THE WICKED STEP MOTHER
St Kenelm, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire
In Saxon times, Winchcombe was the capital of Winchcombshire in the Kingdom of Mercia, and it was here in AD 798 that King Kenulf founded a monastery that, by the time of his death in AD821, had blossomed into one of the most prosperous foundations in England.
His seven-year-old-son, Kenelm, inherited the throne and was placed under the guardianship of his elder sister, Quendreda.
But this evil woman harboured personal ambitions and set about plotting her brother’s assassination.
She persuaded his tutor Askobert to murder the boy and he took Kenelm hunting in the forest of Clent.
As the two entered the woodland, the miscreant suddenly turned on his young charge and sliced off his head with his sword.
But, as he began to bury the corpse, a white dove flew from the disembodied skull and, having encircled the murder site, disappeared into the distance. Askobert finished his task and returned to his mistress.
Delighted at the news, Quendreda settled down to enjoy the fruits of her infamy.
But the dove flew to Rome where it dropped a parchment detailing the heinous crime at the feet of the Pope.
Envoys were dispatched to England and, following a search the tiny corpse was discovered and borne back to Winchcombe.
Meanwhile, the evil Quendreda saw the mournful procession and, realising that her crime had been discovered, attempted to curse the cortege by reciting Psalm 109 backwards.
But no sooner had she begun than her eyes suddenly exploded from their sockets and her blood spattered the pages of the Psalter from which she was reading.
Kenelm was laid to rest alongside his father and a shrine was erected over his body.
It became an important place of pilgrimage and continued so until its dissolution in the 16th century, after which it fell into ruin.
In 1815 excavations there uncovered two stone caskets containing the remains of a man and a child and, although the bones are said to have disintegrated on contact with the air, the coffins can still be seen inside the Parish church.