Walkers Wanted To Help Re-enact Historic Procession To Shaftesbury

A Shaftesbury woman is recruiting ramblers to check footpaths ahead of the re-enactment of a historic procession across Dorset.

To mark the official end of the Shaftesbury Abbey’s SAVED archaeological project next year, Sara Jacson hopes to recreate the 10th century walk from Wareham to Shaftesbury Abbey that accompanied King Edward the Martyr’s body. Edward’s Tomb is clearly visible when you walk into the Abbey Gardens.

At Saturday’s official Abbey Museum opening, Sara Jacson told the crowd that her husband wasn’t quite prepared for his first glance of the imposing stonework, carved with his name. “He’s also called Edward. He wasn’t anticipating the dawn and the light and the engraved name on a Saxon tomb,” laughed Sara.

The murdered king was quickly associated with medical miracles and as those stories spread, Shaftesbury became a popular place of pilgrimage. “He was killed by his mother-in-law at Corfe Castle and his body was moved to Wareham. There was a boy whose eyes were healed through intercession to him. And I guess the Abbess of Shaftesbury thought ‘if we had his body here, that would help’,” said Sara.

Sara Jacson

As the Abbey held King Edward’s remains, visitors flocked to Shaftesbury hoping to experience their own miraculous cure. “If they had bad eyesight or had some horrible illness in their eyes, they believed that he could intercede for them with God, because this was before the days of enormous medical advances,” said Sara. “The Abbey would have been a place with an infirmary, where people could come for such healing. It would be mainly herbs.”

Simply put, Edward, even though he was dead, was great for tourism. “The Abbey had a lot of pilgrims coming in. There were twelve churches in Shaftesbury at one point, full of pilgrims. It gave wealth to the town and presumably the sisters benefited as well.”

Next March, Sara is keen to mark the end of the current grant-funded SAVED project by retracing the steps of the entourage that accompanied Edward’s body. This 35 to 40 mile procession was been recreated before. “It seemed right that when the SAVED project comes to a sort of conclusion, and I say ‘sort of’ because it’s ongoing, that we should remember the founders and what’s happened. Dr Tapper led a pilgrimage from Wareham to Shaftesbury in the 1960s. Next year the Bishop of Sherborne, Karen Gorham, is going to be leading a two-day pilgrimage.”

Sara wants to follow the original route over the two-day trek. The challenge is working out the path for the journey because new roads and house building has altered access to many parts of the Dorset countryside since that 1960s walk.

“That’s precisely why I’m gathering people together in May this year, to say, ‘you do this section, you that section’. We will look at the Landranger maps and work out whether it is actually possible. There have been one or two long distance footpaths created since then as well. And we’ll see if those overlap. We’ll work it out,” said Sara.

She is trying to be as true to the original route as possible. If the group has to cross private land, they will negotiate the one-off passage with the landowners. “I think that the Bishop might be helpful,” laughed Sara.

If you want to join the team assessing which paths are appropriate, Sara would like you to contact her through Shaftesbury Abbey. “We’re looking for anyone who likes walking and who would be prepared to give up say half-a-day to explore a part of the route, so that by October we can put together the complete route and work out what is, and what isn’t, possible. We want to make sure that when we offer it to the general public, we know we can do the whole walk,” said Sara.

You can contact Sara at office@shaftesburyabbey.org.uk.