Historian, liturgist; b. Totnes, Devon, England, May 17, 1846; d. Barnstaple, Devon, Feb. 19, 1917. The youngest child of a country innkeeper, he went to school at Ashburton, Exeter, and Vilvorde (Belgium). He served Thomas Carlyle as amanuensis (1863) and joined the British civil service as a clerk in the Education Department in 1864. He spent all his spare time in historical research, working initially from documents in the British Museum. He was received into the Catholic church on Aug. 16, 1867, and through his friendship with Dom (later Cardinal) Gasquet and his associates, he was attracted by the attempted revival of monastic ideals at Downside Priory. Retiring from the Civil Service in 1885, he went to Downside as a postulant in 1886 but was disappointed by the initial failure of efforts to revitalize the English Benedictine congregation. Although he left the Benedictines in 1889, he never wavered in his affection for Downside, where he spent a substantial part of the last 15 years of his life and was buried with the monks. His earliest learned work, and especially his discovery in 1877 of the Collectio Britannica (an important document in the history of canon law), had by 1880 earned Bishop a high reputation as a medieval historian. In collaboration with Dom Bäumer of Beuron Abbey (d.1894), around 1891 he began to publish brilliantly original work on the history of the missal and breviary, sharply at variance with the positions adopted and popularized by P. batiffol and L. duchesne, but nonetheless commanding respect. Bishop showed unequaled knowledge of the printed and manuscript literature in the libraries of western Europe and used profound scholarly judgment. He collaborated with Gasquet in more polemical work on the history and position of the Catholic church in England, particularly of the Black Monks.
From about 1900 Bishop lived in increasing retirement, intellectually in sympathy with many of the ideas associated with the Modernist movement. Nevertheless, his occasional publications, and still more his generous contributions to other scholars' work, continued to advance the frontiers of knowledge of the origins and early development of Western liturgies. Much of his most significant work was collected and revised by him in his Liturgica Historica, published posthumously in 1918. Apart from these specialized studies, his lifelong interest, by example, exhortation, and encouragement, was to stimulate English Catholics to greater intellectual activity and a more scientific approach to history. This was reflected in many of his articles in Catholic periodicals, and in a voluminous private correspondence. Bishop was the foremost English-speaking liturgist of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries.
Bibliography: e. c. butler, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 1885–1900) 47–48. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie (Paris 1907–53) 9.2:1735–36. n. abercrombie, Life and Work of Edmund Bishop (London 1959).