Sculpture of St Osmund from the west front of Salisbury Cathedral

If you’re feeling a bit under the weather at the moment then spare a thought for those people afflicted with the illnesses associated with this week’s saint, Osmund.  He is the patron saint of insanity, paralysis, ruptures and toothache, all of which are specific references to the miraculous cures that were administered to pilgrims visiting his shrine at the cathedral in Salisbury.

Osmund was one of the first of the new breed of bishops appointed by William I in the immediate aftermath of the Norman Conquest.  His was a newly created diocese comprising the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire and Berkshire with its headquarters at Old Sarum, the location of the first cathedral of Salisbury until its relocation in the fifteenth century to its current position about three miles to the south.  Prior to this, he was one of William’s inner circle (Osmund was in fact William’s nephew) and received a privileged upbringing in his native Normandy.  He was also one of the commissioners responsible for the drawing up of the Domesday Book in 1086.

During his time at Old Sarum he was described by William of Malmesbury as ‘so eminent for chastity that common fame itself would blush to speak otherwise than truthfully concerning his virtue’, but he was also known to be stern and strict.  He was responsible for a great deal of the development of the cathedral at Old Sarum, although his time was not without setbacks.  Five days after the consecration of his new cathedral in April 1092, a thunderstorm destroyed almost all of the roof, and damaged a large part of the building’s infrastructure, something that must have been a tad disheartening, to say the least.  This may well have been one instance where the English obsession with talking about the weather was justified!

Nor did things go entirely to plan after his death on December 4th 1099 either.  The Salisbury clerics waited until 1228 before they pulled together a petition to Pope Gregory IX for his canonisation only for it to be refused, as were subsequent attempts in 1387, 1406, 1416 and 1442.  One final bid in 1452 was successful, however – maybe the papacy had just been worn down by the Salisbury monks’ unwillingness to give up – and Osmund was finally made a saint in 1457 by Pope Callistus III, the last English canonisation for nearly 500 years until that of John Fisher in 1935.  Perhaps Osmund should also be the patron saint of tenacity and determination!


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