In Armstrongs History of Norfolk, published in 1781, we are told that in St. Mary's Church, Feltwell, on the north wall of the Sanctuary, there is "a cupboard once the repository of relicks." But whether the cupboard is still there is difficult to say, as the wall is partly pannelled with oak. A Relic is part of a holy person's body, or belongings, preserved as an object of reverence, and it would be of much interest could we know the name of the saint, or saints, whose relics were preserved in St. Mary's Church. Many tales are told about relic-stealing which seems to have been nothing unusual. One of the worst cases on record is the theft of the body of St. Withburg from East Dereham Church by Brithnod, who was Abbot of Ely, A.D. 970-981. He, with an armed band, visited E. Dereham and gave a feast to the men of Dereham. And while they were sleeping off the effects of the feast, he and his men stole the Saint's body from the Church and fled. They were hotly pursued but managed to reach Brandon Ferry, where they took boat and escaped by the very skin of their teeth; the Dereham men lining the river on either side and throwing darts at them. The stolen body of St. Withburg was laid by the side of her sister St. Etheldreda, better known to us as St. Audrey, and is still at Ely Cathedral. The strange part of the story is the account given by an Ely historian of the day who describes this disgraceful affair as "a holy sacrilege, a pious fraud, a soul-saving robbery." Brithnod, Abbot of Ely and stealer of relics, came to a horrible end, being murdered by Elsticha, the Queen of Ethelred the Unready, who caused "bodkins to be thrust into his arm-holes." Apparently the Queen and the Abbot were not on very friendly terms.
Back to Written Records