How Brid helped King Henry V to Agincourt victory

Batttle of Agincourt
Batttle of Agincourt

It is 600 years today (25 October) since one of England’s greatest military triumphs.

The battle of Agincourt on St Crispin’s Day in 1415 was an important part of the invasion of France and saw King Henry V and an army of around 8,500 mainly archers armed with longbows and armoured knights defeat a French force of more than twice that size.

St John's Shrine from an early engraving

St John's Shrine from an early engraving

Immortalised by Shakespeare and the subject of several films, the actual size of the forces is sometimes set much higher, but luck was on Henry’s side with a little help from Bridlington.

After his victory he made a pilgrimage to Bridlington to give thanks at the shrine of St John, located in what was a huge Augustinian monastery dating back to 1136.

The Priory was once one of the most important places of worship in England due almost entirely to its superstar saint, all-round holy and humble man and some time miracle worker.

Like so many others, the monastery was swept away under Henry VIII’s reformation in 1537. Its gold and silver and lands were plundered.

St John of Bridlington

St John of Bridlington

Despite huge objection St John’s magnificent shrine and tomb were taken down and burnt in Old Town’s market place as a further act of vandalism.

All that remained was the part of the church seen today and the Bayle Gate gatehouse.

The surviving nave of the original church has reminders of St John, the last to be canonised before the English Reformation, who probably did more to regenerate Bridlington than anyone before or since.

His humility and caring for the community and miracles he is said to have performed before and after his death made him a magnet for pilgrims, among them kings, noblemen and lesser mortals who made their way on foot and horseback to worship at his shrine.

But there are reminders of the streets of Bridlington which bear his name and those with references to 
the original Priory, even the Prior John pub, ironic for a man who never touched a drop.

The Priory includes a St John side chapel close to the St John of Bridlington stained glass window and a series of information panels and a tapestry work depicting the 900-year history of the Priory. A final reminder of this outstanding historical figure is the St John Ledger Stone.

Created by Stephen 
Carvill for the Priory 
Churchyard in 2015, this carved Caithness stone is on the same spot as St 
John’s original shrine 
would have been in a chapel beyond the original altar but now outside in the churchyard.

Its medieval Latin inscription urges him to help those who pray there. Written by Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, it translates as: “O Holy Prior of Bridlington, follower of a chaste life, pray for us.”

So where did Saint John’s story begin?

He was born to what is described as a noble family in Thwing village and went to the local school where he was taught by the village priest.

At the age of 14 he came to Bridlington Priory to join the monastic community and was to complete his education at Oxford University. Described as a gentle, peaceful and quiet person kind to everyone, he met the canons who eventually chose John to be their Prior putting him in charge of the Priory.

He is said to have been responsible for ensuring the poor were fed and clothed visitors were welcome, the sick were given a bed and looked after and his prayers for people sometimes made miracles happen. He died in 1379 aged 59. By this time he was well known throughout the country, even minstrels sang songs about him and 22 years later the Pope declared him a saint, thus starting the pilgrim rush to visit his shrine.

The best known of his miracles involved the five-man crew of a drowning vessel from Hartlepool caught up in a furious gale. They called on God in the name of St John and he appeared to them bringing them safely back to Bridlington harbour from where they walk to the monastery to give thanks for saving their lives.

There were others, among them changing water to wine and saving a 
local woman from a thatched roof fire at a cottage outside the monastery by carrying a ladder so she could escape. When the ladder was removed it took three strong men to carry it.

He is also credited with a variety of healing miracles including healing broken arms and legs, saving sight, healing fevers, even the plague and making the dumb speak.

As the patron saint of women facing a difficult labour in child birth, he is said to have saved those who had been two months or more in labour.

You can learn more about Bridlington Priory and St John including open times at: www.bridlingtonpriory.co.uk. Admission is free.