A Very Special Baby: Rumwold of Buckingham

Many things have changed since my daughter was a baby. Technology, fashions and trends but the basic care and needs are still the same.  Including the need for anxious parents to believe that their child is ‘advanced’, whether that be walking, talking, sitting up or rolling over. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.

However, if we all knew about Rumwold we would be content knowing our baby was healthy. None of us could compete with his advanced status so, in the interest of looking daft, we would all stay silent.

Rumwold was born in 650 or 662 and the poor mite only lived for three days. But from the moment of his birth he could speak fluently. Not only that, but what he spoke should have taken decades of learning. He was a self-confessed Christian and asked to be quickly baptised into the faith, he knew all about worship and the principles of Christianity. Just before his death he gave a sermon. There is no record of him holding himself up or whether he still had that weak wobbly neck three-day-old babies have, but I suppose that faded into insignificance.

According to eleventh century records, Rumwold was the grandson of my favourite king, Penda of Mercia and the son of a king of Northumbria. There is speculation about who his parents actually were as none of the facts really add up, even Penda was recorded as converting to Christianity although historians generally agree that he did not. Some suggest Cyneburga and Alcfrith. Anyway, the story goes that Rumwold’s mother was a pious Christian married to a pagan and she would not consummate the marriage until her husband converted. As soon as he becomes Christian, she becomes pregnant. Penda calls for the baby to be born at his palace but the child is born on the journey when they camped overnight in a field. As soon as the baby was born he cried out: “I am a Christian, I am a Christian, I am a Christian!” He added that he should be named ‘Rumwold’.

It is said that he was born in Walton Grounds in Northamptonshire, which was part of Mercia at the time. Obviously such piety resulted in the baby becoming a saint and a chapel was built on the very spot of his birth with rumours that the font was the one he was baptised in. Rumwold predicted his own death and said that he wanted to be buried in Buckingham. There are churches named after him and two wells where his relics once lay. There was a shrine for the many pilgrims who visited, largely thanks to Bishop Wulfstan who wrote down the tale.

Boxley Abbey in Kent had a famous statue of the saint.  According to tradition the attempt to lift the statue was a test of a woman’s chastity. In reality, those who paid the priest well could lift the statue easily, while others could not. Upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries in England, it was discovered that the statue was held by a wooden nail.The monks there had a few of these scams going including the supposed cross of Saint Andrew that could talk. This skullduggery only added to Henry VIII’s case that the Church was corrupt and all monasteries should be dissolved.

So us mere mortals with our un-precocious babies should be content that we have them with us at all. Maybe we should buy them something fashionable and advanced on the feast of Saint Rumwold on 3 November. Just a thought.

© 2016 A.J. Sefton


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