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

December 4

St. Osmund, Bishop and Confessor

OSMUND (sometimes written Osimund, Edimund, or Ædmund) was count of Seez in Normandy, and came over with William the Conqueror, by whom he was created earl of Dorset. His life in the world was that of a saint in all the difficult states of a courtier, soldier, and magistrate. Brompton tells us, that he was for some time lord high-chancellor of England. But the favour of his prince, and the smiles of fortune had no charms to a heart which loved and valued only heavenly goods: and he who had long enjoyed the world as if he enjoyed it not, fled naked out of Egypt, carrying nothing of its desires or spirit with him into the sanctuary, and embracing an ecclesiastical state, he chose to become poor in the house of the Lord. His sanctity and great abilities were too well known for him to be allowed to enjoy long his beloved obscurity, and, in 1078, he was forced from his solitude, and consecrated bishop of Salisbury, 1 where his predecessor Herman had just before fixed his see. St. Osmund built the cathedral in honour of the Blessed Virgin, in 1087, placed therein thirty-six canons, and dedicated the same in 1092: and this fabric being burnt by lightning, he rebuilt it in 1099. St. Osmund was very rigorous in the sacrament of penance, and extended his charity so far as often to attend criminals in person to the place of execution. In March 1095, in the assembly of Rockingham 2 he was so far imposed upon, as to be drawn into the measures of those who, in complacency to the king, opposed St. Anselm: but soon opened his eyes, repented, begged the archbishop’s absolution, and continued ever after his most steady friend. Being in every thing zealous for the beauty of God’s house, he made many pious foundations, beautified several churches, and erected a noble library for the use of his church. Throughout his whole diocess he placed able and zealous pastors, and had about his person learned clergymen and monks. Many whom the Conqueror invited over from France, and advanced to the first dignities in the English church, both secular and regular, were for introducing the particular ecclesiastical rites and offices of the places from which they came: whence great confusion was occasioned in the abbey of Glastonbury, under Thurston, a Norman, from Caen, whom the king had nominated abbot there, and in other places. To remove this inconvenience, and to regulate so important a part of the divine service with the utmost decency, piety, and devotion, St. Osmund compiled the Use, or Breviary, Missal and Ritual, since called of Sarum, for his church: wherein he ascertained all the rubrics which were before not sufficiently determinate, or where books were inconsistent with each other, as it often happened, while transcribers took the liberty of varying from their copies: he adjusted and settled the ceremonial of divine worship in points that were before left to the discretion of them that officiated, which created confusion and disagreement in the celebration of the divine office, though all churches agreed in the substance, and, as Mr. Johnson observes, 3 it was established here by our first converters to say the divine office in Latin, which continued till the reign of Edward VI. Several other English bishops made Uses or books of rubrics and rituals, which, in certain accidental points, differ from those of Sarum, though this latter was so much approved as to be adopted in most diocesses of this kingdom, 4 till, in the reign of Queen Mary, so many of the clergy obtained particular licenses of Cardinal Pole to say the Roman Breviary, 5 that this became universally received.  1
  St. Osmund wrote the life of St. Aldhelm, and disdained not, when he was bishop, to copy and bind books with his own hand. The saint, though zealous for the salvation of others, and for the public worship of God, was always solicitous, in the first place, for the sanctification of his own soul. Being perfectly dead to the world, he was totally a stranger to ambition and covetousness, and lived in continual war with the pleasures of the senses. His patience having been exercised, and his soul purified by a lingering sickness, he departed to God, whose glory alone he had sought on earth, on the night before the 4th of December, in 1099. He was buried in his cathedral; his venerable remains were afterwards