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Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2494

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Hair-shirt worn by St Thomas More is enshrined for public veneration for possibly the first time

The hair-shirt worn by St Thomas More while he was locked in to the Tower of London has been enshrined for public veneration for the possibly the first time.

The shirt, made of goat’s hair, is on permanent display in a side altar at Buckfast Abbey, the Benedictine monastery in Devon.

st-thomas-relic-1Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth said he hopes the shrine will become an international pilgrimage destination.

The shirt was worn by St Thomas while he was locked in the Bell Tower awaiting public execution for high treason after he refused to take an oath attached to the Act of Succession, which recognised the progeny of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn as the rightful heirs to the English throne.

On July 5 1535 – the eve of the saint’s martyrdom on nearby Tower Hill – St Thomas handed the shirt to Margaret Giggs, his stepdaughter, and it was kept in her family until 1626.

The shirt was then given to an order of exiled English nuns in Belgium who brought it back to England when they resettled in Devon once the persecution of Catholics had abated.

In 1983, it was passed to the Diocese of Plymouth and in 2011 Bishop Christopher Budd, who has since retired, asked the monks of Buckfast to put it on display in a place where it could be venerated by the public.

Dom David Charlesworth, the Abbot of Buckfast, has described the hair-shirt as a “major relic” which was of great significance because it represented the faith of St Thomas, patron of politicians, statesmen and lawyers.

The shirt is rough in texture and was worn privately as a voluntary form of self-mortification and to unite the wearer with the sufferings of Jesus Christ.

The garment has been folded and kept in a sealed case which was installed in the altar in October.

Buckfast Abbey, founded in 1018, was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539 but rebuilt a century ago on the same spot by French and German monks.


(Photo by Simon Caldwell)