Bishop Wulfstan became a saint much admired by King John. He was also a canny politician. He’d been appointed bishop by Edward the Confessor in 1062 and is said by his biographer a monk called Colman to have advised King Harold. This didn’t stop him from being one of the first bishops to offer his oath to William. The Worcester Chronicle also suggests that Wulfstan was at William’s coronation.
William set about reforming English Bishoprics, generally by removing Saxon clerics and appointing Normans. He demanded that Wulfstan surrender Worcester. According to its chronicle Wulstan surrendered the staff to the king who appointed him – i.e. Edward the Confessor. No one else could shift it so William was forced to confirm Wulfstan as bishop. King John trotted this legend out as an example of the way in which the king had the right to appoint English bishops rather than the pope having the right.
Wulfstan ensured that the Benedictine monks at Worcester continued their chronicle and he preached against slave trading in Bristol. Meanwhile the priory at Worcester was growing (It was a priory rather than an abbey because it had a bishop as well as its monastic foundation- that’s probably a post for another time). Not much remains of the early cathedral building apart from the crypt with its forest of Norman and Saxon columns. Wulfstan’s chapter house draws on its Saxon past and is, according to Cannon, one of the finest examples of its time. In 1113 it suffered a fire rebuilding began immediately. Wulfstan’s canonisation in 1203 helped Worcester Abbey’s and the cathedral’s economy although the Barons’ War ensured that Wulfstan’s shrine was destroyed on more than one occasion although when Simon de Montfort sacked Worcester he spared the priory.
On a happier note, King John was buried there partly because of his veneration of St Wulfstan. He’s one of the saintly bishop’s whispering in the John’s ear (see first image). Henry III crowned at Worcester aged nine with a circlet belonging to his mother because the crown was too big and John had famously just lost rather a lot of bling in The Wash (assuming you don’t think there’s a conspiracy behind the whole story). Simon de Montfort’s daughter Eleanor (whose mother Eleanor was Henry III’s sister) married Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales there in 1278 having been held prisoner for three years by her cousin Edward I.
A building programme was required for the final resting place of a monarch not least because in 1175 the central tower had collapsed possibly because of dodgy foundations. In 1202 there was yet another fire and in 1220 a storm blew down part of the edifice. In 1224 the rebuilding began ensuring that Worcester is a good example of early English gothic. The building continued to expand. By the fifteenth century new windows were being added.
We shift now to the Tudor period. In 1502 Prince Arthur died at Ludlow after only a few months marriage to Catherine of Aragon. His heart in buried in Ludlow but the rest of him was interred in Worcester Cathedral. His tomb and chantry will be posted about separately. The Tudor propaganda machine provided symbolism with bells and whistles.
In 1535 Latimer was made Bishop of Worcester. He visited his see in 1537 by which time Cromwell’s commissioners had carried out the Valor Ecclesiasticus. Its income was £1,260. It was the fourth richest of the monastic cathedrals behind Canterbury, Durham and Winchester (Lehmberg: 46). Holbeach had sent Cromwell “a remembrance of his duty” in the form of an annuity to the tune of some twenty nobles a year – presumably in the hope of being left alone. Latimer found that the monks were sticking to their old ways of dressing the Lady Chapel with ornaments and jewels rather than new more austere Protestant approach. He laid down the law but three years later Worcester Priory was surrendered by Prior Holbeach on 18 thJanuary 1540.
Two years later it was re-founded as the Cathedral of Worcester. Holbeach became the first dean of the cathedral. As with many other religious buildings it suffered during the English Civil War – lead was stripped from its roof valued at £8000. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were a time of renovation for Worcester Cathedral.
Somehow, thirty-nine fifteenth century misericords survive at Worcester. There are also some fine spandrels (triangular bits between arches) depicting various scenes including a crusader doing battle with a lion not to mention the crypt and Arthur’s chantry with its tomb of Purbeck marble.
‘The city of Worcester: Cathedral and priory’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4, ed. William Page and J W Willis-Bund (London, 1924), pp. 394-408. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol4/pp394-408 [accessed 27 August 2016].
Cannon, Jon. (2007). Cathedral: The Great English Cathedrals and the World that Made Them. London: Constable
Lehmberg, Stanford. E. (2014) The Reformation of Cathedrals: Cathedrals in English Society. Princetown: Princetown University Press.