Saint of the Day – 25 August – Saint Thomas de Cantelupe of Hereford (c 1218–1282) Bishop of Hereford, Lord Chancellor of England, a gentle but firm Administrator, Apostle of the poor, the needy and the humble – born in c 1218 in Hambledon, Buckinghamshire, England and died on 25 August 1282 in Ferento, Montefiascone, Italy of natural causes (aged 63–64). This year on 17 April 2020, the 700th Anniversary celebrations were held in Hereford Cathedral for the Canonisation of Saint Thomas which took place on 17 April 1320 by Pope John XXII. His personal austerity (Thomas habitually wore a hair shirt), his zeal as a reforming Bishop and an intrepid defender of the rights of his Church, together with over 400 claimed miracles reported at his tomb, were causes for his Canonisation. He is also known as de Cantelow, de Cantelou, de Canteloupe, de Cantilupo. Patronages – Hereford, Hereford Cathedral, Diocese of Herefore, Hambledon.
St Thomas de Cantelupe was the penultimate figure of English history to have achieved official, papal, Canonisation before the Reformation (the last medieval recipient of this honour was Osmund, bishop of Salisbury, Canonised in 1456).. He was of noble Anglo-Norman descent, the son of William, 2nd Baron Cantelupe and Seneschal to King John and his wife Millicent de Gournay, widow of Amaury de Montfort, Count of Evreux. His father’s brother, Walter, was Bishop of Worcester and, by him, young Thomas was educated. The future Bishop and Saint also studied in Oxford and Paris and, before he had passed middle age, he was known, everywhere, as one of the most remarkable band of Scholar-Ecclesiastics who did so much to redeem the name of the Church in the 13th century. He was Ordained by his uncle in 1245.
Thomas became Chancellor of Oxford University in 1262 and earned golden opinions by the firm, yet tactful, control which he succeeded in establishing over the horde of unruly students. In 1265, Earl Simon de Montfort appointed him Chancellor of the Realm but this position he naturally lost at the fall of the ‘Righteous Earl.’ The best testimony to the remarkable moral ascendancy which he had achieved, is furnished by the fact that even King Henry III seems to have felt no enmity towards him.
He thought, however, to travel abroad for a time, during which he lectured on theology. With the accession of Edward I, the evil days were past and, during the last ten years of his life, Thomas was counted among the most trusted advisers of the great King. When, in 1275, the Chapter of Hereford Cathedral elected him Bishop of their Diocese, he, at first, declined the honour and was, only with the utmost difficulty, induced to accept it.
As this appointment took him far from London and the Royal Court, Thomas requested that Edward I “commit to him, until the heirs of Henry d’Earley, tenant in chief, come of age, the manor of Earley [Whiteknights] near Reading” and it was here that he resided whenever attending the King.
It may well be, that the kindly gentle scholar hated the prospect of life at Hereford among the rough and despotic barons of the Welsh Marches, the chief of whom, was the hot-tempered, grasping and unstable Gilbert de Clare, the ‘Red’ Earl of Gloucester. But, in point of fact, Thomas proved a very firm opponent of feudal arrogance and Gilbert the Red, found himself thoroughly worsted in an attempt to filch the Bishop’s hunting rights in the Malvern Forest. Lord Clifford, an amiable person who amused himself with cattle rustling, fire raising and maltreating the Bishop’s tenants, was even forced to do penance barefoot through the streets of Hereford to the high altar of the Cathedral, where Bishop Cantelupe himself castigated him with a rod. It is no wonder that a man who thus stood up for the helpless, was beloved by his flock and their affection was not diminished by his hospitality and boundless charity.
In one respect, it might seem that this really Christian man fell short of his ideals, for he was an ecclesiastical pluralist of the first order – being, at once, Canon and Cantor of York, Archdeacon and Canon of Lichfield & Coventry, Canon of London, Canon of Hereford, Archdeacon of Stafford and Rector of various rural parishes, including Sherborne St John in Hampshire. However, it is likely that, as in the case of Bishop Walter de Merton who held the great seal immediately before Cantelupe, the King found such preferments to be an expedient means of paying him. And, despite the usual practice being to take each salary and ignore one’s parochial responsibilities, Thomas is notable for having made sure that good curates always took his place, while still making visits himself whenever he could.
