Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

1208 Revisited

Some people have already commented that the closure of churches and the cessation of celebrations of the Mass or other liturgies is the first such formal suspension by the episcopate since Pope Innocent III imposed his Interdict in 1208. Today a priest friend shared with me this post from the Magna Carta Project  blog six years ago that gives a good account of the episode. Interestingly it commenced on March 23rd, just where we are now and it seems particularly apposite to post a link to it now at: http://magnacartaresearch.blogspot.com/2014/03/23-march-1208-interdict-is-laid-on.html

King John was relatively unperturbed and the Interdict continued until July 2nd 1214. Political events led the King to negotiate with the Papacy - an increasingly restive baronial elite and, nearly a month after the end of the Interdict, on July 27th the final collapse of his strategy in France when his nephew and ally the Emperor Otto IV was defeated at the battle of Bouvines by the forces of King Philip II.

Pope Innocent III was a resolute Pope at handing out such Interdicts and generally in  engaging in disputes with his contemporary monarchs, but, as I remember being taught years ago, they were equally adept at ignoring him and them. Pope Innocent might well have seen himself as Father of Kings and Princes but he had a very disobedient family.

One legacy of the Interdict and its resolution is the beginning of the self-governance of Oxford University. When the Papal Legate restored normal ecclesial life one thing he did was resolve the dispute between the scholars and Masters of Oxford and the townspeople: in 1208 two students, protesting their innocence, were hanged by the local authorities, accused of the murder of their landlady. The teachers and student body withdrew and found somewhere else to teach and learn, a county town called Cambridge. When many returned to Oxford after the Interdict ended to an institution for the first time led by a Chancellor of their own and with legal protection against the townspeople, others remained on the edge of the Fens and hence the establishment of another centre of academic life in Cambridge 

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