Origins and development of the Church of St Cuthbert, 635-1153, with special reference to Durham in the period circa 1071-1153
Aird, William Morton
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In the late eleventh century, the episcopal Church of St Cuthbert at Durham was one of the most powerful institutions in the North of England. Its power was derived from its possession of extensive landed estates which had been acquired since the late seventh century. Whereas the other ecclesiastical corporations of early Northumbria had succumbed to the successive waves of Scandinavian invasions, the Church of St Cuthbert had established a significant franchise and had augmented its landholding. The leaders of the Church were willing to lend their support to any secular ruler who would guarantee the safety of its possessions. The first Norman appointee to the bishopric, Walcher, was in a precarious position relying heavily upon the local Northumbrian aristocracy for his administration. Factionalism within Walcher's regime brought about the Bishop's murder at Gateshead in 1080. This incident forced William I to reconsider his policy in the North-East of England and he appointed William of St Calais to the bishopric and Robert de Mowbray to the earldom of Northumbria. Bishop William launched an attack on the position of the members of the pre-Conquest Congregatio sancti Cuthberti by introducing a Convent of Benedictine monks to Durham in 1083. A re-examination of the early twelfth-century chronicle of Symeon, who was precentor at Durham, challenges the widely held view that there was a complete change in the personnel serving St Cuthbert's shrine in 1083. It is argued that a significant number of the Congregation entered the Convent thus maintaining a strong local presence at the shrine. The Benedictine Convent served as the cathedral chapter and its relationship with its nominal Abbot, the Bishop, is surveyed for the period, 1083 to 1153. During the pontificate of William of St Calais, the Convent enjoyed a privileged status within the see. However, the elevation of Rannulf Flambard to the bishopric marked the beginning of conflict between the two institutions. The monks sought a definition. of their franchise and this prompted them to confect a series of forged foundation charters which multiplied during the pontificate of Hugh du Puiset. The establishment of a French baronage within the Patrimony of St Cuthbert strengthened the Norman presence in the region, although a number of native families maintained their position. The surviving evidence suggests that the feudal structure of Durham was largely the work of Bishop Rannulf. Finally, the relationship between the Church of St Cuthbert and Scotland has been considered and it is argued that, in this period, the Bishop of Durham did not take an active role in the defence of the North of England. The Convent received grants of land from the Scots kings, most notably the church of Coldingham. As it had done between its foundation and the late eleventh century, the Church of St Cuthbert survived weathering the Norman Conquest and thereby ensuring that the cult of St Cuthbert at Durham prospered. By the end of the twelfth century it was rivalled only by that of Thomas Becket.