Article published: ‘St Edmund versus St Francis? Saints and Religious Conflict in Medieval Bury St Edmunds’

My article ‘St Edmund versus St Francis? Saints and Religious Conflict in Medieval Bury St Edmunds’ has just been published in the journal Downside Review. The article focusses on a notorious episode in the history of medieval Bury St Edmunds: the conflict between the Benedictine monks of St Edmunds Abbey and the Franciscan friars who attempted to establish a house in Bury between 1257 and 1263, but looks specifically at the ways in which the monks and friars deployed their respective patron saints in the propaganda war waged by both sides. While the friars faced the challenge that St Edmund had been associated for centuries with the personal protection of the abbey and town that bore his name, the monks faced a hugely popular saint in the form of St Francis. The article examines the various ways in which the rival groups of religious men used hagiography to negotiate their place in medieval Bury St Edmunds, even after the Benedictines conceded the Franciscans a friary site just outside the boundaries of the town. The monks’ and friars’ use of St Edmund and St Francis reveals much about the deployment of saints in intra-clerical disputes, which was more sophisticated than simply pitting one patron against another. A saint could have more than one signification, and the Franciscans in Bury seem to have made an unsuccessful attempt to appropriate the cult of St Edmund. Saints’ cults were a powerful political tool in medieval Europe but they could also be turned with surprising ease on those who attempted to use them to attack others or defend their position. The article will, I hope, advance understanding of the role of saints’ cults in conflict.

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