The Saxon Cathedral at Canterbury and The Saxon Saints Buried Therein/Chapter 12

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THE history of the Saxon Cathedral extends over a period of four hundred and seventy years, more than half of which was spent in incessant warfare in some part or other of the country. From the time of Canute there existed more or less peace and tranquillity for the people of the Cathedral City, though the country itself was very far from being settled. We have seen how Canute had been converted to Christianity, and there is extant an interesting document recording this fact in the form of a certificate written in a copy of a Gospel-Book now in the British Museum amongst the Royal MSS. with the Press Mark I.D. 9. It is known as the Latin Gospels of King Canute, and was given by the King to Christ Church, Canterbury. It is in early eleventh-century script; on a page before the beginning of St. Mark's Gospel is an Anglo-Saxon inscription, being a certificate of the reception of King Canute and others into the family or society of Christ's Church.

It runs thus:

"In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Here is written Canute the King's name. He is our beloved Lord worldwards, and our spiritual brother Godwards; and Harold the King's brother; Thorth our brother; Kartoca our brother; Thuri our brother."

On the next leaf is the entry of a Charter of the same King, in the Anglo-Saxon language, confirming the privileges of the monastery. In 1023 Canute gave to Christ Church the haven of Sandwich, extending from Pipernæsse to Mærcesfleote, with all the dues, tolls and rights arising therefrom. The extent over which the "ministers of Christ Church" were to enjoy these rights, was fixed in rather a remarkable manner a man with "a small axe which the Angles call a taper-axe" was to stand on board a ship floating as near the land as possible, when the tide was highest and fullest; and whithersoever the axe could be thrown on either side by the man on board the ship, was to mark the boundary of the land so conveyed by the King.

Canute in the same Charter gave also the right to a ferry and a ferry-boat at Sandwich, and he mentions that he gave his golden crown to Christ Church, placing it upon the altar with his own hands.

The Charter is amongst the valuable and unique series of Anglo-Saxon Charters preserved in the Cathedral library.

Canute died at Shaftesbury on the second day before the Ides of November (November 11), 1035; and was buried at Winchester in the Old Minster. He reigned over all England for nearly twenty years.

Ethelnoth died on October 29, 1038, and was buried in the Cathedral in the Chapel of St. Benedict just on the right of the altar, in the apse of the north transept. This is now represented by the Chapel of St. Mary leading out of the Martyrdom; and the position of his grave would be just inside the screen on the right. He had been a monk of Glastonbury; afterwards was Dean of Christ Church, Canterbury, and was consecrated Archbishop in the Cathedral on November 13, 1020, by Archbishop Wulfstan of York.

In 1038 Eadsige, who had been one of the suffragans of St. Martin's Church consecrated thereto in 1035, was appointed Archbishop in succession to Ethelnoth. He also was one of Canute's Chaplains and received the pallium at Rome in 1040. In 1043, after a "Witan" held at Gillingham near Chatham, he crowned Edward the Confessor in Canterbury Cathedral and immediately after accompanied the King to Winchester, where on Easter Day, April 3, 1043, he again solemnly crowned the King, assisted by the Archbishop of York and other Bishops. He consecrated in his Cathedral[1] Grimketal as Bishop of Selsey in 1038, and in 1044 Siward the Abbot of Abingdon as his suffragan, as he was unable to perform his duties through ill-health. He died on October 29, 1050, and was buried close to the north wall of the crypt of Trinity Chapel in St. Anselm's Church in front of the altar of St. John the Baptist. Afterwards his body in a leaden coffin was taken up and laid under the altar of St. Mary-in-the-Crypt.[2] Somner says, but apparently without authority, that this Prelate was, after his death, canonized.

On the death of Archbishop Eadsige, King Edward the Confessor called a meeting of the Great Council in London in Mid-Lent, 1051, at which he appointed Robert the Frank, called Robert of Jumièges, who had been Bishop of London since 1044, to be Archbishop. Robert at once proceeded to Rome for the pallium and on his return was enthroned in the Cathedral on St. Peter's Day, 1051. He was, however, expelled on September 14 in the following year and outlawed for his part in the discord made between Earl Godwine and the King. He was a turbulent Norman and more fitted to be a soldier than a priest; in the hurry of his escape from England, and from the anger of Earl Godwine, he left his pallium behind him. He appealed to the Pope, whose assistance failed in reinstating him as Archbishop of Canterbury, and returning to Jumièges, he died and was buried near the High Altar of the Abbey Church. The deposition of this Norman Prelate and the appointment of his successor Stigand was one of the reasons given for the invasion of England by William the Conqueror.

