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The Annals of St. Paul’s: Chapter 3 part 1


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 dark period in the minority of Henry III, when England, having been surrendered to the Pope by John, suffered the exploitation and indignity of a vassal State. But there were those who were ready to stand up to the power even of the Papal Legate. Even the weather seemed to roar its disapproval.

St Paul's Cathedral in 1889.The Annals of St Paul’s Cathedral
by Henry Hart Millman D.D.

LATE DEAN OF S. PAUL’SCHAPTER 3S. Paul’s, and The Papal LegatesThe first part: Papal Power in England – The Legate, Cardinal Otho – Council in S. Paul’s – Sermon and Canons of OthoDURING the long inglorious reign of the feeble Henry III.(1216-1272), the Papal power attained its utmost height in vassal’ England, and that power was displayed most ostentatiously in the Cathedral of S. Paul. Note 1: The Pope, Honorius III., addresses King Henry as ` Vassallus noster,’ and that title continued for some time. MS. B. M. Commission to Cardinal Martin as Legate. In another, the Pope expresses his sorrow for the death of King John, vassal and dear son of the Church. The liege lord ruled almost absolutely and remorselessly, drained the land of its wealth, and heaped the richest benefices on his own foreign subjects, many of whom never visited England. 

Note 2 The Pope, Gregory IX., had adduced a curious scriptural authority for foreigners holding benefices in England. ‘ IEgr6 non ferant, si inter `ipscs morantes extranei honores et ‘beneficia consequantur, ***** apud ‘Deum non sit acceptio personarum.’MS. B. M. sub ann. 1234.

Legate after legate takes his seat in S. Paul’s ; the authority of the Bishop and the Primate cowers before them. The Legates not only issued canons of doctrine and discipline for the Church of the realm, but assessed and levied the tribute, which from various sources was to be paid to the Roman treasury. This was done proudly, openly, as of uncontested, incontestable right. At the same time so much obscurity has gathered over these transactions, that it is difficult clearly to trace its gradual rise and mode of action. In those turbulent days too the Commons House of Parliament was first struggling into being and vigorous life. It was organising itself (it was high time!) and gathering its powers, so as ere long to check the growth of the inordinate wealth of the Clergy, to confront Rome herself in authority and influence, and thus to diminish the tribute so long levied on the realm.

Yet to the Papal power at that juncture England owed a very great debt of gratitude. At the death of John a large part of the island was in the power of Louis, son of the King of France. We have seen him in S. Paul’s receiv ing the allegiance of half England. A large number of the nobles had revolted to him, and supported a foreign Prince against their own tyrannical and treacherous Sovereign. It was the Legate Gualo who spread the shield of the Papal authority over the boy King (Henry at his accession was only ten years old), rallied the better part of his Barons in the cause of English independence, and so far prevented England from sinking into a province or appanage of France, or at best from having a French power ruling permanently over a considerable part of the island, as Henry II. held by inheritance, and Henry V. in later times held by conquest, at least half of France.

These earlier events, however, in the Reign of Henry III. do not specially concern the church of S. Paul, excepting that among the first acts of the government was to hold a Council in S. Paul’s, and to publish the Great Charter in a new form . In another great Council held in S. Paul’s, Stephen Langton presided, not as legate, though he was a Cardinal of the Church of Rome, but as Primate of Eng land. The object of this Council was to grant and assess a subsidy to the King, which the Pope had graciously permitted the province of Canterbury to vote, and, in truth, had enjoined as an act of good-will to the sovereign.

Not more than twelve years after, the Cathedral of S. Paul beheld a Legate take his lofty seat on his throne as dictator over the Clergy of England, with her Bishops and Abbots at his feet. [AD 1237] This Legate was Otho, called the White, Cardinal Deacon of S. Nicolas in carcere Tulliano. The mission of Otho had been instigated by the King, now entirely under the control of the foreigners in his court, and of a faction among the Bishops, headed by Peter de la Roche, Bishop of Winchester. The Primate, Edmund Rich, had remonstrated in the strongest language, not only from jealousy, which he might not unreasonably feel at this intrusion on his function, but from nobler indignation at the unexampled exactions of the Pope, who was insatiably draining away the wealth of the land from Church and State. But worse than that had been the long peopling, it may be said, of the richer benefices in England with foreign, mostly Italian, ecclesiastics.

These foreigners, though they rigidly exacted the revenues, rarely visited the dioceses or prebends which they held. Edmund Rich was entirely on the English side. As against the King, he had taken thoroughly up the part of Becket; an example which in later times he ignominiously followed by fleeing from his archbishopric, finding refuge in Becket’s favourite retreat, the monastery of Pontigny, and sinking into a saint. Now on higher motives, in a better cause, he was standing up against Henry III., solemnly rebuking him for his mis government and encouragement of the swarming aliens, Poitevins and Gascons, who filled the chief offices of the State; Italians who had seized the best preferments of the Church. On another occasion he had almost undisguisedly arraigned the King as an accomplice in the murder of Mareschal, Earl of Pembroke. [AD 1234] The Primate as boldly, but as vainly, warned the weak King against this absolute subjugation of the Church to the Legate of the Pope.

