MJ Porter went to Gloucester, and it didn’t rain

Why, I hear you cry? Well, I was on the trail of the Lady of Mercia, Æthelflæd, and her daughter Ælfwynn. Æthelflæd and her husband were buried in Gloucester, at St Oswald’s Priory, and I’m always writing about Gloucester, and Kingsholm, so I thought it was time I actually visited. Not that St Oswald Priory survives as anything more than a ruin these days.

The plaque telling visitors all about the ruins (I do love an old plaque. They just add to the story of a ruin).
Part of the ruins, with Gloucester Cathedral in the background.
Trying to capture as much of the ruin as possible in one photo.
View of the cathedral through the ruin (a pity about the garden shed)

I also visited the Cathedral, and really wish I’d done a bit more research about what they offer, as I didn’t factor in all the fabulous tours they do, including one up the tower to get a view of Gloucester. Maybe next time. But, I did find this delightful pearl, which must remind us all to make sure our notes are up to the task at hand.

The great window in Gloucester Cathedral

Can you imagine trying to put all those pieces back together after they took them down during WW2? Wow. Well done to those who accomplished the task. If you’re not sure of scale, it’s as big as a tennis court.

But to return to the priory. For those who know their history of the period, we might wonder why we have a St Oswald in Gloucester, which would have been very much in the heart of Mercia. Oswald, of course, was a king of Northumbria, a most Christian king, killed in battle against the might of the famous pagan king, Penda. The story goes that after his death, a band of brave Northumbrians retrieved their dead king, and returned him to Northumbria, where he was buried and revered. Why then would a Northumbrian saint, killed in the seventh century, become so closely associated with the Mercian ruling family?

I find this fascinating, and indeed, some years ago, attended a conference where I asked this question. The answer was enlightening. The Mercians, still facing the threat of the Viking raiders, needed a rallying cry. They needed a sainted figure whose cult they could effectively ‘steal’ or align with themselves, or so I was told, and St Oswald was that man, or rather that body, and so they stole him away from Bardney and took his to Gloucester, where his cult continued, and where Lady Æthelflæd and her husband, Ethelred, were later buried.

I’ve written about Oswald while he was alive, and of course, I’ve written about Mercia, Gloucester, Kingsholm, and Lady Ælfwynn. It was inspiring to finally see where the church once was, even if little remains of it, at least something does remain.




Author: M J Porter, author

I'm a writer of historical fiction (Early England/Viking and the British Isles as a whole before 1066, as well as two 20th century mysteries).

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