Since publishing my short book, ‘The Pilgrimage to Our Lady of White hill,’ in 2013, I have come across further evidence relating to its use in the early 16th century. This relates to bequests made in two wills, of offerings and gifts.
The first is from the will of Agnes Bowyer, widow, of the village of Over, (dated 25 March, proved 17th April, 1521). She willed that ‘my ghostly father, (the parish priest) should visit or cause to have visited, for my discharge, these places, our Lady of Redybunde, St. Androwe and St. Pernell of Ely, our Lady of Grace of the Blackfryers in Cambridge, and our Lady of Whitehill, and there to offer for me a Halfpenny or Penny at his pleasure’.
(Source: Palmer, ‘The Blackfryers of Cambridge’, The Reliquary Quarterly Archaeological Journal, vol. XXV, 1884-5, p.208.)
This indicates that the shrine was in use until just before the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the sacking of shrines. Over is a village about seven miles north of Cambridge in the Fens, indicating the shrine was known in the wider Cambridgeshire area.
The reference to other shrines requires further consideration. The shrine at the church of the Blackfriers in Cambridge is well-known and documented. Our Lady of ‘Redybunde’ could be a miss-transcription by the clerk of ‘Radygunde’, the former nunnery on the site of Jesus College? ‘St.Androwe [St. Audrey of Ely?] and St Pernell of Ely’ require further research.
The existence of a second will was brought to my attention recently by Dr Clair Daunton, of Cambridge University. This concerns a bequest by Edward Shuldham, Master of Trinity college from 1502 until his death in 1503. He was also Rector of Therfield in Essex. Under his will of 1499, Shuldham left several bequests to churches and chapels in and around Cambridge, including… ‘To the chapel of Our Lady of Whitehill, a vestment, or something necessary for the chapel, to the value of 13 shillings and four pence.’ Will proved on 3rd August, 1503. (Tranls., Dr Daunton. Source: TNA Prob/11/13/image ref.2343.)
From this we may infer the chapel was known and in use between 1503-21. There are some other points of interest to consider: the suggested gift of a ‘vestment’ – the garment worn by a priest when carrying out some religious service or ceremony – ‘or something else necessary for the chapel,’ is suggestive (no more) of the existence of a chapel priest.
Another point is that whilst Agnes Bowyer’s gift, of a halfpenny or penny, is the offering of a relatively poor person, Edward Shuldham was a person of local significance both within the church and the University, and his gift is correspondingly larger – 13 shillings and four pence.
It would be interesting to create an accurate survey of all local shrines, holy wells and places of pilgrimage in the Cambs. area. Further research into wills, including members of the University, should throw up further gifts to local shrines, even, perhaps, Chapel hill. Something I will return to in due course.
It would be interesting to see how far back in time such (possible) bequests were made, since the origin of the shrine is open to question. The first mention of the chapel comes in a deed dated 16th June, 1432, describing a parcel of land ‘below the chapel’, next to the ‘Stayneway’ – the name for the lane leading over Chapel hill from the 13th century. There is also an Indulgence granted by Bishop Alcock, dated 18 December, 1488, for the repair of the chapel. (See my book, pp.6-7). Further ‘will evidence’ would help to fill in the picture and provide information regarding the pilgrimages significance.