Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

A Miracle of St Thomas of Canterbury in Yorkshire

One of the glories of Canterbury Cathedral are the early thirteenth century miracle windows in the Trinity Chapel which illustrate miracles wrought by St Thomas in the years following his death. The stories were recorded by two of the monks of the cathedral priory and can be read in a late nineteenth century edition:

Edwin A. Abbott St Thomas of Canterbury: His Death and Miracles (1898) 2 vols

St. Thomas Of Canterbury His Death And Miracles Volume 


St. Thomas Of Canterbury His Death And Miracles Volume 2

One of these stories, rich in incidental detail, comes from my home area. Looking it up on the Internet I found it recounted on a website about Midgeley, and more especially the family concerned, that of Sir Jordan Fitz Essolf, which later assumed the patronymic of Thornhill from the parish in which they lived. Thornhill is now a residential suburb of Dewsbury. The webpages can be accessed at The family of Thornhill of Thornhill, Yorkshire.

As the story begins in August this seems an appropriate time of the year to post it. The events described must have occurred in the early 1170s.

I have copied the text and illustrations and have made a few amendments to the wording:


Ex. W.P. Baildon Baildon History, p. 28-9:

"The most notable episode in Jordan's life 

is his connection to St. Thomas a' Becket

narrated by two monks of Canterbury, 

William and Benedict, who were 

contemporaries of the murdered 

Archbishop; their collected accounts of 

the miracles are said to have been made 

within a few years of the murder, and the 

incidents are therefore probably not later 

than 1180. The story is given in the notes 

to Dean Stanley's Historical Memorials of 

Canterbury, with some omissions and one 

important misprint; the following is in the 

main the Dean's translation, with some 

corrections and additions from the Latin 


William the Monk begins his tale thus:

There came to Canterbury a knight, 

Jordan son of Heisulf, of the town which 

is called by the name of Broken Bridge 

(nomine Fracti Pontis, i.e. Pontefract), with 

his wife, and a son about ten years old, 

who was, as he asserted, being dead, 

restored to life by the Blessed Martyr 


Benedict omits the important reference to 

Pontefract, and begins:

The hand of the Lord was heavy on a 

knight of great name, Jordan son of 

Eisulf, and smote his household with 

disaster from the time of August unto the

Easter days. Many were sorely sick in his 

house, and there was no one who could 

help. The nurse of his son William, 

surnamed Brito [cognomine Britonis], 

[ She was possibly from nearby West 

Bretton, which derives it’s name from it 

having once been the tun of the Britons.]

died of a violent disease [morbo acuta], 

and was buried. Then the son himself 

died. Mass was said — the body laid out 

— the parents were in hopeless grief. It so 

happened that there arrived that day a 

band of twenty pilgrims from Canterbury 

whom Jordan hospitably lodged for love 

of the Martyr. When the priest came to 

bear the corpse to the church for burial,

the father cried "By no means shall my 

son be carried forth, since my heart 

assures me that the Martyr Thomas is 

unwilling that I should lose him; for I was

his man while he was in the body, and his 

familiar friend."

From the pilgrims he borrowed some water in which a drop of the Saint's blood had been mixed [ this was feom the water used to wash the saint’s body and became the main source of miraculous cures by the saint - Clever Boy] and bade the priest pour it into the boy's mouth. This was done without effect. The father still delayed the burial, and the priest, while admiring his faith, thought him mad, as the boy had now been dead two days. Jordan then himself uncovered the body, raised the head, forced open the teeth with a knife, and poured in some of the water. A small sign of red showed itself on the boy's left cheek. A third draught was poured down his throat. The boy then opened one eye, and said, "Why are you weeping, father? Why are you crying, lady.'' Be not sad; behold the Blessed Martyr Thomas has restored me to you." He was then speechless till evening. The father put into his hands four pieces of silver, promising that the boy should offer them to the Martyr at Mid- Lent, and the parents sat and watched him. At evening he sat up, ate, talked, and was restored well to his parents.

