The Norman Church

Bishops, Saints and Pilgrims

St Nicholas as a 12th century bishop, font in Winchester Cathedral (Photo. J.Crook)Within a few years of the Conquest William the Conqueror embarked on the reform of the English church. In 1070 Stigand, the Anglo-Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, was replaced by Lanfranc and by 1086 only one out of fifteen English bishoprics was held by a native. Lanfranc created a rigid hierarchy in which all bishops were subject to Canterbury's authority and he moved a number of sees from remote places to towns so as to make episcopal power more effective. Bishops were expected to enforce ecclesiastical discipline which included discouraging clergy from marrying and replacing English with Latin in church services.

Durham cathedral, burial place of St CuthbertWilliam the Conqueror, like other kings of his era, claimed divine sanction for his rule, and he used the church as a means of imposing his will on the English. The great Norman rebuilding of cathedrals and monastic houses can be seen, in large part, as a statement of political power. After about 1100 kings began to lose their sacred status and the church looked increasingly to the pope as the source of ultimate authority. In the 12th century there were many disagreements between the English church and crown over such matters as the right of a king to make church appointments and the right of his courts to try wrongdoers in holyorders.

Ampulla depicting StThomas BecketAnother of Lanfranc's reforms was the removal of many Celtic and English saints' days from the church calendar, and the rededication of churches to saints familiar in France such as St Michael. The affection of the English for their traditional saints, however, led to the revival of shrines such as that of St Cuthbert at Durham and St Swithun at Winchester which became great centres of pilgrimage. This proved very lucrative for the church and efforts were made to create new shrines such as that of St William at York. The most popular addition to the pilgrim trail in 12th century, however, was the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury.

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