William The Conqueror and The Relics of Battle Abbey

Battle Abbey in East Sussex was built in commemoration of one of Britain’s fiercest battles.

Seeking redemption for the bloodshed he had caused during the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror donated hundreds of sacred items to the Abbey.

The growing list of holy relics given to the Abbey was later added to by King John, and was said to have eventually housed one of the greatest collections of Christian relics anywhere in the world.

Though the monastery now stands in ruin, a medieval manuscript listing the relics of Battle Abbey was analyzed and transcribed for the first time by English Heritage historian Michael Carter.

During the transcription, Dr Michael Carter said:

“The collecting and cherishing of relics was an important aspect of medieval monasticism and I am thrilled to think that I could have been the first person in over 500 years to study the glorious list from Battle Abbey in detail.


This manuscript details that the relics given to Battle Abbey were of higher significance than the ones which were given to Westminster Abbey.

William the Conqueror possessed many Christian relics from around the world, and hoped that his donations to the Abbey would save his soul from eternal condemnation.

Many of these relics are associated with the Christian story of Christmas.

The Importance of Battle Abbey To William The Conqueror

Shortly before the Battle of Hastings, William made a speech. The 12th-century Chronicle of Battle Abbey tells us that William pledged to found a monastery on the site of the battle.

I make a vow on this very battlefield I shall found a monastery for the salvation of all, and especially for those who fall here, to the honour of God and his saints, where servants of God may be supported: a fitting monastery, with a worthy liberty. Let it be an atonement: a haven for all as free as the one I conquer for myself.

Battle Abbey was dedicated to the Trinity, the Virgin and St Martin of Tours. It also stood as a memorial to the fallen of the Battle of Hastings and as a penance for the bloodshed caused during the Conquest.

The monastery however, was unable to escape the destruction of King Henry VIII.

The Christian Relics Given To The Abbey

One of the most prevalent relics supposedly given to Battle Abbey was a piece of wood which had been taken from the manger of Christ.

Another, was a hair shirt, said to have been worn by Saint Nicholas. As well as the hair shirt from the great saint, there was also one of his finger bones.

The manuscript also claims that among the relics of Battle Abbey, were some taken from the children who were killed on the orders of King Herod.

The list of prominent Christian relics doesn’t stop there though, there were also some rocks which were said to have been used in the killing of the great martyr St Stephen.

In 1200AD King John donated a relic of the Holy Sepulchre, and a portion of the Cross, which had been obtained by his brother Richard the Lionheart during his crusade.

The relics of Battle Abbey are now lost through time, but the intriguing list goes on.