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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

October 2

St. Thomas, Bishop of Hereford, Confessor

OUR island once saw the happy days when prayer and contemplation were the delight even of courts, the camp, and the shop; when Christian humility and true poverty of spirit sat on the thrones of kings, chastity flourished in palaces, and princes had no other interest of state but the glory of God, no other ambition than to dilate his kingdom, nor any greater happiness than to espouse their daughters to Christ crucified, in the rigours of solitude and severe penance. The beauty of this holy vineyard in the church excited the envy of the devil, who, like a furious wild boar, sought to lay it waste. Tepidity in the divine service and sloth opened him the door; pride, ambition, luxury, and the love of the world and of pleasure soon gained ground, and miserably changed the face of this paradise. Wars, oppression, and desolation were the scourges by which God in his mercy sought to bring back an ungrateful people to their duty before he cast them off. He still raised up many holy pastors and patterns of virtue who laboured by word and example to stem the tide of iniquity. Amongst these shone most eminently St. Thomas Cantelupe, some time high-chancellor of England, and bishop of Hereford. He was most nobly born, being eldest son to William Lord Cantelupe, one of the greatest generals that England ever produced; who, by the total overthrow of the barons and of the French, fixed the crown on the head of King Henry III., and was lord high steward of the kingdom, which dignity, on account of the exorbitance of its power, has been since suppressed, and is now only exercised occasionally in the trials of peers. The Cantelupes were Normans, who came over with the Conqueror, and received from him great estates and honours, which they exceedingly increased, becoming by marriages, heirs of the Strongbows, and marshals earls of Pembroke, of the Fitz-Walters earls of Hereford, and of the Breuses lords of Abergavenny. The mother of our saint was Melicenta, countess-dowager Evreux and Gloucester, daughter of Hugh lord of Gournay, allied to the royal families of England and France. Thomas was born in Lancashire; his parents had three other sons, and as many daughters, all younger than him, who were honourably married in the world. The father’s office obliged him to reside chiefly at court to attend the king. This was a dangerous place for the education of children; which being sensible of, he was most watchful to banish all incentives of vanity from their sight, and to remove the least whisper of false pleasures from their ears; thus, in the very seat of danger and vice, he formed a school of virtue and penance. When his son Thomas was capable of learning, he placed him under the care of his near kinsman, Walter Cantelupe, bishop of Hereford, and afterwards under that of Robert Kilwarby, a learned Dominican, archbishop of Canterbury, afterwards cardinal and bishop of Porto, and founder of the Black Friars in London. This experienced tutor found no obstacle or opposition to his instructions in the heart of his pupil, who, whilst a child, began daily to recite the breviary, besides hearing mass and other devotions, which he performed with wonderful fervour. He studied his philosophy at Paris; during which time he happened to take a prop of a vine out of another man’s vineyard to hold up his window; of which action he conceived so great a remorse, that he condemned himself for it to seven years’ rigorous penance.  1
  Thomas, resolving to consecrate himself to God in an ecclesiastical state, learned at Orleans the civil law, which is a necessary foundation to the canon law. He visited certain friends at the general council at Lyons, and there became acquainted with the most eminent pastors and theologians of the church, by whose conversation he much improved himself. Pope Innocent IV. nominated him his chaplain; notwithstanding which, he returned to England to pursue the study of the canon law. He became doctor in laws at Oxford, and was soon after chosen chancellor of that famous university; in which office he shone in such a bright light, that king Henry shortly after appointed him high-chancellor of the kingdom. His prudence, courage, indefatigable application, scrupulous justice, and abhorrence of human respects, or the least present which could be offered him even in the most indirect manner, completed the character of an accomplished magistrate. The Earl of Gloucester, Roger Lord Clifford, Peter Corbet, and the king himself experienced his inflexibility. He procured the banishment of the obstinate Jews, because by their usuries, extortions, and counterfeit base coin, they were a public nuisance to the state. St. Thomas never ceased to solicit king Henry for leave to resign his office, but in vain. However, he obtained it of his son Edward I. upon his accession to the throne; yet on condition that he should remain in his privy council; which he did till his death. The saint was then fifty-four years old; yet retired to Oxford, making books and his devotions his only pleasure. He took the degree of doctor of divinity in the church of the Dominicans, with whom he had studied, on which occasion, Robert Kilwarby, his old friend and director, then Archbishop of Canterbury, did not fear endangering the saint’s humility, by declaring, in his public oration, on the vesperial or eve of his promotion to the degree of doctor, that the candidate had lived without reproach, and had never forfeited his baptismal innocence. In 1274 he was called by Pope Gregory X. to the second general council of Lyons, assembled for the union of the Greeks, &c. In 1275 he was canonically chosen bishop of Hereford by the chapter of that church, and all his opposition having been fruitless, consecrated in Christ-Church in Canterbury. 1  2
