The Miracle of Adam the Forester

In the south ambulatory of Canterbury Cathedral in England, a stained glass window tells the story of Adam the Forester as recorded by William of Canterbury, and it is set in four medallions, or roundels.

The story of Adam the forester unfolds in the the four stained glass window roundels similar in fashion to a comic book story for people with limited or no reading ability. In the first roundel there are the two foresters, Adam on the left, is shot in the neck by an arrow fired by a poacher in green (center right) holding the bow, the second forester in green (left) has an axe in his belt; another poacher on the right is walking away with a deer slung over his shoulder. In the background there are two trees, one tree in a stained glass work would have symbolized a garden, but as there are two trees this is symbolic of a forest; this is the king’s royal forest and the penalty for poaching previous to 1217 is death, hence the poachers violent reaction to the presence of the forester whose job it is to protect the forest.
In the next roundel,(bottom left) Adam is in bed surrounded by his friends in the King’s castle, symbolized in the stained glass work by the castellations on the posts in behind the scene.
In the next roundel (top right) Adam is drinking ‘Canterbury water’ containing blood of the martyr, this was dispensed to pilgrims to effect cures.  Truthfully if it did have blood in it, saints or otherwise, Adam likely would have died from something hideous and biological.
In the final roundel (bottom right)  Adam has recovered and is giving thanks at St Thomas’ tomb for his recovery.

While this story is church propaganda, worthy of an Edmund Black Adder style cunning plan, designed to sell relics, and cures, and to generate income for the cathedral, there is no doubt that it is likely based on a true story. The risks for foresters were real, and daily shootouts, and brutal melee fights were the norm. Fortunately for Adam, his wife or mum likely kept his wound clean, and it missed most of the important stuff going through his neck. It is more likely that St. Thomas Becket’s ability to save him was directly related to the amount of knowledge that some wise woman had acquired tending to similar wounds up to that point.

It is a great story though.


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