The Anglo-Norman Church

The Princes of the Church

Consecration of a church: illustration of the text of the rite in the "Lanaleth" pontifical (St Germans in Cornwall), 11th c, kept in the library of Jumièges AbbeyThe birth of Normandy was marked by the baptism of the first Duke, Rollo, in 912. This baptism was arranged and carried out by the Archbishop of Rouen. From that time onwards, the Christian dukes drew support from the Church and its bishops. It was necessary, however, to wait until the end of the 10th century for all the episcopal seats to be filled once more (following the interruption due to the Scandinavian invasions).

Seal of Odo, the bishop of Bayeux and William the Conqueror's half-brother, depicted as a prelate and warrior. Taken after a lost original by P. de Farcy in "Sigillographie de la Normandie", 1846.Bishops at that time were often chosen from members of the ducal family, such as Robert, Archbishop of Rouen (989-1037) and brother of Richard II, Mauger, his successor (1037-1055), Hugh of Bayeux (1011-1049) and Odo of Conteville who was also Bishop of Bayeux (1049-1097) and William the Conqueror's half-brother. Other bishops were attached to the major aristocratic families, such as Yves of Bellême, Bishop of Sées (1035-1070), William Fleitel, Bishop of Évreux (1046-1066), and Hugh of Eu, Bishop of Lisieux (1049-1077). These bishops were not generally particularly religious. They lived like grand aristocrats, ignoring chastity, and enjoying hunting and warfare. It is certain that two bishops fought at the Battle of Hastings: Odo of Bayeux and Geoffrey of Montbray, Bishop of Coutances (1049-1093).

Bas-relief with a bishop, spandrel from the nave of Bayeux, Cathedral, c. 1120-1130.These bishops were princes of the church, and did not conform any longer to the new model of bishop extolled by those popes who were supporters of the "Gregorian reform". Duke William himself, however, emerged as a supporter of reform. In 1055, he replaced the unworthy Mauger with a monk, Archbishop Maurille (1055-1067). The reforming bishops were much more numerous in the 12th century. One of these was Hugh of Amiens (1129-1164) who acted in support of the new canonical orders, the Augustinians and the Premonstratensians, another was Arnoul of Lisieux (1141-1181) who reformed his diocese, but ended up in conflict with King Henry II. Until 1204 the Norman bishops wished, on the one hand, to carry out reform but, on the other, they had to accept the desire of the dukes to retain power over the Norman church.


François Neveux
ouen - Office universitaire d'études normandes
Université de Caen


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