I went to do a book signing at Norton Priory yesterday as it has close connections with the story of The de Lacy Inheritance. Part of the novel is set at nearby Halton Castle, the home of the barons of Halton, and it was the second baron, William fitz Nigel who founded the community of Augustinian canons in 1115 on the south bank of the River Mersey, near Runcorn in Cheshire.
It is of special interest to me as this is where Richard, who is one of the main characters in my story, was buried. Priory records record:
‘Iste eciam Rogerus habuit quendam fratrem, Ricardum nomine, cui dedit villam de More; et hic postmodum fuit leprosus, et sepultus est in capitulo canonicorum de Northton.’
This seems to confirm that Roger de Lacy had a brother named Richard who died of leprosy and was buried under the chapter house at Norton. When the priory was excavated a burial was uncovered in the chapter house and the skeleton showed signs of Paget’s disease. NB: Later evidence shows that this burial was of a later date and did not show signs of any disease
Paget’s disease is a disease of the bones and in days when treatment was impossible it led to deformities and was sometimes confused with leprosy.
Norton Priory: The Archaeology of a Medieval Religious House by J. Patrick Greene says of this burial:
“In a sandstone coffin with an impressively carved lid was the skeleton of a man who had suffered from Paget’s disease.”
It’s clear that this man was someone of importance and records suggest that it probably was Richard.
Here is my photo of the grave site:
And this is a photo that was taken during the archaeological excavations showing the skeleton in situ:
The three smaller coffins contained the remains of children and were the only stone coffins for children that were discovered.
The only other member of the de Lacy family known to have been buried at Norton Priory is Alice, who was the first wife of John de Lacy.
* In June 2011 I received a message from Virginia Mylius who told me that Alice was the daughter of Gilbert d’Aquila and his wife Isobel whose first husband was Robert de Lacy. See the messages below for more information.*
Norton Priory is a very interesting place to visit and apart from the excavated ruins and the well preserved remains of the medieval undercroft you can see the huge 14th century statue of St Christopher. It’s a rare survival of a pre-reformation religious statue. So many were destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII. This one once stood in the courtyard of the house of the Brooke family – a house built after the dissolution of the monasteries. When the Brooke family left the house the statue remained. It was given to Liverpool Museum in 1964 and has since been restored and moved back to the priory where it is displayed in its own purpose built gallery.
The statue is thought to date from around 1391 when the priory was raised in status to an abbey. It is huge, double life size, and traces of paint show that it would originally have been painted in bright colours. It depicts St Christopher carrying the Christ child across a river filled with fish and is an appropriate symbol for a monastery that was close to the river crossing of the Mersey at Runcorn.
If you are in the area do go and see the real thing. It is amazing.
There’s more information here: