Who Was Saint Morrell?
This week saw two major news stories regarding archaeology and Leicester, one of which was about Richard III & one which might. The first story dealt with the report of the forensic examination of Richard’s remains & the battle scars on them. The investigation found Richard was on the receiving end of 11 wounds at the time he died, 9 of those to the head.
The other story released last week was about the on-going excavations at the Lost Chapel of Saint Morrell being carried about by ULAS & local volunteers. I have yet to find any reference to Richard visiting this chapel, but as the excavations show that it was in use from the pre-Roman era until sometime in the 16th Century, it is likely that he stopped by on his way elsewhere in the Midlands at least once. The remains of Hallaton Castle are also nearby.
The chapel of Saint Morrell is located near the village of Hallaton (a possible corruption of the name “Holy Town”), where there has been a long tradition of a “bottle kicking” competition and hare pie scramble with another nearby village. A local historian thought that the site of the scramble might also be the site of the lost chapel, & wouldn’t you know, he was right. Thus far, the dig has uncovered the remains of the chapel, some evidence of use during Roman times, and 11 skeletons, including the two which were found holding hands. No one knows why these people were buried here & not in the mother church of St. Michael’s in Hallaton. Interestingly, the archaeologists have discovered a pilgrim’s badge with “Morrell” written on it, suggesting this chapel was a pilgrimage site in medieval times.
While this is all very fascinating, what I wanted to know most was “Who was Saint Morrell?” He wasn’t exactly an easy saint to trace, especially since the name “Saint Morrell” is a corruption of his actual name, “Saint Maurilius,” or as he was known in France, “Saint Mareill.” It turns out that Saint Maurilius was a bishop in the French province of Anjou (Angers) in the 5th Century, and a cult, or following, of him arouse by the 7th Century. He was a more popular saint in France than England, which may be why his chapel “disappeared” sometime in the 15th Century, perhaps as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Saint Maurilius was born in Milan, Italy in 336. Saint Maurilius became Bishop of Angers about 423. His feast day is September 13 & he is associated most with a miracle involving the keys of his cathedral being lost & then found in the liver of a fish. He is the patron saint of fishermen & gardeners. The story goes that he was celebrating mass when a mother begged him to give Communion to her dying son. He ignored her until the mass was over. Unfortunately, the child had died. Maurilius fled Angers and made his way to England. He threw the keys to the cathedral in the ocean, vowing to never return to Angers until he had the keys in his hands. He became a gardener to an unknown lord in England, feeling that hard work would help him atone for his sins. Meanwhile, the parishioners looked everywhere for him, finally locating him in England, begging him to return. They had also located the keys to the cathedral in a fish which they said was tossed up on the deck of their ship as they crossed the English Channel. They gave him the keys, & Maurilius agreed to return to his former post. His first stop, however, was the grave of the child who had died while he celebrated mass. The child miraculously came back to life, even though seven years had gone by. The child was given a new name, Rene, to note the fact that he had been reborn. Rene later succeeded Maurilius as Bishop on Angers & also became a saint.
The cult of Saint Maurilius was brought to England by either the Norman or Angevin earls of Leicester. He is depicted in art as a bishop holding a fish or a garden spade.