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London's ChurchesThe Annals of St. Paul's: Chapter 2 part 1
Posted on Aug 19, 2007 - 05:14 PM by Bill McCann

Wren's St Paul's Cathedral is one of the dominant images of tourist London. The religious history of the site, however, goes back to the very arrival of Christianity in England. Sitting atop one of the two hills of ancient London it has long gazed down on the doings of men and women. Few definitive histories of St. Paul's have been written but one of the most "delightful" is that penned by Dean H H Milman in the 1860s. Here we present his great work for the enjoyment of the modern age. WE now come to the Norman periods and the feudalisation of the Church. Politics meddling in Church affairs appeared at once in the strange story of Sperafocus and Bishop William. We hear, too, of the veneration of the people for Bishop William. Finally, he tells us of the first Ecclesiastical Parliament to be held in England, summoned by Archbishop Lanfranc, and which established the precedence of the Bishops in England which still holds today. It also decreed that no bones of animals were to be hung up and that no Bishop should sanction judicial sentences of death or mutilation.

The Annals of St Paul's Cathedral

by Henry Hart Millman D.D.



S. Paul's under the Normans

The first part: William the Conqueror – William Bishop of London – Council n S. Paul's.

HE Norman Conquest feudalised the Church as well as the realm of England. The Kings did not cease to be munificent benefactors of the Church, especially of the church of London, but it is significant that the grant of the Conqueror to the Bishop of London was not an estate to be cultivated by peaceful tenants, husbandmen, shepherds, or foresters, it was a strong castle, that of (Bishops) Stortford in Hertfordshire, with its military retainers, who, as will appear from a transaction hereafter to be noticed, did service to the prelate, and swore homage and fealty to him.

The Bishop of London thus became a baronial noble. It does not however appear, that, at a later period, the bishop was so much merged in the baron as in other sees. On the accession of Stephen, it was the Bishop of Salisbury, with his nephews the Bishops of Lincoln and Ely, whose castles were besieged by the king as dangerous to the royal power, and bade defiance to the royal authority.

Stortford was too far from the metropolis to be of importance to the bishop as a place of strength. Nor does it seem that, in aftertimes, the Bishops of London, or the clergy of S. Paul's, took much part in the municipal or political affairs of the city. The Bishop and the Chapter never obtained, never aspired to obtain, that supreme power, which was exercised by many Bishops in Germany, France, and Italy, over great cathedral cities. London gradually grew up to most important power and influence. But it was the citizens of London, either represented by their Mayor, or in defiance of his authority and that of his Aldermen, who asserted their independence, extorted charters from the sovereign, or accepted them; took the lead in the great affairs of the realm; espoused the party of this or that king, or claimant to the Crown; stood forth, as will soon appear, asserting their right to determine the succession to the throne; joined, as they did more frequently, or opposed as more rarely, the cause of freedom in all the struggles for the liberties of the realm.

The Bishops and the Clergy, either quietly withdrew from all municipal affairs, or were steadily and firmly set aside, and limited to their spiritual functions, by the busy, stirring, and not unambitious citizens. The Tower of London remained, except on rare occasions, in the power of the Crown, and was a royal garrison to protect the obedient, or coerce and overawe the refractory, Londoners.

William the Conqueror, when he ascended the throne of England, did not, as at Canterbury and in other dioceses, find a stubborn and, so the proud Norman asserted, an unlearned Saxon prelate, of doubtful loyalty, on the episcopal throne of London. On the elevation of the Norman Robert from London to Canterbury, a certain Sperafocus (this strange name is variously spelt), the Sparrowhawk, Abbot of Abingdon, had been appointed bishop. But the Norman Primate refused to consecrate him, alleging a positive prohibition from the Pope. The Abbot, however, seems to have assumed the title and authority of Bishop. But, by some kind of Council, he was dispossessed, and another Norman, William, was appointed, and was duly consecrated, A. D. 1051, by the Norman Primate.

In the subsequent revolution, when the Primate and other Norman prelates were expelled from the realm, Bishop William shared their fate. But while the Primate was thrust back upon his Abbey of Jumieges, William of London, on account of his goodness, was permitted to return, and retained quiet, and from that time uncontested, possession of his see. The discomfited Saxon retired to his cell at Abingdon.

Bishop William had been chaplain to the Confessor, a guarantee for his piety; of his learning we hear nothing; but he had in a high degree that best quality of a bishop, the power of securing the love and respect, even of his adversaries. The Norman Bishop rose at once into high favour with the Norman King; and Bishop William used that favour as a peacemaker. Through his intercession the Conqueror restored and confirmed all the ancient privileges of the citizens of London, imperilled perhaps, if not forfeited, in the strife. At all events, it was a boon deserving the most profound and enduring gratitude.