But the performance of the vow was neglected and delayed. And so St. Thomas appeared to a leper, Gimpe, by name, in his sleep, who lived on the knight's estate, about three miles from his house, and said "Gimpe, art thou asleep?" The leper said "I was, until you awoke me. Who art thou.?" "I am Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury; knowest thou Jordan, the son of Eisulf.?" And Gimpe replied "Very well, lord, as the best of men, who has done many good things to me." He was then ordered to go and warn Jordan of the evils that would befall him unless he instantly fulfilled his vow. The leper did nothing. The Saint appeared a second time, and ordered the leper to send for his priest, who refused to convey so idle a tale to a great and powerful man. St. Thomas appeared a third time, and ordered the leper to send his daughter for the knight and his wife. They came, heard, wondered, and fixed the last week in Lent for the performance of the vow.

But it so fell that the Earl Warenne, [Hamelin Plantagenet, half-brother of King Henry II and lord of Wakefield and Conisbrough ] the knight's lord, in whose name alone the aforesaid knight possessed his property [cujus nomine res soli miles praetaxatus Dossidebat]," came to that place, and prevented them from setting out on their pilgrimage; thus they did not keep their vow.

On the last day of the last week, namely, on Holy Saturday before the day of our Lord's Resurrection, the Lord smote with a violent disease another son of the knight's, a little older, and more beloved than the one resuscitated, because his father's race was shown more perfectly in his features.

On the morrow the parents themselves were taken ill and confined to bed, and were despaired of. And the disease took hold of the boy, and he slept in death on the seventh day, on the sixth day [feria] of Easter Week. Twenty of the knight's household were also sick.

Then the knight and his wife determined at all hazard to accomplish their vow. By a violent effort — aided by the sacred water — they set off; the servants by a like exertion dragging themselves to the gate to see them depart. The lady fell into a swoon seven times from the fatigue of the first day, and was in despair at the long journey [from Thornhill to Canterbury!]; but her husband said "Alive or dead she shall be brought to Canterbury." When she saw the pinnacle [the spire topped with an angel] of the Temple of Canterbury, she dismounted from her horse, and with her husband and son, barefoot, walked the remaining three miles to the Martyr's sepulchre, [the shrine was not erected until 1220] and then the vow was discharged.

Benedict adds that he received this story in a letter from the priest [at Thornhill?], who stated that the boy was undoubtedly dead and brought to life again."

(1) The funeral of the nurse [Lower left]

(2) The younger son at the point of death [bottom centre]

(3) The father administering the miraculous water, while the mother supports the boy's head [lower right]

(4) The boy reviving, and the four pieces of silver being put into his hand

(5) The boy revived, feeding himself with a spoon from a basin [top centre]

(6) The Archbishop and Gimpe the leper [top right]

(7) Gimpe the leper warning the parents

(8) The death of the elder son

(9) The final offering at the shrine at Canterbury. [centre right]

Detail of the centre panel  from "Plague in the House" window (c.1220 about 26 years after Sir Jordan's death) showing Sir Jordan Fitz-Eisulf [Fitz-Essulf, de Thornhill &c.] and his family. This panel is part of the Becket Miracle Window 6, north aisle of the Trinity Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral. Sir Jordan seems represented on the left and his wife on the right. Saint Thomas Becket is shown above smiting the family with a sword representing the plague. Of course this type of story was important to the monks of Canterbury in order to encourage pilgrims to make offerings, and to fulfill vows, particularly when Canterbury was often in conflict with Jordan's diocesan cathedral of York. Hamelin Plantagenet, Jordan's overlord, would conceivably not have wished Jordan to attend at Canterbury because it highlighted the problems his brother, King Henry II of England  [d. 1189]  had encountered with Becket. If the story is true in its basics then the affliction occurred shortly after December 1170  when Becket was murdered and as Baildon says no later than 1180.


The story is a fairly strident reminder to fulfill vows lest something worse happen. I do feel rather sorry for the elder son of Sir Jordan and his wife.

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