Saint of the Day – 2 October – Saint Thomas de Cantilupe of Hereford (c 1218-1282) Bishop of Hereford, Confessor, learned Scholar, known for his care of the poor and his protection of them against feaudal landlords, miracle-worker, Chancellor of Oxford University, Lord Chancellor of England. Born in c 1218 at Hambleden, Buckinghamshire and died on 25 August 1282 at Ferento, Montefiascone, Italy. Thomas de Cantilupe was the last Englishman Canonised before the Reformation. Also known as – St Thomas of Cantelow, Cantelou, Canteloupe, Cantelupo. Additional memorial – 25 August. Patronages – Hereford, Hambledon.
The Roman Martyrology states: “At Montefiascone in Tuscia, the passing of Saint Thomas Cantelupe, Bishop of Hereford in England, who, resplendent with learning, severe toward himself, to the poor however showed himself a generous benefactor.“
He was of noble and politically prominent Anglo-Norman family, the son of William, 2nd Baron Cantilupe 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 of scholar-ecclesiastics who did so much to redeem the name of the Church in the 13th century.
He was Ordained in c 1245 and made a career in Canon Law, lecturing at the Universities of Paris and Oxford. His lawyer’s training and innate Christian hatred of injustice, led to an involvement in politics. He was the Barons’ spokesman in their rebellion against Henry III and was named Chancellor of England by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester and main opponent to Henry III. . When de Montfort was killed at the Battle of Evesham, Thomas was dismissed from the Chancellor’s post and went into exile
In 1273, he returned to England and was appointed Doctor of Divinity and, for the second time, elected Chancellor of Oxford University.
In 1275, Thomas was appointed Bishop of Hereford and set about defending the rights of the Diocese against the encroachments of, both fellow Bishops and lay lords. His combative approach made him many enemies. He insisted on a high standard of discipline and pastoral care from his Priests but was loved by the lay faithful for his large , gentle and kindly heart and holy life and their affection was not diminished by his hospitality and boundless charity. to those in any kind of need.
Thomas also fell foul of John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury, for his defence of the rights of individual Bishops against their Archbishop and Peckham excommunicated him. Thomas set off for Rome in 1282 to put his case before Pope Martin IV and it is believed that he obtained absolution;. Thomas, however, died near Orvieto (in Umbria, just north of Rome).
Richard Swinfield, his Successor in the See of Hereford, who had accompanied Bishop Cantilupe to Italy as his Chaplain, arranged that part of his relics were interred in the Church of Santo Severo, near Orvieto; the heart was conveyed to the Monastic Church of Ashridge in Buckinghamshire 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 Cantilupe had rightly claimed from him.
Bishop Swinfield, who had been the constant companion of 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, occurred in April 1287. At the time, 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 marvels increased daily and, in 1289, Bishop Swinfield, wrote to the Pope requesting his Canonisation. 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 Rome eventually found in his favour and the Bull of Canonisation was issued by Pope John XXII. Our Saint holds the dubious honour of being the only Canonised Saint to have been excommunicate at the time of his death.
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.
St Thomas was an exemplary Bishop in both spiritual and secular affairs. His charities were large and his private life blameless. He was constantly visiting his Diocese, correcting offenders and discharging other episcopal duties and he compelled neighbouring landholders to restore estates which rightly belonged to the See of Hereford. St Thomas has been lauded as the “Father of Modern Charity” and is cited as an inspiration by Mother Teresa of Calcutta and other charitable people, apostolates and organisations.
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.”
Here is a record of the miracles of St Thomas: https://www.jstor.org/stable/29529225
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.