For years, for centuries, the Londoners made their annual pilgrimage to the tomb of the good Bishop, in the nave of S. Paul's. His epitaph bore witness to their great reverence. In the seventeenth century (A.D. 1622), the Lord Mayor, Edward Barkham, caused these quaint lines to be set up on the tomb of Bishop William:

Walkers, whosoe'er ye be,
If it prove, you chance to see,
Upon a solemne scarlet day,
The City Senate pass this way,
Their grateful memory for to shew,
Which they the reverent ashes owe
Of Bishop Norman here inhumed;
By whom this city has assumed
Large priviledges: those obtain'd
By him when Conqueror William reign'd.
This being by Barkham's thankful mind renew'd,
Call it the monument of gratitude.

The procession certainly continued to the accession of Queen Elizabeth. "The same day in the afternoon, February 2, 1559-60, the Mayor and Aldermen and all the crafts went to S. Paul's, and there heard a sermon, instead of going in procession about Paul's, and visiting the tomb of Bishop William, and suchlike superstitions." [Strype]

Besides these privileges to the City, the Conqueror, if we may trust the grants, bestowed valuable privileges on the Church of S. Paul's.

"Some lands I give to God and the Church of S. Paul's in London, and special franchises, because I wish that this Church may be free in all things as I wish my soul to be on the day of judgment."

The witnesses to this grant are Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas of York, Roger Earl of Shrewsbury, and other nobles. Another discharges the Church of S. Paul from the payment of Danegeld and other payments, and from all services to the crown.

In the year 1075 (William was still Bishop of London, though he died in the course of that year) the Primate Lanfranc held a great Council in the Cathedral of S. Paul's. This may be held the first full Ecclesiastical Parliament of England. The Saxon Councils had been mostly local synods, some held in obscure places, of which the site cannot be traced, nor the names of the Bishops present. But this might seem to be recognised as the assemblage of the National Church, summoned to the capital city of the kingdom. Lanfranc was not only primate of England, but perhaps the most famous theologian of that day in Christendom.

The Council was attended by almost all the Bishops and greater Abbots of the realm, with the heads of the religious orders; Thomas, Archbishop of York; William, Bishop of London; Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, for many of the Bishops of Normandy held large possessions in England; Walkelin of Winchester; Herman of Sherburne (Salisbury); Wulfstan of Worcester (the one Saxon prelate, on account of his holiness not dispossessed); Walter of Hereford; Giso of Wells; Remigius of Lincoln; Herfast of Elmham (Norwich); Stigand of Selsey (Chichester); Osborn of Exeter; Peter of Lichfield. Rochester was vacant; Lindisfarn or Durham, on some excuse, held good by the canon law, was also absent. Of the Welsh bishoprics no account is given, nor does Ely appear.

The first question agitated in this great Council was the precedence of the Bishops. The Archbishop of York took his seat on the right of the Primate, the Bishop of London on the left. Winchester sat next to York. The constitutions passed in this Council were, as regarded the regular clergy, in the stern spirit of the Cluniac reform.

The Norman Abbey of Bec, which gave Lanfranc, and afterwards Anselm, to England, founded by a wild bandit, had become the model of the severest discipline. Theconstitutions may be read at their full length - it might be said interminable length - in Vilkins. According to one, if any monk retained any property of his own, and died without having surrendered it to the community, and without confession or penance for his sin, the bells were not to toll for his death, no mass was to be said, nor was he to be interred with his brethren in the consecrated ground. But none of these monastic constitutions touched the secular canons of S. Paul's.

Permission was granted to remove the See of Selsey to Chichester, of Sherburne to Salisbury, of Lichfield to Chester. But for these translations the assent of the Crown was deemed requisite. No bishop was to ordain a clerk or monk of another diocese without letters dimissory. To repress the insolent forwardness of some indiscreet ecclesiastics, no one, except a bishop or an abbot, was to presume to speak in the Council without leave of the Primate. The law against marriage within prohibited degrees, extending to the seventh degree of relationship; against the marriage of the clergy, as against Simony of all kinds, had all the austerity of the Hildebrandine school, accepted by the Norman prelates, at least by those from Bec.

The Council descended to lower matters. No bones of animals were to be hung up (to avert cattle plague); all sortileges, auspices, divinations, and other works of the devil, were forbidden under penalty of excommunication. No bishop, or abbot, or clerk was to sit in judgement, or give his sanction to any sentence of death or mutilation.

Such were among the decrees of what may be called the first Convocation of England; no doubt the first which sat in the Cathedral of S. Paul, the cathedral of the capital city of the realm.

The Annals of St. Paul's: Index


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