The translation of St Oswald’s relics to New Minster, Gloucester: royal and imperial resonances


The relics of St Oswald were translated to New Minster, Gloucester, in the early tenth century, under the authority of Æthelflæd and Æthelred of Mercia, and Edward the Elder. This was ostensibly to empower the new burh, sited in the ruins of the former Roman town, with the potent relics of one of Anglo-Saxon Christianity’s cornerstones. This article argues that the relics of Oswald were not only brought to Gloucester to enhance its spiritual and ideological importance, but also to take advantage of the mythologies attached to this king, saint, and martyr, which were perpetuated by a contemporary translation of Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica. This work, which emphasizes Oswald’s role in the unification of Northumbria under Christianity, consciously models Oswald on his imperial predecessor Constantine. These and other valuable attendant mythologies may have been consciously appropriated by the Mercians and West Saxons in the early tenth century, thereby staking a claim to the imperial Christian heritage of Rome and Northumbria, and furthering the notion of an Angelcynn that had only recently been promoted by Alfred the Great

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