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The bishop and the abbot, croziers at dawn….


Well, I’m shocked that such bribery, skulduggery and jostling for position should go on among the bishops and abbots of medieval England. Holy men shouldn’t behave like this! I’m afraid that when I read the following passages from this article, concerning events in the reign of Henry II, it conjured one of those old black-and-white movies of the Keystone Cops era!

“ . . . Soon after Breakspear had become Pope, Robert and three bishops from the foreign dominions of Henry II. went as envoys to him from the King; the Abbot hoped that the Pope’s connection with St. Albans, for his father had become late in life a monk there, would induce him to enlarge its privileges. Knowing that the dignitaries at Rome and the members of the Pope’s household were wellnigh insatiable, he distributed valuable gifts among them to secure their good offices with the Pope. Robert complained of the intolerable oppression of the Bishop of Lincoln, and the insolence of his agents, and obtained from Adrian complete exemption from episcopal supervision . . .

“ . . . The Abbey henceforth was to be subject to Rome alone. When the Pope’s letter granting this exemption was exhibited at a council in London, the greatest indignation was expressed. An agreement was, however, at last signed between the Bishop of Lincoln and the Abbot, three bishops intervening in the interest of peace . . .

“ . . . Abbot Robert then sent two of his nephews, monks, to Rome with still more presents, and as a result of their mission further privileges and liberties were granted to the Abbot; he was, among other things, allowed to wear pontifical robes. The Bishop of Lincoln was exasperated, but did not dare to defy the Pope’s authority . . .”  

“. . . Adrian IV. was poisoned in 1158 [and] the next Pope granted a new and important privilege to St. Albans; what it was is not stated. The Bishop of Lincoln now thought it was time to assert himself. He declared his intention of visiting the Abbey as its Bishop, and ordered that suitable preparations should be made for his reception. The Abbot refused to receive him. He was, on a complaint made by the Bishop, cited before the King’s Court and called on to justify his action . . .

“ . . . After a protracted investigation lasting for three or four years, the King [Henry II] assented to the Abbot’s wearing a mitre, and recommended him to buy off further opposition on the part of the Bishop by a grant of certain lands, which were worth £10 a year . . .

 “. . . At Easter, 1163, Abbot Robert celebrated Mass wearing for the first time mitre, ring, gloves, and sandals. He also at the Council of Tours in the same year took the first seat among the English Abbots, the Abbot of St. Edmondsbury vainly attempting to take it from him . . .

 “. . . He was buried in the new chapter-house, leaving the monastery in debt, caused no doubt by his lavish expenditure in bribery at Rome . . .”

No doubt indeed! Hilarious, although not for the persons involved. And yes, I know the illustration is of King John threatening to cut off the noses of bishops, but it seems to go with this story.

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