At the close of his life, Bishop Cantelupe in defending the rights of his church against lay aggressors, Thomas successfully challenged the authority of Archbishop Pecham of Canterbury over metropolitan jurisdiction within the Diocese of Hereford. At the height of his anger, Pecham solemnly excommunicated the refractory Bishop of Hereford who, at once, proceeded to Rome to lay his case before Pope Martin IV. There is reason to believe, however, that, as an excommunicated person, he could obtain from the Pope nothing more than “the promise of a quick despatch and removal of delays” and that this broken man only received absolution in the hour of his death, which occurred near Orvieto on 25 August 1282, – while travelling to the Papal Court at Orvieto to hear judgement on his case.
Richard Swinfield, his successor in the see of Hereford, who had accompanied Bishop Cantelupe to Italy as his chaplain, proceeded, probably at the prelate’s own request, to separate the flesh of his body from the bones by boiling. The flesh was interred in the Church of Santo Severo, near Orvieto; the heart was conveyed to the Monastic Church of Ashridge in Buckinghamshire, founded by Edmund, Earl of Cornwall and the bones were brought to his own Cathedral at Hereford. As they were being conveyed into the church, says the compiler of the Bishop’s ‘Life and Miracles,’ Gilbert Earl of Gloucester approached and touched the casket which contained them, whereupon they ‘bled-a-fresh.’ The Earl was struck with compunction and made full restitution to the Church of all the lands which Bishop Cantelupe had rightly claimed from him.
Swinfield, who had been the constant companion of Bishop Thomas and many of the contemporary chroniclers, bear witness to the purity and excellence of the Bishop’s life and his tomb soon became distinguished by miracles. The first of these, according to the annalist of Worcester, occurred in April 1287. At the time, apparently, of the removal of his remains from the tomb in the Lady Chapel, to the shrine which had been provided for them in the north transept. The number of miracles increased daily and, in 1289, Bishop Swinfield, who had brought Thomas’ bones from Italy, wrote to the Pope requesting his Canonisation.
At the Reformation all the Shrines in Hereford Cathedral were swept away. St Thomas’ Shrine was wholly demolished but the faithful managed to rescue some of his relics, including his head. These bones were preserved until the seventeenth century by local Catholics but were dispersed thereafter, some of St Thomas’ relics are still honoured in England at Belmont Abbey in Herefordshire, Stonyhurst College in Lancashire and since 1881, St Thomas’ skull has be preserved at Downside Abbey.
Many difficulties, however, were interposed and in spite of numerous letters from King Edward I and his son, Edward II, it was not until May 1320 that the bull of Canonisation was issued by Pope John XXII. It is possible that the excommunication of Cantelupe and his connection with the Knights Templars, of which Order he was Provincial Grand Master in England, were among the causes of the delay. The Templars were arrested throughout England in 1307; condemned in 1310 and, in 1312, the Order was finally dissolved in the Council of Vienne.
A book entitled ‘The Life and Miracles of Saint Thomas Cantelupe,‘ said to be compiled from evidences at Rome, collected before his Canonisation, was published at Ghent in 1674. “No fewer than four hundred and twenty-five miracles are registered, reported to be wrought at his tomb. . . . Yea, it is recorded in his legend, that by his prayers were raised from death to life, three-score several persons, one-and-twenty lepers healed and three-and-twenty blind and dumb men to have received their sight and speech.”
In the 2004 edition of the Roman Martyrology, St Thomas Cantelupe is listed under 25 August with the Latin name Thomae Cantelupe. He is mentioned as follows: ‘At Mount Faliscorum in Tuscany passed Saint Thomas Cantelupe, Bishop of Hereford in England, famous for his learning, who, though severe in his treatment of himself, was generous to the poor.’
The arms of Cantelupe-Gules, three leopards’ heads, with a fleur-de-lis-or issuing from the mouth, – have since his Canonisation been assumed as those of the see of Hereford.
Prayer to St Thomas
patron of the flock of Christ
and teacher of the Church,
lend your help to the sick,
I beg you,
and confer on devout minds
by your intercession,
the light of grace,
through Christ our Lord.