On this day, 1455
18th September 2015
From Ellie Jones, Cathedral Archivist
Edmund Lacy (or Lacey) was bishop of Exeter from 1420-1455. He was a conscientious bishop who discharged his duties to his cathedral and diocese well. He was interested in spiritual, intellectual, liturgical and musical matters and held a reputation for holy living. Lacy was in his 80’s when he died but had not enjoyed good health for some time, being afflicted with a painful leg condition. After his death, he was buried in the north side of the cathedral and his altar tomb, now sadly missing its brass effigy, is still to be found in the north quire aisle. Healing miracles came to be associated with Lacy and his tomb was, for some decades, the focus of an unofficial cult with pilgrims travelling there to offer donations and their prayers. Had his cult not been suppressed in the 1530s, perhaps Lacy may even have become a saint in time.
In 1943, during war damage repair work, one of the masons discovered several wax figures tucked away in the cresting above the tomb. The finest of these objects is the figure of a woman with long hair and full dress (about 20cm tall) and with hands clasped in an attitude of prayer. There are also fragments of human legs, faces, fingers, feet and shoes, as well as those of horses, pigs and cattle. These figures are believed to be a very rare British survival of the once common wax votive offerings which pilgrims would have bought at or very near the cathedral and then, most likely, hung around the canopy of Lacy’s tomb as prayers were offered.
The wax figures themselves are cared for in the Cathedral Library & Archives as they are - perhaps not surprisingly given their age - now so fragile that it is not currently possible to put them on public view. Visitors to the Cathedral and to Lacy’s tomb should, however, be sure to look around and imagine it 500 or so years ago with pilgrims visiting and hanging up their hopeful little beeswax figures.