Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Samson (2)

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Abbot of St. Edmunds, b. at Tottington, near Thetford, in 1135; d. 1211. After taking his M.A. in Paris, Samson returned to Norfolk and taught in the school at Bury. In 1160 the monks of St. Edmunds sent him to Rome on their behalf to appeal against an agreement of the abbot and King Henry II, and for this on his return Abbot Hugh promptly clapped him into gaol. In 1166 Samson was a fully-professed monk, and on his election as abbot on Hugh's death in 1182 he had filled a number of offices - those of sub-sacrist, guestmaster, pittancer, third prior, master of novices, and master of the workmen. For the rest of his life, as Abbot of St. Edmunds, Samson worked with prodigious activity for the abbey, for the town, and for the State. He regained the right of joint election of two bailiffs for the abbey and town, made a thorough investigation of the properties of the abbey, looked into the finances, cleared off arrears of debt, rebuilt the choir, constructed an aqueduct, and added the great bell tower at the west end of the abbey, and two flanking towers. He did his best for the liberties of the town; helped the townsfolk to obtain a charter and gave every encouragement to new settlers. The monks resisted Samson's concessions of market rights to the townsmen, but were no match for their abbot. A hospital at Babwell, and a free school for poor scholars, were also the gifts of Abbot Samson to the townspeople. Pope Lucius III made Samson a judge delegate in ecclesiastical causes; he served on the commission for settling the quarrel between Archbishop Hubert and the monks of Canterbury; and on the Royal Council in London, where he sat as a baron, frustrated the efforts of William of Longchamp to curtail the rights of the Benedictine Order. Samson died in 1211, having ruled his abbey successfully for thirty years. Carlyle in "Past and Present" has made Abbot Samson familiar to all the world; but Carlyle's fascinating picture must not be mistaken for history.

Memorials of St. Edmunds Abbey, ed. Arnold, in Rolls Series; Norgate in Dict. Nat. Biog., s. v.; there are many editions and translations of Jocelin de Brakelond's De rebus gestis Samsonis Abbatis.

Joseph Clayton.