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Medieval Saint Rediscovered in English Manuscript

2024

A recently unearthed entry in a 15th-century manuscript sheds new light on the legacy of Thurstan, the Archbishop of York from 1114 to 1140. Previously thought to have been overlooked for sainthood, the discovery in a service book from Pontefract Priory confirms Thurstan's status as a saint. The entry, found by English Heritage Senior Properties Historian Dr. Michael Carter at King’s College Cambridge, records Thurstan’s death on February 6th, 1140, in red ink, indicating its significance to the monks at the time.

Thurstan was a pivotal figure in medieval England, deeply involved in both church and state affairs. He championed religious reform and played a crucial role in founding many of Northern England’s major monasteries, including Furness Abbey, Gisborough Priory, and Rievaulx Abbey, among others. Thurstan also demonstrated political acumen, leading the English army to victory against the Scots in 1138 and settling a longstanding dispute over precedence between Canterbury and York.

Born in Normandy in 1070, Thurstan aspired to become a Cluniac monk, fulfilling his vow by retiring to the Cluniac priory at Pontefract in 1140, where he passed away. Despite being well-known among medieval historians for his political and social influence, Thurstan's sainthood was previously unrecognized. Dr. Carter's discovery firmly establishes Thurstan as a saint, placing him alongside other revered figures of Northern England's religious history.

Several indicators of Thurstan's sanctity exist in historical records. The archdeacon of Nottingham reportedly had a vision of Thurstan in heaven shortly after his death, while accounts of the opening of his tomb revealed an incorrupt body and vestments emitting a sweet smell – both considered signs of sainthood in the medieval period.

Professor Janet Burton, an expert in medieval history, emphasizes Thurstan's transformative impact on his diocese, introducing administrative reforms and fostering new monastic foundations. His interactions with prominent figures in European religious movements highlight his broad influence and progressive ideas.

Thurstan's newfound status as a saint adds a significant dimension to his historical legacy, affirming his place among the revered religious figures of medieval England and Europe.

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