Malmesbury - History
Aldhelm, Saxon by birth and possibly closely related to the Kings of Wessex, succeeded Maildulph as the head of Malmesbury Abbey circa 675. After being ordained as a priest, he became perhaps the first Abbot of Malmesbury Abbey.
His royal connections gave him control of most of the surrounding villages and his close connections to the Pope saw the Abbey being placed under papal jurisdiction, a high honour at the time. His skills as a theologian and communicator meant that he became Bishop of Sherborne, with a diocese extending through Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. He also went on to set up churches at Frome, Bruton, Wareham and Bradford on Avon.
As an individual, Aldhelm was well respected and loved by the local community. Local stories tell of Aldhelm playing music and attracting large audiences, who he would then evangelise and tell stories of the life of Jesus, inspiring devotion in the townsfolk. He was also well educated; speaking both Greek and Latin, with a keen interest in travelling, there is evidence that he visited Rome and other religious houses on the European continent. It is also said that he was a skilful architect, great scholar and good technician and that in around 700; he built the first organ in England in Malmesbury Abbey.
On his death (c.709-710), Aldhelm’s remains were carried to be buried in Malmesbury with great pomp and ceremony. Here his remains were enshrined, which made Malmesbury an important focus for pilgrimage, especially after claims that miracles occurred at his shrine. Furthermore, a feast and fair were held in his honour at St. Aldhelm’s Mead on the 31st March each year, a tradition that continued for 840 years (until 1540, when it was discontinued due to rioting and debauchery). Aldhelm was later canonised as a Saint in 1080, after a ‘poor, deformed boy’ was miraculously cured in the presence of Aldhelm’s shrine.
Aldhelm’s shrine and remains have long since been lost, but there is a spring on Gloucester Street referred to as ‘Aldhelm’s Well’ which to this day has never run dry.
Bowen, John. (Edited By Allnatt, Graham), A Story of Malmesbury (Hackman Print, Rhondda: 2000).
Hodge, Dr. Bernulf., A History of Malmesbury (5th Edition; The Friends of Malmesbury Abbey, Minety: 1990).
Luce, Major-General Sir Richard H., The History of the Abbey and Town of Malmesbury (The Friends of Malmesbury Abbey, Minety: 1979).