06 June 2022

The legend of Saint Rumbold,
the three-day old prodigy who
asked for baptism in Buckingham

A plaque on the façade of the Manor House in Buckingham keeps alive the extraordinary legends about Saint Rumbold (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

One of the many fine Tudor-era houses to survive is the Manor House, beside the old churchyard. On the façade of the Manor House, a plaque showing a cherubic-like infant recalls the extraordinary tale that has survived as local lore of Saint Rumbold.

There is a Saint Rumbold’s Well in Buckingham, and Saint Rumbold’s Lane leads from Nelson Street to the junction of Church Street and Well Street. Saint Rumbold is so celebrated in Buckingham that I am surprised the parish church is named after Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Saint Rumbold is also known as Rumwold, Rumwald, or Rumbald. But who was this Anglo-Saxon infant saint, who lived for only three days?

According to local lore, Rumbold was born and died around the year 650 CE. He was of royal descent: his mother was Cyneburga, a daughter of King Penda of Mercia; his father was Alchfrith, a son of the King of Northumbria. Rumbold’s parents were travelling north to meet King Penda. The party stopped and camped in a field near King’s Sutton in Northamptonshire, 12 miles west of Buckingham, between Brackley and Banbury. There Cyneburga gave birth to Rumbold.

From birth, Rumbold was a prodigy. On his first day he cried out three times in a loud voice ‘I am a Christian,’ Christianus sum, Christianus sum, Christianus sum, and asked to be baptised.

A bowl-shaped stone in a nearby hut was suggested as a baptismal font, but this was far too heavy to move. However the infant Rumbold told his entourage to go back to the hut and bring the stone ‘in the name of the Lord.’ This was then done, miraculously easily, and the infant was baptised. His supposed baptismal font can still be seen in King’s Sutton Church.

On the following day, Rumbold further astounded everyone by professing faith in the Holy Trinity and the Athanasian Creed and, citing the Scriptures, preached a sermon on the need for virtuous living. On the third day he said that he was going to die, seeking to be buried where he was born for one year, then at Brackley for two years, and finally for his bones to rest for all time at a place that later became known as Buckingham.

He was mentioned in the Bosworth Psalter dated ca 1000. Shortly after the Norman Conquest, the life of Saint Rumbold was written down in the 1070s, in the scriptorium of Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester, one of the few remaining Anglo-Saxon bishops. But he did not figure in monastic calendars compiled after 1100.

The reputed site of Saint Rumbold’s grave in the old churchyard in Buckingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Several post-Conquest Bishops of Lincoln attempted to suppress what were described as superstitious pilgrimages. These pilgrimages were often to places associated with obscure Saxon saints such as Saint Rumbold and the cessation of pilgrimages to his shrine at Buckingham was ordered around 1280.

Nevertheless, accounts of Saint Rumbold’s miraculous life were widely circulated in the Middle Ages and his tomb and shrine in the old church of Buckingham became a focus for pilgrimages. Many pilgrims came to take the curative waters of Saint Rumbold’s Well close to the town. The earliest inns of Buckingham were reputedly founded and flourished on the arrival of pilgrims.

The Fraternity of Saint Rumbold in Buckingham had assets in Buckingham, Hillesden, Nash, Padbury, Preston Bissett and Twyford in 1522. However, pilgrimages to Buckingham were suppressed at the Reformation. Saint Rumbold’s shrine and tomb were demolished after the old parish church in Buckingham fell down in 1776, and nothing was transferred to the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul when it was built on Castle Hill.

A recently-erected memorial in the old churchyard reads: ‘Near this spot within the old Church of Buckingham was the shrine of the infant Saint Rumbold who lived and died c.650 AD.’

Saint Rumbold’s fame spread beyond Buckingham. In pre-Conquest times, at least six monasteries in Mercia and Wessex revered him, and there may have been others in other places. There are churches dedicated to him in Northamptonshire, Dorset, Kent, Lincolnshire, Essex and North Yorkshire.

The ancient well is clearly marked on John Speed’s map of 1610, the first town map of Buckingham. A rectangular conduit house was built over the top in 1623. Lead water pipes were laid from the well to Castle House, the largest 17th century house in Buckingham. The ruins of the conduit house have been excavated and preserved. Mediaeval ‘ridge and furrow’ evidence can be seen in the adjacent field.

