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Saint of the week

A formidable English bishop who rooted out corruption

St Thomas of Hereford (October 2) was canonised only 20 years after his death after some 500 miracles had been attributed to his intercession

By on Sunday, 2 October 2011

Hereford, where St Thomas served as bishop (David Davies/PA)

Hereford, where St Thomas served as bishop (David Davies/PA)

Thomas Cantelupe (1220-82), Bishop of Hereford from 1275 to his death, was a formidable medieval ecclesiastic and man of affairs, whose private virtues were widely acknowledged. This was a man horrified to be kissed by his own sister.

In his diocese he sought, and obtained, the highest standards. In matters of state he fiercely defended the the Church against lay encroachment. He proved equally vigilant, moreover, in confronting challenges to his own authority.

Born at Hambleden in Buckinghamshire, the third child in a family of seven, Thomas entered the world with every advantage. His father and grandfather had served in the royal household. His mother was the widow of Amaury de Montfort, Count of Evreux. His uncle Walter was Bishop of Worcester.

Thomas studied in Oxford, Paris and Orleans. In 1245 he attended the Council of Lyons, where he was appointed a papal chaplain by Innocent IV, and obtained a dispensation which allowed him to hold several benefices at the same time. This concession he would amply exploit. 

In 1261 Cantelupe became Chancellor of Oxford. In a wider ambit, his de Montfort connections drew him to support the barons in their struggle against Henry III. After Simon de Montfort’s triumph at the Battle of Lewes (1264), Cantelupe was briefly Chancellor of England.

When de Montfort was defeated at Evesham in August 1265, Cantelupe removed himself to Paris to further his theological studies. Very likely he encountered Thomas Aquinas, though there is no record of their
having met.

By 1272 he was back in Oxford, and soon reappointed Chancellor. Then, in 1275, he was elected Bishop of Hereford. Apparently he preached, presumably in Latin, through an interpreter.

Through conscientious visitations of his diocese Cantelupe rooted out corruption, being especially severe on priests guilty of simony, non-residence and pluralism. As to his own multiple benefices, it sufficed, obviously, that they had been sanctioned by the Pope. He was also influential in King Edward I’s counsels, being particularly hostile to the Jews, who would be expelled from England in 1290.

The boundaries of the Diocese of Hereford being ill-defined, Cantelupe adopted a combative attitude towards neighbouring bishops of St Asaph, St David’s and Gloucester.

He met his match, however, when John Peckham became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1279. Cantelupe resisted the archbishop’s jurisdictional claims so fiercely that in 1280 he fled to Normandy to avoid an interdict. When he returned to England in 1282 he was excommunicated by Peckham.

Cantelupe travelled to Italy to plead his cause before the Pope, only to die at Montefiascone on August 25 1282. 

Richard Swinfield, his successor at Hereford, promoted his canonisation and by 1312 some 500 miracles had been attributed to Cantelupe’s intercession. And so, in 1320, this rigorous and daunting ecclesiastic became St Thomas Cantelupe.

  • Bob

    “This was a man horrified to be kissed by his own sister.” That is not even healthy. “he fiercely defended the the Church against lay encroachment. He proved equally vigilant, moreover, in confronting challenges to his own authority.” Sound more egotistical than saintly and defending against lay encroachment, whatever that means, isn’t really something to be looked up to in our Post Vatican II era. Why are you talking about this seemly unknown saint when today is the feast of the most popular Saint other than Mary the Mother of God. Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. You should be talking about him. 

  • Anonymous

    I must be missing something, too…where is the virtue of projecting something improper on a sister’s innocent affection?

  • Dtmccameron

    Because, dear sir, this the the  And St. Thomas of Hereford is, or was, English.

    The sister thing threw me for a loop, too, though.  Sounds scrupulous, but, hey!  He’s a saint, what do I know?