translated into the new cathedral, and, in 1457, were deposited in the chapel of our Lady in that church. His sumptuous shrine was destroyed in the reign of Henry VIII. his bones remain still interred in the same chapel and are covered with a marble slab, on which is the inscription only of the year M,XCIX. He was solemnly canonized by Calixtus III. in 1456. See Malmesbur. de Pontif. Angl. l. 2, fol. 142; Godwin, de Præsulibus Angliæ cum Annot. per D. Ricardum, t. 1, p. 337; Brompton, Chron. p. 976; Knyghton, l. 2, p. 1351; Waverleienses Annales (inter Hist. Angl. 5, Oxoniæ 1687) anno 1092; Wikes, Chronicon Sarisb. monas terij (ib.) an 1092; Petrus Bles. ep. 133, not. p. 747; Florentius, Simeon Dunelm. Obituar. Sarum. S. Anselm. l. 3, ep. 30; Tanner, in Bibl. Brit. p. 515; Chron. S. Crucis Edinburg. ap. Wharton in Angliâ Sacrâ, t. 1, p. 159; Alford, Annal. an. 1091, &c.; Hist. Littér. de la Fr. t. 8, p. 573.  2
Note 1. This see was first erected at Shireburne, in the reign of Ina, king of the West-Saxons, who procured the bishopric of Winchester to be divided into two, and the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Devon, and Cornwall, to be assigned to the bishopric of Shireburne, about the year 705. In 905 this was again divided, and Wiltshire and Somersetshire allotted to a new bishopric which was erected at Wilton, then the capital city. Bishop Herman, in 1050, united again the two sees of Shireburne and Wilton, and, a little before his death, in 1077, removed his residence from Wilton to Salisbury, two miles distant: from which time Wilton sunk so low as out of twelve churches to have only one. Old Salisbury was a good town ever since the time of the Romans, was famous for its strong castle, and stood on a hill a mile from the river Avon. Bishop Herman having removed hither his see, St. Osmund, his successor, erected there his cathedral and palace, of which no token is now standing, only a chapel of St. Mary. Want of water, and disputes with the earl of Salisbury, who had always a garrison in the castle, moved the bishops to build themselves a house at Harpham village, a mile off, upon the Avon; and the inhabitants following them thither, Old Salisbury was deserted, and New Salisbury was built in this agreeable situation. Its origin may be dated in 1219, when the cathedral, in honour of the Blessed Virgin, was begun by the learned Bishop Richard Poure. It was forty years in building, under three kings, Richard I., John, and Henry III., and was consecrated in 1258. If York and Lincoln cathedrals are more stately, this is the most regular Gothic building in the kingdom, in length four hundred and seventy-eight feet; in breadth, in the body, seventy-six feet, in the lower great cross-aisle, two hundred and ten feet, in the upper one, one hundred and fifty feet; in height to the vaulting, eighty feet; the fine spire so justly admired, is four hundred and ten feet high: the cloister is one hundred and sixty feet square. See Leland’s Itinerary, t. 3, pp. 76, 81. Dr. Brown Willis on Mitred Abbeys, t. 2. Le Neve’s Fasti Anglicani. p. 256. [back]
Note 2. Eadmer, Hist. Novor. l. 1, p. 40, et l. 2, p. 45, Conc. t. 10, p. 494. [back]
Note 3. Johnson, Gen. Pref. to English Canons, p. 17. [back]
Note 4. This appears from the Constitutions of Henry Chichley, archbishop of Canterbury, anno 1416, art. 2. And Ralph Higden testifies, (ad an. 1077,) “that Osmund drew up an Ordinal, which was received by almost all England, Ireland, and Wales.” “This Ordinal,” says Johnson, (t. 2, ad an. 1416,) “was a book by which all the differences are reduced to one certain form, both as to the text and rubrics, and what was before doubtful was ascertained.” This author observes, that this Ordinal is improperly called by some a new liturgy; which no bishop is allowed to frame. St. Osmund only adjusted the uncertainties, and supplied certain defects in the series, rubrics, and directions for choral service; he should have added, in the accidental prayers. For his Ordinal contained a new ritual, missal, and breviary, or a complete regulation of the rules and ceremonies, to be observed in them, and a prescription of the particular prayers which a bishop was allowed to prescribe for his diocess: before, this was reserved to the pope for the sake of greater uniformity. [back]
Note 5. See Legationis Card. Poli in Anglia MS. in Bibl. Coll. Angl. Duac. 5, vol. folio. [back]