North Hill today).

Canon Chris Pullin of Hereford Cathedral said: “Though less well known today, St Thomas of Hereford was an important saint in the Middle Ages and his shrine was a major pilgrimage destination. We hope this new route will encourage visitors to explore his story, and to experience the benefits of pilgrimage for wellbeing, recreation and renewal.”

The research by Professor Clarke and Research Fellow Chloë McKenzie, which forms much of the interactive content for the trail, builds on another recent Southampton led project City Witness: Place and Perspective in Medieval Swansea which uses these testimonies, documentary and archaeological evidence to explore questions of place and perspective in the medieval city.

Related Staff Member

Notes for editors

St Thomas of Hereford (or St Thomas Cantilupe) was Bishop of Hereford until his death in 1282, and was canonised in 1320. The story of William Cragh, Swansea’s hanged man, survives in a Vatican Library manuscript, prepared to make the case for his canonisation as a saint. For further information on the story of William Cragh, see www.medievalswansea.ac.uk.

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive cookies on the University of Southampton website.

×