Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Canterbury Cathedral Chapter Controversy

When Peter of Blois' old law professor, Baldwin of Forde (pictured here outside of Canterbury Cathedral), became Archbishop of Canterbury, Peter might have been happy about renewing old acquaintance. Baldwin, however had some changes in mind that created a controversy that no one else wanted.

The controversy surrounded the chapter house of Benedictine monks. All well and good, but Baldwin belonged to the Cistercians, who branched off from the Benedictines around 1100 because they felt the Benedictines had not been rigorous enough at following the Rule of St. Benedict. They kept the rule, but amended it with ideas from Bernard of Clairvaux.

Baldwin felt the Benedictines were too worldly: diocesan properties that belonged to Canterbury Cathedral had been put in their hands to support their management of pilgrim traffic, especially around the shrine of Thomas Becket. Baldwin also took back the Easter offerings that had been allowed to go to the Benedictine chapter by Pope Lucius III. Baldwin wanted it for the diocese.

Baldwin was also determined to move the chapter north of Canterbury to Hackington.

The Benedictines complained to the current pope, Urban III, who had also been one of Peter's teachers. They also wrote to every bishop and archbishop, and even to King Philip II of France, looking for support. Peter, who had studied law under Baldwin and had been persuasive in the past, was sent to Rome by Baldwin to argue his case. The Benedictines, however, were represented by a skilled full-time Roman lawyer named Pillius, and Peter was no match for him.

Peter argued for months, and wasn't helped by Baldwin, who continued to do provocative things back in Canterbury. The pope had ordered the demolishing of the Hackington building, but Baldwin continued the construction. Baldwin seized the manors of the chapter and excommunicated the monks. Peter followed the papal court to Ferrara in October 1187 to continue to debate on Baldwin's behalf, but Baldwin's refusal to follow papal orders incensed Urban. Urban died on 19 October—Peter's account says it was dysentery—and the new pope, Gregory VIII, was elected on 21 October. He did not take a strong stand on the issue before dying in December and being succeeded by Clement III.

None of these changes in the chair of St. Peter helped Baldwin's case, although he took advantage of the transitions to continue his changes. On 26 January 1188, Clement sent a letter: Baldwin was to cease his changes and restore everything to the way it was prior to his meddling. Once again, however, he ignored the orders until August 1189 when Richard I (who had just become king after his father's death a month before) forced him to submit to the papal resolution.

Why did Baldwin think he could so readily ignore the pope(s)? What was England's royal policy on the controversy boiling over in its most important cathedral diocese? Who did Baldwin think he was? Let's take a close look at the man who started it all next time.

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