Session 5: Texts, Rituals and the Social Order – Lantfred’s Swithun and the Fundamentals of Reform: Educating Lay Pilgrims in 10th century Winchester

Lantfred’s Swithun and the Fundamentals of Reform: Educating Lay Pilgrims in 10th century Winchester 

Christopher Reidel (Boston College)


At the height of the 10th c. monastic reform movement, the details of Swithun’s life were written by Lantfred. Lantfred of Fleury was originally from the French town of Fluery-sur-Loire. He is famous for writing The Life of St. Swithun. Winchester was a pre-eminent town in Wessex and a leading monastic reform centre during the tenth century. Lantfred and the Winchester reform monks were deeply interested in the education of the laity well before this movement was commonly thought to have begun. Lantfred shows monks constantly interacting with and educating the laity by giving them simple instruction on how to appropriately praise God. 

Large crowds came to see Swithun’s shrine. Lantfred was primarily interested in those who received cures from the shrine of Swithun. Lay people were the recipients of the miracles of Jesus Christ – not just the upper classes of society. Most of the people receiving miracles were the laity. Reformers did not seclude themselves from the laity at this period as is often thought (i.e., cloistered monks shut away from the world). Reformed monks of Winchester interacted with the laity when a miracle occurred – they were told to drop their duties and rush to the church and pray whenever this happened. The laity in turn, came to tell the monksabout their miracles. This act (rushing to pray over a new miracle) was so important that a penance was instituted on those who refused to do this.  Aethelwald was known for instituting charity amongst the poor and instituting charity towards the poor was considered an important duty.

Lantfred’s monks did not try to separate themselves from lay pilgrims as miracles were considered a powerful and far reaching tool forinstructing the laity. Miracles needed to inspire belief. Recent scholarship represented a sharp break with tradition; nor did they embrace a cloistered life. Sent as missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons. The point of reform was focused on monasticism but not seen as working from a “top down” response. Pastoral care was an important part of this reform. Interaction between monks and the laity controlled the interpretation of the miracles and was part of pastoral care. This was a good opportunity for monks to instruct them at these moments. The monks took advantage of the laity’s wish for spiritual aid as a time to educate them with their interpretation of the saint and his miracles. Miracles demonstrated God’s power to the community and were instructional.

This instruction emphasized by Lantfred – primary purpose of miracles was to heal the soul, not the body, to bring salvation in this life and the next, and lastly, to praise God. Miracles provided bodily healing, but he is very clear about their true purpose, which was the strength of mind and health of the soul. This idea is essential to his work (the idea of remedying the body and soul). Spiritual healing must accompany physical healing. God was the presence in St. Swithun and the ‘true physician’. Lantfred stressed Swithun’s subsidiary role in these miracles. 26 of Lantfred’s 40 chapters end with doxologies; stressing the importance of praising God – monks must ‘magnify God appropriately’. Monks didn’t just interact with the laity in the shrine but were an example of the appropriate way to interact at the time of a miracle occuring. A physical ‘cure’ was dependant on constant spiritual devotion. Recipients of miracles were considered to be in the presence of God. God is the author of all miracles – a central tenant of the Cult of Saints. Lantfred stresses this far beyond other writers of the time. 

Miracles of vengeance and judgement are absent from Lantfred’s work although they are commonly found in continental works of the time. Writer’s had their own particular agendas and Lantfred was not exempt of this – they emphasized miracles that Lantfred de-emphasized. In later vitae, one gets more ofthe saint and less of God’s actions. There were also no cures by touching the saint’s tomb and Swithun did not protect his community as is seen in other vitae. Lantfred’s texts, although written in Latin, were intended with a message for the laity; they focused on a simple doxology aimed at the laity.

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