Stigand, who had previously been made Bishop of Elmham in 1043, and afterwards of Winchester in 1047, was uncanonically appointed Archbishop of Canterbury on the deprivation of Robert in 1052. He was excommunicated by several Popes,[3] and seems to have bought and sold Church property simoniacally, to have occupied a schismatical position even to appropriating the pallium left behind by his predecessor. In 1058, however, he obtained another pallium sent by Pope Benedict X from Rome. He consecrated in Christ Church the Precentor of the Cathedral, a Clerk named Ethelric, to be Bishop of Selsey, and at the same time Siward as Bishop of Rochester.

In 1067 he consecrated Remigius as Bishop of Dorchester.

He was present at the death-bed of Edward the Confessor, the eve of Twelfth Day (January 6), 1066, who was buried on the following day in Westminster Abbey Church, which he built and had just had consecrated.

Stigand is said to have crowned Harold, but the authors of the Flores Historiarum say that on the day King Edward was buried Harold extorted an oath of fealty from the nobles, and placed the crown on his own head. After the Battle of Hastings, and the total defeat of Harold, Stigand appears to have quickly submitted to the Conqueror, and it is curious, but a fact, that he was present at the coronation, and assisted the Archbishop of York to crown him.

Later, in 1070, various crimes were laid to his charge: seizing the Archbishopric during the lifetime of Robert; stealing his pallium and receiving one from a schismatical Pope; being a Pluralist by holding Winchester with Canterbury; as well as various homicides. He was deprived and imprisoned at Winchester till his death on February 22, 1072, and was buried at the Abbey of St. Swithin there.

It was during the calamities attendant on the Norman invasion that Edmer, the future historian of Christ Church Cathedral and its Archbishops, was at the Monastery School and witnessed the final disaster involving the total destruction of the venerable Romano-Saxon Church and the domestic buildings of the monastery in one common and complete ruin.

"While misfortunes," says Edmer, "fell thick upon all parts of England, it happened that the City of Canterbury was set on fire by the carelessness of some individuals, and that the rising flames caught the Mother Church thereof. How can I tell it? The whole was consumed and nearly all the monastic offices that appertained to it, as well as the Church of the Blessed John the Baptist, where as aforesaid, the remains of the Archbishops were buried. The exact nature and amount of the damage no man can tell. But its extent may be estimated from the fact, that the devouring flames consumed nearly all that was there preserved most precious, whether in ornaments of gold, of silver, or of other materials, or in sacred or profane books. Those things that could be replaced were therefore the less to be regretted; but a mighty and interminable grief oppressed this Church, because the privileges granted by the Popes of Rome, and by the Kings and Princes of this Kingdom, all carefully sealed and collected together, by which they and theirs were bound to defend and uphold the Church for ever, were now reduced to ashes. Copies of these documents were sought for, and collected from every place where such things were preserved; but their bulls and seals were irrecoverably destroyed with the Church in which they had been deposited."

In 1067, the year after the Conquest, William the Norman paid a visit to France, and on December 7 that same year he returned to England and landed at Winchelsea, to hear that the day before (the Feast of St. Nicholas) the Saxon Cathedral at Canterbury and all the domestic buildings of the monastery and the Church of St. John the Baptist, which contained the tombs of the Archbishops of Canterbury, had been totally destroyed by fire.

Thus was witnessed in little more than one short year, the total extinction of the Saxon Cathedral, the Saxon Dynasty and, with the sole exception of Wulstan at Worcester, of the Saxon Hierarchy.

  1. Stubbs, Reg. Sac. Ang.
  2. Willis, Arch. Hist. of Cant. Cath., p. 57.
  3. Freeman, Norman Conquest, Vol. II, p. 607.