The site was threatened by plans for new house-building. But, through the efforts of a local Saint Rumbold’s group under the auspices of the Buckingham Society, it has been protected and partly restored, it has been scheduled as an ancient monument and better access has been established.

He is also remembered in street names and other place names. In the 17th century, he was the patron saint of the fishermen of Folkestone.

His two feast days are 3 November (main feast) and 28 August (translation of relics). Saint Rumbold’s Way, from King’s Sutton to Buckingham, is a 17-mile walk that takes one or two days to complete.

Saint Rumbold’s Lane in Buckingham leads from Nelson Street to the junction of Church Street and Well Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying with the Psalms in Pentecost:
6 June 2022 (Psalm 103)

‘Bless the Lord, O my soul … who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s’ (Psalm 103: 2-5) … the Byzantine eagle on a floor mosaic in a church in Maroulas, in the hills above Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We celebrated Pentecost Day yesterday (5 June 2022). Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections from the seasons of Lent and Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 103:

Psalm 103 is sometimes known by its Latin name Benedic anima mea Domino. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, this psalm is counted as Psalm 102.

Psalm 103 could also be seen as a logical extension of Psalm 102, with Psalm 102 opening issues and questions to which Psalm 103 offers the solution or answer. For example, in Psalm 102 the psalmist blames his illness and pain on God’s ‘indignation and anger’ (verse 10), but Psalm 103 makes it clear that divine anger is not the final word, nor will it last forever.

Psalm 103 is both a psalm of thanksgiving and a hymn of praise. After recalling that God cares for the oppressed, forgives sins, loves dearly those who hold him in awe, and that he is a compassionate father, it contrasts him with humanity: our lives are transitory but God’s love is for ever.

The psalmist gives thanks to God for recovery from illness in verses 1-5. He speaks to his very self, reminding himself not to forget God’s healing power, both in curing disease and in forgiving sin. God fills one’s life with godliness and gives renewed vigour.

The psalmist, from the depths of his soul, from his very being, praises God for all he has done for him. God has cured him of diseases (verse 3). At the time, illness was seen as punishment for sin, so healing is a sign of forgiveness and being restored to a good relationship with God.

The psalmist was so ill that he felt his life slipping away, like the Pit or Sheol (verse 4), the place of the dead, where humans retained only faint glimmerings of life. God has restored him to a youthful vigour (verse 5) like the vigour of an eagle.

Verse 6-18 contrast God with humans: after recalling God’s care during the Exodus, the psalmist tells of God’s qualities in all times, expanding on them in verses 8-18.

God is just, especially to the oppressed, merciful (verse 8), is slow to anger and is only angry for a time (verse 9), is lenient when we go against him (verse 10), and loves greatly those who hold him in reverence or fear him (verse 11, 13). He is infinitely forgiving (verse 9-11 12); he is like a father in his mercy (verse 13).

God realises our frailty (verses 14-16). As the dry east wind devastates vegetation (verse 16), we have finite lifetimes, but God is everlasting, loving those who keep his Law, through all generations (verses 17-18).

In verses 19-22, the psalmist calls on heavenly beings and all whom God has created to praise God. God rules over all (verse 19), including the heavenly court verses 20-21), so we honour the Lord, and this means all he has created (verse 22), whether we are in heaven (verses 20-21) or on earth (verse 22). The psalmist himself blesses and praises ‘the Lord.’

The number of verses in Psalm 103 parallels the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and the concluding words repeat the opening words, finishing and rounding off the psalm into a complete whole. The opening words, ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul,’ appear again at the beginning of Psalm 104, reinforcing the thematic connection between these psalms.

Psalm 103 is the basis of several hymns. English hymns include ‘Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven,’ by Henry Francis Lyte.

‘The Lord has established his throne in the heavens’ (Psalm 103: 19) … an icon of Christ Enthroned on the Bishop’s Throne in Saint Nicholas Church, Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Psalm 103 (NRSVA):

Of David.

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
14 For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.

19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
obedient to his spoken word.
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers that do his will.
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘The Time to Act is Now!’ This theme was introduced yesterday by Linet Musasa, of the Anglican Council of Zimbabwe.

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (Monday 6 June 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Anglican Council of Zimbabwe, as they respond to the impact of climate change in Zimbabwe.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org