St Erkenwald, Bishop of London (d. 693) was quite a chap. His Wikipedia entry has the usual bumph: brother of Ethelburga, founder of Barking and Chertsey Abbeys, that kind of thing. For the real goodies though look to Peter Ackroyd’s indispensible London: The Biography.
Erkenwald was Bishop of London for eighteen years and, enfeebled in his later years, he would ride around the streets of London in a litter (a wooden cart) which itself was credited with curative powers. Splinters and fragments of the cart were part of the medieval trade in saintly relics and icons. Together with Erkenwald, the cart was interred at St Paul’s Cathedral and he was the subject of a cult which ran as late as the sixteenth century. Ackroyd notes that ‘successful lawyers of London…on nomination as serjeants of law, would walk in procession to St Paul’s in order to venerate the physical presence of the saint.’ Most remarkably, when St Paul’s burnt in 1087 Erk’s shrine and silken covering remained intact.
Not much survives of Erkenwald. His shrine was swept away in Wren’s site-clearances before building the cathedral you see today. Eagle-eyes can find his name on the roll of Bishops of London in St Paul’s, an imaginatively-named Essex League Basketball team and this street in East Acton.
It’s high time for a London icon to resurface, 1300 years on.
*’the most holy figure in London
Big up Chertsey Abbey (built in 666ad). I’m actually going to the museum on Thursday for a viking tour – also very prevalent in this area. They found a viking sword in the gravel pits when they built thorpe park!