Monday, 23 April 2018

Waltham Abbey and the Holy Cross

In the time of King Canute, around the date of 1030, his standard bearer, Tovi, owned land in the area of Montacute (locally called Lutegaresberi) near Glastonbury which was a very prestigious monastery. A smith on Tovi's land had a dream - a vision over several nights - showing a hill top where a great treasure was buried in the ground. So,  with prayer and fasting, an investigation was organised. A delegation of dignitaries, in procession, singing litanies, dug to a depth of forty cubits where the dream suggested, and there a large black stone crucifix was discovered with a smaller one under the right arm, and a bell under the left arm. There was also a book of the gospels. These holy objects were placed on a wagon with twelve red oxen and twelve white ones. Holy sites were named to the animals, such as Canterbury, Winchester, York, etc., but the oxen failed to make any movement forward. Only when the name of Waltham was called did the cart move. Waltham was a tiny church and hunting lodge owned by Tovi. The animals continued walking until they arrived at Waltham when they abruptly stopped. The cross was taken from the cart and erected at the tiny church which was named after the holy cross. Tovi donated his sword to the church. While the workmen were erecting the cross, one accidentally pierced the marble figure and blood was said to have flowed out. Tovi's' wife, Glitha donated rich treasures; one gold circlet was placed around the thigh of the image. The church grew in fame, wealth and size, and pilgrims came and miracles were common. 

At Tovi's wedding, King Harthacnut had a sudden convulsion and died, and upon Tovi's death, the area of Waltham was owned by Athelstan, then Asgar, and then given to Geoffrey de Mandeville. However, Harold Godwinson had also owned the land and had prayed for relief from a paralysis and received a remarkable healing at the church. While he was prostrated on the ground, the statue, previously looking upwards, bowed its head. In gratitude for his recovery, he built a far larger church on the site which was consecrated on Holy Cross Day, 1060 and was given the name of the holy cross and additionally the name of St Lawrence. It is believed to show some of the most distinguished architecture in the UK with a bell tower of five great bells. A college was also founded at the site. Prior to his death at the Battle of Hastings, Harold prayed at this church and when he died, his body was carried to be buried under the altar, now in the grounds. Eventually, due to pilgrimages arriving at the church, it grew in size but during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, much of the church was destroyed and the valuables were looted.

A memorial procession and re-enactment takes place each year. Volunteers and attenders are always needed to make the re-enactment a success. This event is special celebration of miracles, healing, revival and community cohesion and representatives from the Abbey church, the Town Council, Waltham Abbey Historical Society and King Harold’s Day, present this event. 'Holy Cross' Day commemorates the finding of the wood by St Helena upon which Christ is said to have been crucified. She was the mother of the Emperor Constantine. There will be a service at the Church to which everyone is invited. The bell-ringers are expected to ring a Quarter Peal in the evening with a walk to remember Tovi the Proud and his 66 followers, who brought the Holy Cross to Waltham. Bells will also ring in Montecute on this day in celebration. A walk takes place from the Lee Valley White Water Centre to the Abbey, where "pilgrims" are received as they would have been in medieval times, and a Cross will be installed in the Abbey by candlelight. Please note, there is no parking permitted at the White Water Centre and gates are locked at nightfall in the Abbey Gardens Car Park. Visit for more information:

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