Thursday, 11 April 2013

Three Medieval Bishops of Worcester

In the thirteenth century the Diocese of Worcester had three very different Bishops, who in their own ways made their mark. So to learn about the man who organised the construction of the Cathedral's Lady Chapel, the Bishop who supported the famous Simon de Montfort, and the Bishop who loved his status and got involved in expensive lawsuits read on....
Bishop William de Blois in the Lady Chapel. This image is copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

                                                             WILLIAM DE BLOIS
                                                   Bishop of Worcester 1218-1236

 Although the monks of Worcester normally elected one of their number to be bishop, William was the papal nominee, their choice having been rejected by the Pope’s official. In spite of this possibly inopportune start, the new bishop proved to be a strong disciplinarian who worked towards raising the standard of clerical life. Bishop Blois is mainly remembered for beginning the erection of the Lady Chapel. The money raised from the pilgrims’ visits to the shrine of Saint Wulfstan was divided between the monks and the bishop. It would seem that the bishop used this as well as some of his own income to pay for the work. The adoration of the Virgin Mary was becoming a very popular form of worship in Bishop Blois’ time, and most cathedrals were adding a chapel in honour of the Virgin. The bishop was determined that Worcester’s Lady Chapel would be a fittingly beautiful construction. The old Norman choir was taken down and architects designed plans for the new choir and the Lady Chapel. We owe to the initiative and generosity of Bishop Blois the exquisite Lady Chapel and the design of the choir. He also enriched the diocese in other ways, for he purchased lands out of his own pocket for the endowment of the bishopric.

Bishop Walter de Cantelupe in the Lady Chapel. This image is copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

                                                  WALTER de CANTELUPE
                                                Bishop of Worcester 1237-1265  

Bishop Cantelupe was a true patriot and considered to be one of the greatest bishops of the time. The monks requested permission of the Pope to elect him and when he was enthroned as bishop, the king and many dignitaries were present. The time following the death of King John when the boy king Henry III was on the throne, was a bad time for this country. The nobles surrounding the weak king were evil and grasping. England suffered both from the lawless acts of the king and from papal tyranny. Bishop Cantelupe, together with the great Bishop Grosseteste of Lincoln realised that the only way forward was to resist the demands of both the Pope and the King. The barons appointed a committee to draw up terms for the reform of the state and Bishop Cantelupe was among their number. In the ensuing civil war, our bishop fought with Simon de Montfort for the maintenance of law and order in the country. Bishop Cantelupe is remembered as a patriot but equally as much as an excellent bishop of this diocese. The building of the Lady Chapel and the new choir continued; the Charnel House was extended, with four chaplains in attendance, whose duties included teaching in the Schools, and he founded the nunnery of White Ladies in Worcester. It is said that: “he would have merited canonisation, but for his adherence to Simon de Montfort.”

Bishop Giffard's effigy. This image is copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

                                                      GODFREY GIFFARD
                                                 Bishop of Worcester 1267-1301

Godfrey Giffard was selected to be bishop because he was believed to be a strong man who would enforce obedience to the Crown, which he did as a committed Royalist. As successor to Bishop Cantelupe, his actions were quite the reverse of his predecessor, whose patriotic work in opposing the tyranny of both the Pope and the King was exemplary. Bishop Giffard was one of the bishops sent to the Holy Land to meet Edward I on his return. He was a man who enjoyed pomp and state occasions and was adept at entertaining royalty. Edward I visited Worcester eight times during Bishop Giffard’s episcopacy.

He spent much of his time as bishop involved in lawsuits with the monks after years of disagreements. These were hugely expensive as going to law with a bishop meant an appeal to the law courts in Rome.       
In 1221 the Franciscan Friars came to England and a small group of friars came to Worcester, settling in Friar Street, which was then a swamp. In contrast to the monks, who at the time did little to help the needy, the friars lived among the poor and tended the sick in the medieval slums. It is to the credit of Bishop Giffard that he helped the Franciscans in many ways. As bishop of this diocese for thirty years, it seems that he was very keen to punish clerical offenders and to support institutions which were designed to do good deeds. However, he was also proud and self-important and was buried in the magnificent tomb prepared for his body during his lifetime next to the high altar.   In the following year his body was moved and the tomb taken down as it was obstructing the high altar; perhaps a fitting act in Biblical terms for someone who wished to exalt himself too readily.

Bishop Giffard's tomb underneath Prince Arthur's Chantry Chapel. This image is copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Bishop Giffard also left his mark, because his family coat of arms - ten red torteaux- formed the basis of the coat of arms of Worcester Cathedral and the Diocese of Worcester. On the cathedral's coat of arms, however, the first torteaux in the top left hand corner is hidden by an image of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ child.

Mary Somers

No comments:

Post a Comment