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24 September 2014

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You are in: Essex > History > Local History > King's links to Waltham Abbey

Marker stones for King Harold

Tomb of King Harold

King's links to Waltham Abbey

Thought to be the final resting place of legendary King Harold, we visit Waltham Abbey to find out more about its historical links to the last Saxon King of England.

King Harold is probably best know for losing at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  What is perhaps less well known are his links with Essex.  He was the Earl of Essex, and owned large estates in Waltham and Nazeing.

King Harold's statue

Statue from the 1960s

Harold's church, the Holy Cross and St Lawrence at Waltham Abbey, stands at the heart of the community and has served the town for nearly 14 centuries.  The Holy Cross, a black crucifix, found at Montacute in Somerset was brought to Waltham in about 1030 AD.   It was believed to have great healing powers and the town became a centre of pilgrimage in medieval times.

The church was a favourite of Harold's who it is believed was cured of paralysis after praying there.  To show his gratitude he bestowed lands and gifts to it.  It was consecrated in the presence of King Edward the Confessor in 1060.  The church was established as a Secular College with a dean and 12 canons who provided pastoral care in the parish.

Waltham Abbey Church

Several churches have stood on the site

Following his death at the Battle of Hastings on 14, October 1066, Duke William of Normandy refused Harold’s mother permission to claim his body.  It was later identified by Harold’s mistress, Edith Swan-neck and brought back to Waltham. 

His body has been moved several times as the church was extended.  Following excavation in the late 80s and early 90s it's thought that the two marker stones don't lie within the wall's of Harold's church.  The tomb is likely to be to the west of the stones.

Both stones bear an inscription one reads: "This stone marks the position of the high altar behind which King Harold is said to have been buried in 1066."

Marker stone

Stone marker for Harold

The other says: "Harold King of England OBVT 1066."

Today there are several parts of the church which can be attributed to Harold, including the stones set in a herringbone pattern in the east wall.

King Harold's links with the town are still recognised to this day.  Every October the King Harold Day Society organises a medieval festival in Abbey Gardens to commemorate King Harold, the last Saxon King of England, and to promote the town as an historic destination.

The group was awarded a local Heritage Initiative Grant of £25,000 and received a further £2,500 from Epping Forest District Council towards the medieval event in October 2006 and to install 10 information boards in Abbey Gardens.

The boards highlight the development of the church through its history from its early beginnings as a place of worship in the 7th century until it was destroyed under Henry VIII's dissolution in 1540.

This year's King Harold Day is Saturday, 11, October.

last updated: 28/05/2008 at 14:46
created: 15/05/2008

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