Bell's Cathedrals: The Cathedral Church of Gloucester [2nd ed.] A Description of Its Fabric and A Brief History of the Espicopal See

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Excerpt CHAPTER I HISTORY OF THE BUILDING It is neither possible, nor desirable, within the limits of a book of this size and scope, to go fully into the question, interesting though it be, of the relative claims of Aldred and Serlo to the honour of the first building of the Abbey of Gloucester. Professor Willis, in his lecture addressed to the meeting of the Archæological Institute, held at Gloucester in 1860, after giving various reasons for believing that the crypt dates back no further than 1089, when the foundation-stone was laid by Abbot Serlo, goes on to state that he was "clearly of opinion that when the foundations of the cathedral were laid, the crypt was planned to receive the existing superstructure and no other." Professor Freeman, in his lecture published in the "Records of Gloucester Cathedral," says: "The first thing we do know for certain is, that in the year 1089, thirty-one years only after the dedication of Ealdred's church, Serlo, the first Norman Abbot, began the building of a new church, which was itself dedicated in 1100." From the record quoted by Mr W. H. Hart ("Chartulary," i. 3), the first mention of the abbey is in 681, when it was founded by Osric, viceroy of King Ethelred. It was dedicated to St. Peter, and Kyneburga (the sister of Osric) was the first Abbess of a double foundation for monks and nuns. She died in 710. Osric himself was buried in his church in 729 (Hart, i. 5), and his sister was buried near him, in front of the altar of St. Petronilla, which was on the north side of the then existing church. The second Abbess was also a lady of royal descent, and widow of Wulphere, King of the Mercians. She died in 735, and with Eve or Eva, or Gaffa, her successor, who died in 769, the monastery came to an end. In 823 a new régime began—viz. that of secular priests, introduced by Beornwulf, King of Mercia, and the Monasticon Anglicanum (Caley, i. 563) says that he found the monastery "spoliatum et ruinosum" and therefore rebuilt it. He also changed its constitution, by introducing secular priests, of whom many were married to lawful wives, and who were very little different in their way of living to other secular Christians. This state of things went on till 1022, when Cnut, as Leland says, "for ill lyvynge expellyd secular clerks, and by the counsell of Wolstane (Wulfstan), Bysshope of Wurcestar, bringethe in monkes." The monks introduced by Cnut were of the Benedictine rule, or Black monks, as Parker calls them in his "Rhythmical History of the Abbey." This change was effected about the same time in many other places in England, but was not generally popular, and certainly was not so in Gloucester. Abbot Parker, in his rhyming account of the founding of the abbey, says that in 1030 "A lord of great puissance, named Ulfine Le Rewe,Was enjoyned by (the Pope) for ever to findeSatisfying for the seaven priests that he slew,7 monkes for them to pray world without minde." Mr Hope, in his "Notes on the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter at Gloucester," 1897, p. 2, says: "The Benedictines thus introduced by Cnut do not seem to have been a success, and after an existence of thirty-seven years under a weak Abbot, whose long rule was marked by great decay of discipline, the 'Memoriale' (Dugdale, i. 564) says: 'God permitted them to be extirpated, and the monastery in which they were established to be devoured by the fiercest flames, and the very foundations and buildings to be rent asunder, razed to the ground, and utterly destroyed.'" "The monastery was next taken in hand by Aldred, Bishop of Worcester, who in 1058 re-established the monks. He also began to build a new church from the foundations, and dedicated it in honour of St. Peter."5 "Until now the monastery seems to have occupied the same site throughout its chequered history; but the 'Memoriale' states that Aldred began the new church 'a little further from the place where it had first stood, and nearer to the side of the city.'" The language of these authorities is quite plain, but the interpretation thereof is not so evident. As Professor Freeman said: "By the time when the oldest church, of which we have any part remaining, came into being, the Roman Wall, or at least this corner of it, must have pretty well passed away." It seems clear that the "side of the city" cannot refer to the Roman Wall. To quote Professor Freeman again: "The existing church is something more than near to the Roman Wall. It actually stands over its north-west corner." "Even under Aldred's auspices the monastery did not altogether flourish. But this time it was through the fault of Aldred himself, for, on his translation to York in 1060, he retained very many of the possessions of the abbey that had been pledged to him on account of his expenses in repairing and re-edifying the church." In 1072, Wilstan (Wulstan), the Abbot consecrated by Aldred in 1058, died, and was succeeded by Serlo, who found the convent reduced to two monks and eight novices....
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