Tuesday, January 09, 2018

St Thomas Cantelupe, Bishop of Hereford

     Meryl Jancey. St Thomas Cantelupe, Bishop of Hereford. (1982) I didn’t know there was a St Thomas of Hereford until I was given this book. My Great Uncle Peter (F.  C. Morgan) contributed two photographs to it, and his daughter Cousin Penelope contributed an essay and a photograph.
St Thomas was Bishop of Hereford in the latter 1200s, soon after St Thomas a Becket was martyred for his insistence on the Church’s rights and privileges. St Thomas of Hereford had a somewhat easier time of it, but the  relationship between Church and King had still not been settled, and he had some trouble asserting the power of the Church. Hence his canonisation. I think that the strained relationship between Church and King continued beneath the more or less formal accommodations between the religious and secular authorities, which made it easier for Henry VIII to break with Rome.
     Very little documentary evidence about St Thomas survives, apart from the dossier assembled as part of the canonisation process. But even that is incomplete. The essayists take care to stay well within the bounds of plausibility when they fill in the gaps. St Thomas was a typical senior churchman of his time, of an aristocratic family, used to command, and absolutely sure of his authority. What faint impressions of his personality reach us across the eight centuries since his death suggest an imperious, somewhat cold man, who took his duties seriously, and discharged them faithfully. He would not have been a chatty dinner companion. I learned a lot about medieval life in England. The canonisation process became formalised during St Thomas’s life; I suspect that he would have been made a saint much more easily a century earlier.
     Saints' cults were a major source of income for the Church, which had not yet assembled the wealth that would make it pretty well independent by Henry VIII’s time. Hereford encouraged the cult of St Thomas, which lasted for about 100 years from the time of his death (about thirty years before he was canonised). Cousin Pen’s essay describes the evidence for the effects of the cult of St Thomas. The money raised was used not only to build a splendid tomb for St Thomas, but also to repair and eventually rebuild the cathedral. The See was not rich, and needed the money.
     I’ve been to Hereford several times. It’s best known for its library, one of the oldest preserved medieval libraries in the world, with its original volumes still chained to the shelves; and for Mappa Mundi, one of the oldest maps of the world. Uncle Peter and Cousin Pen always gave us a wonderful time guiding us around the library and the Cathedral. That’s why I’m glad to have this book.
     It’s a good ancillary text for any student of medieval history. The documents presrve a surprising amount of the music, which has been reconstructed and rewritten in modern notation. ***

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