London, Ancient See of
LONDON, ANCIENT SEE OF
Medieval English diocese with its seat at London; suffragan see of the Archdiocese of canterbury. The earliest unequivocal sign of Christianity in London is the reference to Restitutus, Bishop of London, who attended the Council of arles in 314; the lists of his predecessors and successors given by geoffrey of monmouth are worthless. Almost three centuries later, after the Roman withdrawal and the defeat of the Romano-Britons at the hands of the anglo-saxons, London was designated by Pope gregory i the great as the see from which augustine of canterbury, as archbishop and metropolitan, was to govern the 12 dioceses of southern England just as york would govern 12 in the northern province, the primary alternating between York and London. Gregory's scheme, based on memories of Roman Britain, could not be put into effect because London was resolutely pagan in 597 and this Augustine settled on Canterbury as the primatial see. Only in 604 was he able to found the Diocese of London, appointing mellitus as its first bishop. Three years later King ethelbert of Kent built a cathedral there dedicated to St. paul. This see of "London and the East Saxons," however, proved fragile, for with the death of King Ethelbert, Bishop Mellitus and his disciples were driven out by the pagans (617). The see remained vacant until, in 654 (?), it was occupied by the dubious bishop Wini, and it was not until the time of Bishop erconwald (c. 675–c. 693) that the diocese was organized on the dignified lines befitting the city of London. In the preconquest period London's bishops were mainly undistinguishing personages, except possibly for Robert of Jumieges. There has survived from this period a Rule of St. Paul's, which regulated the lives of the canons serving the cathedral and which was probably introduced by Bishop Theodred (926–c. 951). The rule affords a unique insight into the life of an old English cathedral community, disclosing a group of canons living together in chapter and choir, probably sharing a dormitory, yet having jobs to perform outside the cloister, and each enjoying a private stipend. dunstan who was briefly bishop of London (958–960), is supposed to have restored the diocese's westminster abbey.
In the century after the conquest of 1066, St. Paul's, the heart of the diocese, became very much a center of worldly business, its chapter of 30 prebendaries being regarded as a valuable recruiting ground for royal servants, sheriffs, judges, and curial bishops. Since many of the canons were married, family interests often outweighed pastoral considerations, especially throughout the long dominance by the Belmeis family. Nevertheless, by the middle of the 12th century the diocese was sensibly divided into the four archdeaconries of London, Middlesex, Essex, and Colchester. In many ways in this century the diocese was at the height of its fame, for the burning of the Saxon cathedral (1087) gave Bishop Maurice the opportunity to rebuild his cathedral on a magnificent scale: when completed in 1332 St. Paul's was the largest building in England, its immense spire stretching as loftily as that of Salisbury. It was at this time that the historian of London William Fitz Stephen (d. c. 1190) wrote: "It was once a metropolitan see, and will so again … if the citizens have their way." In an attempt to have their way the Londoners induced Arcoid, nephew of Bishop Gilbert the Universal (d. 1134), to write a new life of St. Erconwald, whose bones were then translated (1148) to a new and splendid shrine behind the high altar of St. Paul's. This glorification of its history gave some countenance to London's claim to metropolitan status, which was pressed as far as possible by Gilbert foliot (1163–87) in his rivalry with the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas becket. But whatever chance of acceptance this claim might have had was effectively snuffed out by Becket's martyrdom.
For the rest of the medieval period the Diocese of London played a secondary role in the English Church. Its bishops were appointed for their administrative and secular skills rather than for outstanding churchmanship,e.g., richard of gravesend, simon of sudbury, William warham, and Cuthbert tunstall. Nor did it help the diocese that it was comparatively poor, being assessed at £1,000 per annum in the Taxatio of nicholas iv (1291). Also, its benefices were particularly easy targets for pluralists and nonresidents, nonresidence being extremely frequent in St. Paul's, from the 12th century in. One exception to the spiritually mediocre bishops of the period was Roger Niger, bishop from 1229 to 1241, who was popularly canonized as "Saint Roger" because of his sanctity and defense of the oppressed. matthew paris characterized him as "a man of venerable life and admirable holiness, distinguished for his learning, a brilliant preacher—joyful in speech, urbane in his home, of open and happy countenance." The cathedral later saw great days under the inspiration of its humanist dean John colet (1466–1519). His efforts to reform the crown of canons, vergers, and chantry priests who had by this time a vested interest in the business conducted in and around St. Paul's were unsuccessful, but he did establish St. Paul's School in the east end of the church, where 153 boys were given free tuition. Up to the early 15th century St. Paul's had its own liturgical rite, the Usus S. Pauli, but after 1414 the sarum rite prevailed.
Edmund bonner, the last Roman Catholic bishop of London, died in prison in 1569 during the reign of Queen elizabeth i. Thereafter Roman Catholics in England relied on priests and sometimes an apostolic vicar appointed by the pope for their guidance. In 1688 Pope innocent xi divided England into four vicariates, including that of London, which eventually acquired jurisdiction over all Catholics in the British possessions of North America and the West Indies. Bishop Richard challoner was one of the memorable apostolic vicars of London, When Pope Pius IX restored the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850 the London vicariate became the Archdiocese of Westminster and the Diocese of Southwark; some of its area went to the Diocese of Brentwood.
Bibliography: w. s. simpson, Registrum statutorium et consuetudinum ecclesiae cathedralis sancit Pauli Londinensis (London 1873). h. wharton, Historia de episcopis et decanis Londiniensibus (London 1695). e. besant, Medieval London, 2 v. in 3 (London 1906). w. d. newton, Catholic London (London 1950). e. i. watkin, Roman Catholicism in England: From the Reformation to 1950 (New York 1957). w. r. matthews and w. m. atkins, eds., A History of St. Paul's Cathedral (London 1957).
"London, Ancient See of." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 14, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/london-ancient-see
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