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Register of St Osmund.
(Edited by Rev W.H. Rich Jones, Volume 2 pages xciv-xcvii,
published by Longman & Co London 1884)

1207 - Next followed the well known dispute with the pope, Innocent 111., arising out of the appointment of Stephen Langton to the archbishopric of Canterbury, whom the king first refused to receive, and for electing who in opposition to his own wishes, he punished the monks of Canterbury by expelling them, and confiscating all their possessions.

Early in the following year, by command of the pope, all England was laid under an interdict. This fairly roused the anger of the king, who wreaked his vengeance on the bishops and other ecclesiastics, by seizing their property and confiscating their revenues. Many of the bishops, including those of London, Ely and Winchester, who were especially charged with the perilous task of proclaiming the interdict, fled from the kingdom, and sought a place of safety abroad; as Wendover says "instead of placing themselves as a wall of honour of God, as the saying of the Redeemer has it, when they saw the wolf coming, they quitted the sheep and fled". The name of Herbert Bishop of Sarum (Salisbury), is not among the fugitives. He would fain believe that both he and his brother Richard, the Dean, remained bravely at their posts, and did what they could to mitigate the horrors of those sad times. For sad they were.

Whilst the interdict remained in force, a period of more that six years in all, church bells were silent and church services ceased, and the whole nation, deprived for the most part of its proper guides and pastors, seemed given over, body and soul, to the destroyer. The only exceptions permitted at all were in the case of the baptism of children, and the administration of the viaticum to the dying. But in no case were funeral rites to be performed; bodies of the dead were to be carried out of cities and refused a resting place in consecrated ground, buried in roads or ditches, without a priests blessing, without a mourner's prayer. (1)

In 1209, King John was pronounced excommunicated; and four years afterwards, in 1213, the pope went as far as to depose him from his kingdom. The intervening years were a period of wretchedness and of insupportable exactions, such as England had never before known. None were exempt - not even the Jews - from the extortionate demands of John. Attempts were made at reconciliation with Rome, and Pandulf, a sub-deacon and cardinal of the Holy See, was sent over as legate of the purpose of arranging it, and for this purpose met the king at Northampton, but without any immediate success.

Picture of Saint Osmund taken from the 15th Century "Doom Painting" in Saint the church of Saint Thomas, Salisbury

At last in 1213, the Pope, at the instance, as it would seem, of certain bishops who were still enduring an enforced exile, laid a solemn charge on Philip, king of France. To liberate England. Terrified at last into submission, the craven-hearted king forced himself into the humiliation of resigning his crown to Pope Innocent, and professing that he held England and Ireland subject to the Holy See. A gleam of sunshine too soon alas! To be darkened again, shone on the kingdom. The interdict was removed, and the bishops and others, who were as outlaws, recalled; the monks of Canterbury were reinstated, though as a terrible cost, for each demanded compensation for the losses and injuries they had incurred.

Then followed the king's quarrels with the barons; the meeting at Runneymede, where the Great Charter was wrung from the king, whose word was never to be trusted; the election of Louis, the son of Philip of France, as king in England; his arrival on our shores with a considerable army; the civil war raging in England. Wendover describes graphically enough the terrible state of things. The king's soldiers, "running about with drawn swords and open knives, ransacked towns, houses, cemeteries and churches, robbing everyone and sparing neither women or children. Even the priests, whilst standing at the very alters with the cross of the Lord in their hands, clad in their sacred vestments, were seized, tortured, robbed, and ill-treated; and there was no priest or Levite to pour oil or wine on their wounds. The persecution was general throughout England, and fathers were sold to the torture of their sons, brothers by their brothers, and citizens by their fellows. Markets and traffic ceased; goods were exposed to sale only in churchyards; agriculture was at a standstill; and no one dared to go beyond the limits of the churches" - whither, no doubt, they had fled the sanctuary.

To visit the Doom Painting - Press Here. Saint Osmund can be found in the bottom right hand corner of the painting

(1) G. de Coldingham gives us this graphic description of the desolate state of the kingdom, which he compares to the darkness of Egypt "which might be felt" during the interdict. - "Nudata stabant altaria et lugubrem desolationem praeferebant; non assuetorum devota cantuum resonabat modulation, nec consolitaria companarum audita est dulcedo. Nulla sanctarum solempnitatum frequentia; silebant omnia quae a fratribus ad laudem Dei furunt institute; non morientibus singulare salutaris viatici subveniebat remedium; non denique mortuis Christianae sepulturae impensum est beneficium. (hist. Dunelm. Script.Tres. (Surtees Soc.), p. 25.

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Copyright Gerald Duke 2004