  Our saint was sensible how great a supply of virtues was necessary to qualify him worthily to discharge the duties of his exalted station in the church, and redoubled his fervour in the practice of all the means of acquiring this high perfection. A sovereign contempt of the world made him relish the sweetness of holy retirement, in which, and in the functions of his ministry, he placed all his delight. God was to him all in all; and he maintained his heart in perpetual union with him by prayer and holy meditation. He subdued his flesh with severe fasting, watching, and a rough hair-shirt which he wore till his death, notwithstanding the colics and other violent pains and sicknesses with which he was afflicted many years for the exercise of his patience. His zeal for the church seemed to have no bounds; and such was his charity, that he seemed born only for the relief of his neighbour, both spiritual and temporal. He usually called the poor his brethren, and treated them as such both at table and with his purse. No reviling language or ill treatment could ever provoke him to anger; his enemies he always treated with respect and tenderness, and would never bear the least word which might seem to reflect on them or any others. No one could more scrupulously shun the very shadow of detraction. He defended the lands and privileges of his church with undaunted resolution, as appeared in his suits against Gilbert de Clare, the king’s son-in-law, the powerful Earl of Gloucester, against Llewellin prince of Wales, Roger Lord Clifford, and his primate, John Peckham Archbishop of Canterbury. That metropolitan had laid certain injunctions on the bishops subject to his jurisdiction, which were an encroachment on their rights, but no historian has recorded in what they consisted. St. Thomas, though three score years of age, was pitched upon by his brethren to undertake a journey to Rome, to lay their grievances before Pope Nicholas IV. The fame of his sanctity alone sufficed to procure him a most favourable reception. After a successful despatch of his business, he made haste homewards, finding certain distempers with which he was afflicted to increase upon him. His love of concealment has hid from us the great proofs of virtue and wisdom which he gave in this journey, which are only mentioned in general terms, but are enregistered in heaven, with the additional lustre of his humility. His sickness stopped him on his road at Montefiascone in Tuscany. He received the last sacraments with incredible cheerfulness and devotion, and made the sufferings and death of his Redeemer the constant subject of his pious and fervent prayer, in which he calmly gave up the ghost, in the sixty-third year of his age, on the 25th of August in 1282. He was buried six days after, in the church of the monastery of St. Severus, near old Florence, and his funeral oration was spoken by a cardinal. His bones, separated from the flesh were, with his head and heart, soon after carried to Hereford, and enshrined with great honour in the chapel of our Lady, in his cathedral. Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, son to Richard, king of the Romans, who had been the greatest admirer of his sanctity during his life, procured his head, and deposited it in a costly shrine in a monastery which he founded in his honour at Ashbridge in Buckinghamshire. In 1287 his remains at Hereford were translated with great pomp in the presence of King Edward III. and laid in a marble tomb by the east wall of the north cross-isle in the same cathedral. Innumerable manifest miracles were wrought through his merits, of which several authentic relations were recorded, some of which may be seen in Surius, others in Capgrave. In the original acts of his canonization, preserved in the Vatican library, is found an account of four hundred and twenty-nine miracles, approved by the bishops and others, deputed by his holiness’s commissioners for that purpose, and by four public notaries. These brought on his canonization, which was performed by Pope John XXII. in 1310, perhaps on the 2nd of October, on which day his principal festival was observed. The late author of his life ascribes the sudden ceasing of a raging pestilence at Hereford, a little before he wrote, to the intercession of this saint, implored by a private procession. Dr. Brown Willis thinks his festival was kept at Hereford on the 9th of October, because the great fair is held there on that day, and was established in his honour; but it was on the octave-day of his festival, that the procession of the chapter, &c. was made with great pomp. The monument of St. Thomas still remains in the cathedral at Hereford; but the inscription is torn off. See the acts of his canonization, the accurate Nicholas Trevet, ad an. 1282; Mat. Paris, Capgrave, Harpsfield, his modern life collected by R. S., S. J. 1674, and Dr. Brown Willis’s Antiquities of Hereford. His short life MS. in the king’s library in the British Museum, viii. c. vi. 20; Suysken the Bollandist, p. 539 to 705.  3
Note 1. From him the bishops of Hereford have always borne the arms of the Cantelupes, three leopard’s heads jeasant, and three fleurs-de-lis. Or. [back]