The King and his foreign Council did not wait to welcome the Cardinal Legate on his disembarkation. Their costly adulation had met him at Paris with splendid gifts, great bales of scarlet cloth, the fit accoutrement for a Cardinal Legate. These presents, perhaps craftily, Otho received only in part, the rest he desired to be reserved for him in safe custody. The Prelates of the foreign faction crowded to honour the Legate’s landing in the realm of England. The King himself met him and did homage on the seashore. Here, too, he was loaded with even more costly gifts, palfreys, precious vessels, soft and rich vestments, furs; for the Southron was to spend his winter in cold London. The Bishop of Winchester sent fifty fat oxen, a hundred measures of fine flour, eight casks of the choicest wines. At first, as if cautiously to survey the strength of his position, the Legate conducted himself with mild and conciliatory demeanour; he disguised his insatiable avarice, repressed rather than encouraged the base and prodigal adulation.

But it was in S. Paul’s, in the great church of the great city of London, that the Legate was to show himself in all his majestic power. He commanded a lofty platform to be erected in the nave. He summoned before him the Archbishops and all his Suffragans, the Abbots, Priests, Proctors, from monasteries and chapters.Dark prognostics had shaken men’s minds at the approach of the Council in S. Paul’s. A wild ecclesiastic had declared that all the planets had met under the sign of Capricorn, that terrible tempests would rage, and the horned beasts be smitten with mortality. The wicked profanely interpreted this of the Bishops and their mitres. Accordingly when, before the meeting, the Prelates and the Legate were at their devotions in the Cathedral, the Church was rocked by a furious hurricane. The Bishops, the Legate himself, shuddered with terror. On the nightof S. Cecilia’s Day, [Nov 22] clouds like towers rolled over the church; thunders and lightnings broke over the roof; the hurricane continued in its fury and lasted for fifteen days.

It was in the midst of these awful and threatening tumults in the heavens that, on a dreary November day, the Council began to gather round S. Paul’s. Many of the weary Prelates and dignitaries had come from far; their horses and followers crowded all the space around the Cathedral. There was a sullen discontent, and, instead of acclamations, hardly suppressed murmurs, when, on the second day (the first had been occupied by the Prelates at their desire in searching the records and statutes), the Cardinal with difficulty made his way through the tired and mud-bespattered throng, under a dense and heavy London fog. The Cardinal had some apprehension of tumults, not in the heavens. Two hundred of the King’s guards had been secretly posted around for his protection. The Legate, his delicate Italian temperament shivering under the ungenial climate, had heaped over his surplice and rochet a quantity of rich furs.

He was met at the porch of the Cathedral by a long procession, with tapers, music, and litany. He advanced and arrayed himself before the high altar in his gorgeous vestments. He then ascended the lofty platform in the nave, adorned with splendid tapestry, and took his seat on the throne. On his right was the Primate; next to him ROGER THE BLACK (Niger), the Bishop of London, whimsically confronted with the White Cardinal; on his left the Archbishop of York. The Legate had determined the precedence. On the papal seal,. S. Paul was on the right of the Pope; the Bishop of London, therefore, was on his right.The Cardinal lifted up his voice ‘like a trumpet,’ and preached the first sermon, of which we have any report, in S. Paul’s. The text was Ezekiel i. 5 : “In the midst of the throne, and round about it were four beasts.” The beasts were the Prelates of the Church, whose vigilant eyes ought to be everywhere and on all sides.

The Prelates and Clergy perhaps thought that their ears should be as vigilant as their eyes. They sate, silently submissive, but not without suspicious attention, as the canons were promulgated which were to form the law of their Church. When the Legate came to the 13th, which required a dispensation from the Pope to hold pluralities, there was a low and ominous murmur. Then rose Walter de Cantelupe, Bishop of Worcester. Cantelupe was a high-born, not unworldly prelate; judging from his own Constitutions, full of zeal for the authority and discipline of the Church, inclining to austerity rather than to laxity; his noble character was afterwards fully revealed, when he stood by the side of Simon de Montfort in all the vicissitudes of his more glorious and of his adverse fortune. The Bishop of Worcester took off his mitre, and, in the name of the Clergy of England, made his solemn protest.”Many of the Prelates of England were meal of high birth. They had been wont, by holding many benefices, to maintain their dignity, to show generous hospitality, and to be prodigal in alms-deeds. Some were old; they would not consent to be robbed of their income, and reduced to ignominious poverty. Some were young and bold, and would endure a hard struggle before they would surrender their rights. For myself, before I was a bishop, I made a firm resolution not to be so plundered. I adhere to my resolution. Let the Pope reconsider this, and be more wisely counselled.

“Worcester’s speech (we must judge it, not as it sounds strange to our ears, but as it sounded in his days) was received with loud and renewed applause. The Legate, overawed, consented to withdraw the obnoxious canon, for the further consideration of the Pope.

[Note 3: On a subsequent day the Earl of Lincoln and William Roule, Canon of S. Paul’s, protested in the name of the Sovereign against anything being done to the prejudice of the Crown and the royal dignity.]

It is needless to dwell on the other Constitutions of Otho, strong against the married Clergy, and on the abuse of benefices, descending, as was common in those days, from father to son; on the dress of the Clergy, which had become military rather than ecclesiastical. These canons were before many years superseded by those of Cardinal Ottobuoni.

[Note 4: It was two or three years afterwards at Westminster, that the Legate, made the exorbitant demand of two prebends in every chapter to be at the absolute disposal of the Pope. This was too much even for the King, who prudently answered, that he would consent to such a measure when the other sovereigns of Christendom had done the same. By the clergy the proposal was received with derisive laughter. See Latin Christianity, vol. vi. p. 85. I cannot ascertain how far foreigners had forced their way into the Chapter of S. Paul’s. The names are a delusive guide. Many Englishmen of Norman descent had foreign sounding names.]