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The Shrine of a Mercian Saint

The shrine of St Bertram at the Peak District village of Ilam is a rather special structure known as a "formina". It was built and set over his tomb at some point during the 1200s, the large holes on either side allowing pilgrims to push their heads inside to kiss his relics or even to put an injured or lame limb through to receive his blessing.

St Bertram was an Anglo-Saxon hermit who, inspired by the example of St Guthlac who actually lived inside a Neolithic long barrow, took up residence on an island in the river Sow. There he built a cell from boulders and tree branches in which he prayed and meditated for weeks on end. Curious local people began to visit Bertram - or Beorthelm as his Anglo-Saxon name was - and he gained a reputation and following for his healing powers.

Bertram was not liked at all by the prior and monks of the nearby abbey and rumours grew claiming he was a sorcerer. He was forced out by stone throwing locals and made his way to Ilam where he made his home in a cave overlooking what is now the village. He died there and was eventually canonised but barely any details survive to tell us exactly why.

His shrine became a major pilgrimage destination during the early middle ages, with a nearby spring also said to hold healing properties. A wild story was created during this time that claimed Bertram travelled to Ireland to marry a princess but was eaten by wolves when she gave birth on their journey back to Mercia. A crudely carved font inside the church tells this fable, which I'll show in my next post.

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