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The Annals of St. Paul’s: Chapter 3 Part 2


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. The long dispute with the Abbot of Westminster was finally settled. The papal Legate took up residence at Osney, and when the scholars of Oxford went to pay homage they were insulted. A riot broke out and the Legate had to flee to Abingdon. All of Oxford’s scholars were excommunicated and were forced to process from St. Paul’s to Westminster and beg forgiveness. Bishop Roger banished usurers were banished form London, and many of the homes of foreigners were burned. Some belonged to the pope’s bankers and Bishop Roger is forced to go to Rome and pay a large fine. He also stood up to the king and continued the work of enlarging and beautifying the cahtedral, at the cost of exhausting his treasury.

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 second part: University of Oxford excommunicated – Bishop Roger the BlackThe Bishop of London, who sate in silence during this usurpation of his authority and place of honour in his cathedral, was, it has been said, Roger the Black (Niger). The predecessor of Roger, who succeeded to William de Santa Maria, EUSTACE DE FAUCONBERG, had been chiefly distinguished by his descent, from one of the old Norman barons (perhaps allied to Shakspeare’s Falconbridge), and by the high offices which he had held in the state as King’s justiciary, twice ambassador in France, and high treasurer of the realm. Note: William de Santa Maria voluntarily abdicated his bishopric, Jan. 26, 1221, retaining the power of wearing his pontifical robes in any church to which he might be invited, though his usual dress was that of a regular Canon of S. Osyth. In the MSS. B. M., is a brief from the Pope (Honorius III.), permitting him to retire on a pension de bonis ecelesiw. Three manors, Clakinton,-,and Witham, with consent of the Dean and Chapter, are set apart for his sustentation. The chief event of Fauconberg’s episcopate had been the settlement of the dispute with the Abbot of Westminster about jurisdiction over certain churches, specially that of S. Margaret’s. He had also laid the foundation of the choir of the Cathedral, and had completed the bell tower. Besides this, Fulk de Breaute, the great freebooting rebel who played so important a part in the wars at the end of John’s reign and the beginning of that of Henry III., was committed to the custody of Eustace, Bishop of London. To some monkish verses on the fall of Fulk the compassionate but facetious bishop replied with two lines of Ovid, ‘If each of the gods (saints, suggests Paris) were to revenge his own wrongs, Fulk, in his single person, would never satisfy ‘the demands of their vengeance.’During the legation of Cardinal Otho and the episcopate of Roger the Black, a procession set forth, not to S. Paul’s but from S. Paul’s, that of the heads and scholars of the University of Oxford. 

Note: Roger the Black succeeded to the See, June, 1229.

The Legate had humbled the Church, he would now seize the opportunity of bringing the University under his feet. It was a strange history, characteristic as strange. The Cardinal Legate had taken up his residence in the Abbey of Osney. He was supplied with provisions by the scholars of Oxford. Certain of these desired to pay their respectful homage to the Legate. The insolent porter shut the door in their faces. The indignant scholars burst in. Just at that moment a poor Irish priest stood soliciting alms. The clerk of the kitchen, instead of alms, threw a bucket of scalding water in his face. The hot blood of a Welsh scholar boiled up. The scholars were armed. The Welshman shot the clerk of the kitchen dead. The clerk was the kinsman, it was said the brother, of the Legate, whose office was (a singular office for a brother) to taste the meat before the Cardinal. We have had the Irishman and the Welshman, we have here the Italian. A fierce fray began; the three nations, Irish, Welsh, and English, fell on the Italians. The Legate with difficulty made his escape to Abingdon. Thirty of the ringleaders of the riot were seized by the authorities and committed to Wallingford jail. But the wrath of the Legate was not appeased. He pronounced his interdict against the University, and excommunicated all the guilty scholars. From Abingdon Otho removed to Durham House in London. The Lord Mayor was commanded by the King to watch over him as the ‘apple of his eye.’ He summoned the Bishops to complain of the affront. The University cowered under the interdict. Probably by the invitation of the Bishop, they assembled at S. Paul’s, and set forth in sad and solemn array along the streets to the Strand, to throw themselves at the Legate’s feet. Many Bishops, who had been educated at Oxford, joined the procession. They walked, says Old Fuller, not a short Italian, but a long ‘ English mile, on foot, bareheaded, without their cloaks;’ the Bishops in humble attire. The Legate was appeased, and removed the interdict.

‘Bishop Roger was ‘profound in letters, honourable and praiseworthy in all things, a lover and defender of religion, without pride, venerable for his life, and of admirable sanctity, famous for his knowledge, and a ‘perspicuous preacher;’ thus writes Paris. Roger was of the high English faction, jealous of all foreign encroachment, jealous above all of the foreigners, who, either for their own emolument or as tribute to Rome, sent abroad the wealth of the land. The principal persons involved in these transactions were the Caorsin bankers, branded of course as usurers and extortioners (for all usury, according to the Church, was wicked and unchristian), though these bankers were the agents of the Pope.

This feeling prevailed not in those times alone. Old Stowe thus writes of their dealings :-“Roger Niger admonished the usurers of his time to leave such enormities, as they tendered the salvation of their souls, and to do penance for what they had committed. But after he saw they laughed him to scorn, and also threatened him, the Bishop generally excommunicated and accursed all such, and demanded strictly that such usurers should depart further from the city of London, which had been hitherto ignorant of such mischief and wickedness, lest his diocese should be infected therewithal.

“But the Bishop had more powerful auxiliaries than these curses to cleanse his innocent city. In the year 1232 the populace rose and burned the barns and warehouses of the foreigners. Bishop Roger, though he could not but anathematise the offenders, was, doubtless not unjustly, suspected of looking on them with secret favour. But the Italians were under the shield of the Papacy. Roger was obliged to make a journey to Rome to meet the charge. He did not come off without a heavy fine. He had again the courage to excommunicate all usurers. This involved him in new troubles with Rome, where money dealers had a dominant interest, and insisted on full freedom of plunder in the vassal realm (1238).Bishop Roger was no less courageous in his opposition to the King and his Ministers. Hubert de Burgh fell from the height of his power; he sought sanctuary in a chapel within the diocese of London.

He was dragged thence by violence. Bishop Roger demanded an interview with the King, complained of the violation of the privileges of the Church, and threatened an anathema against the King’s officers, if the fallen Chancellor was not reinstated in his sanctuary. The King yielded; but the chapel was closely watched to starve De Burgh into surrender. Still the Bishop did not rest till he had wrung from the reluctant King full liberty for Hubert de Burgh.The Clergy of London owe a deep debt of gratitude to Bishop Roger. He obtained a law, formally assented to by the citizens of London in council, that they should pay a certain assessment in the pound on their property as offerings to the Clergy. This constitution, more than once confirmed by Primates and Popes, and finally ratified by Pope Nicolas V., was maintained in its full latitude till the Fire of London. An Act of Parliament then regulated the emoluments of those churches which had been burned, and left the right only to those which had escaped the fire.

Bishop Roger was equally zealous and munificent in the completion and endowment of his Cathedral. But the magnificence of the fabric exhausted his treasury and the contributions of his diocese. During the episcopate of his five successors, Briefs were issued to the whole of England to solicit alms for this great national work, to be repaid by proportionate Indulgences.Yet though insufficient for the splendour of his church, the revenues of the Bishop must have been enormous. During the vacancy of the see at Roger’s death, the King gave orders that out of the funds escheated for the time to the royal treasury, 1,500 poor should be feasted, on the day of the conversion of S. Paul, in the churchyard, and 1,500 lights offered in the church.

The seal of St. Paul's cathedral.