Hunt on for local saint

December 11, 1998

Evidence for a new obscure English saint - St Morrell - has been discovered in the quintessential English village of Hallaton, Leicestershire. Morrell, whose name is associated with a well in the village, may date back to the 7th century, says Graham Jones, Leverhulme special research fellow at Leicester University's department of English local history.

Dr Jones is undertaking a parish-by-parish survey of England, compiling a comprehensive map showing which saints were venerated where. He uses church records, wills and other documents to piece together the story. He is hoping to interpret patterns of distribution from a final electronic map.

"The vast majority of churches are dedicated to universal saints," he said. "One in five churches in England, for example, is dedicated to Mary, twice as many as the next most popular cult, All Saints. But there are also obscure saints, who may come to light in documents, from place names or from pieces of sculpted stone."

Dr Jones has long known of Morrell's Well in Hallaton, which gained its name sometime between 1318, when it was apparently known as Stow Well, and the 17th century, when it was referred to in a village document under its current name.

Then a former student uncovered a will written in 1524 by the then rector of Hallaton leaving money so that after his death somebody could go on a pilgrimage to say prayers for him. He lists the shrines to be visited, finishing at the shrine of St Morrell of Hallaton.

"This is the first reference we have had to a St Morrell," explained Dr Jones. The presence of an elaborate north aisle with crypt at St Michael's church in Hallaton had already suggested the presence of a local saint.

"In the Middle Ages Morrell was a nickname, meaning something little, dark and shrivelled up. Hallaton had a hermitage so perhaps the hermit was revered."

Alternatively, Morrell may be a corruption of the old English Merewahl, meaning "a great person who speaks a Latin-based language". Such a translation could link Hallaton with the 7th century, when King Penda's son Peada ruled the area. He had a brother called Merewahl.

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