Geoffrey of Gorham (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

GEOFFREY of Gorham (d. 1146), abbot of St. Albans, was descended from ancestors of noble rank both in Normandy and in Maine, of which county he was a native. He was a learned clerk, and, though a secular, was invited by Richard, abbot of St. Albans, to come to England and take charge of the abbey school. As he delayed to come, the post was given to another. The abbot, however, promised that he should have it at a future date, and he settled at Dunstable and kept a school there. While he was at Dunstable he composed a miracle-play of St. Katharine, either for the weavers of the town, for St. Katharine was the patron of their craft, or for his scholars (Warton; Wright). For the dress of his players Geoffrey persuaded the sacristan of St. Albans to lend him the choir copes of the abbey, for Dunstable Priory was not founded until some years later (Monasticon, vi. 238). On the night after the play, doubtless 24 Nov., the eve of the saint's feast day, Master Geoffrey's house was burnt, and with it his books and the St. Albans copes. Not knowing how to make up the loss to God and the saint, he determined to make an offering of himself (Gesta Abbatum, i. 73); became a monk of St. Albans, and in after days as abbot took special care to provide the house with valuable choir copes. He became prior, and, on the death of Abbot Richard in 1119, was elected to succeed him. He made improvements in the internal economy of the abbey, built a fine guests' hall, and next to it a room called the queen's chamber, for the use of the queen, the only woman who was allowed to lodge within the abbey, and an infirmary with a chapel. Although he was anxious to complete a shrine which he was making for Saint Alban, and on which he had spent 60l., he nevertheless did not scruple in a year of famine to tear off from his work the silver plates which had not yet been gilded, and have them turned into money, which he spent in the relief of the poor. The next year he went on with the shrine, employing on it one of the brethren of the house named Anketil, a goldsmith, who had been moneyer to the king of Denmark. He finished it all except the crest, which he hoped to complete when gold and silver and jewels should become more plentiful, for the times were bad. On 2 Aug. 1129 he translated the saint's body in the presence of Alexander, bishop of Lincoln [q. v.], and others. He founded the hospital of St. Julian for lepers, on the London road, and founded, or more probably regulated, enlarged, and endowed, a nunnery at Sopwell, near St. Albans, as a cell of the abbey. At the same time he did some things which were detrimental to the wealth of his house, and appears to have shown undue favour to his sister's husband, Hugh, who held Westwick of the convent. He found it necessary to send some valuable plate to Pope Celestine II to content his claims, and also melted down other silver and gave it to Earl Warren, William of Ypres, and the Earl of Arundel, as a ransom for the town of St. Albans, which they threatened to burn during the wars of Stephen's reign, possibly when Geoffrey Mandeville was taken there in 1143. Both in worldly and spiritual matters he was in the habit of taking counsel with Christina, a recluse much famed for sanctity, for whom he built a nunnery at Markyate or Market street in Bedfordshire. He made many rich gifts to the abbey. He died on 26 Feb. 1146, after having ruled the house with much vigour for twenty-six years and some months. His epitaph is preserved by Weever.

[Gesta Abbatum S. Albani, i. 72–105 (Rolls Ser.); Vitæ Abbatum, pp. 1007–14, ed. Wats; Roger of Wendover, ii. 200 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Matt. Paris, ii. 147, 178, vi. 39, 387 (Rolls Ser.); William of Newburgh, i. 35 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Dugdale's Monasticon, ii. 184, iii. 362, 368; Warton's Hist. of English Poetry, i. cxii; Wright's Biog. Brit., Anglo-Norman, p. 109; Hone's Ancient Mysteries, pp. 199, 201.]

W. H.