A Short History Of The Diocese Of Nottingham.

Conversion Of The Britons And Anglo-Saxons.

Through a mist of uncertainty, Lincoln emerges dimly as the earliest known centre of Christianity in the present diocese of Nottingham. There is evidence that there were Christians in the town early in the fourth century, and that they had a Bishop of their own, named Adelphius, who was one of the three British Bishops present at the Council of Arles in 314 A.D.

The rest is conjecture. It has been suggested, on very slight evidence, that one-tenth of the population of Britain, living to the east and south of the Fosse-Way, had received baptism before the age of persecutions came to an end with the Edict of Milan in 313. And the Fosse Way cuts through the diocese diagonally from Lincoln in the north-east to Hinckley in the south-west. It has likewise been suggested that in the fourth century there were twenty-four Bishops in Britain. If so, one of these would almost certainly have been resident at Leicester which was a centre of the imperial administration. But this is a guess.

After 410, Roman rule disintegrated. Roman Britain developed gradually into Anglo-Saxon England. The incomers, entering from the North Sea into the Humber and the Wash, settled in the river valleys that penetrate this diocese. They undoubtedly destroyed the organisation of the Church. Did they also destroy the tradition of the faith? Probably not. Many of the Romano-Britons survived. And the ease with which the population received Baptism from the 6th century missionary priests suggests that there may also have been some survival of the faith.

St. Paulinus came to England in 601 to join the missionary band of St.Augustine. He may be regarded as the Father of the Church in our diocese: the flame he lit has never been extinguished. Some time between 627 and 631 he converted the governor of Lincoln, built a stone church there, and carried out a mass-baptism on the Trent at a place called " Teolfinga ceastre" which most probably is Littleborough, four miles south of Gainsborough. A description of Paulinus has survived : tall, slightly bent, with a thin beakish nose set in an emaciated face ; venerable and somewhat terrifying ; he died on October 10, 644 at Rochester.

In the southern parts of this diocese, the early memories of the faith centre round Repton. This was the principal residence of Peada, King of the Middle Angles, who received baptism in 653. Four priests were sent to him and their names have been recorded: three were Angles - Cedd, Adda and Betti; the fourth, appropriately enough, was Irish, and was popularly canonised as St. Diuma.

The organization of the Anglo-Saxon Church followed the civil organization of the country. Lincolnshire at first came under the jurisdiction of Paulinus, Bishop of York, because it then formed part of the Kingdom of Deira, of which York was the capital. In 655 a Bishop was appointed for the whole of the dominions of Peada. This was Diuma, the Irish monk who had come to the area in 653 and he established his see first of all at Repton, the king's residence, but moved it to Lichfield in the following year. This Bishopric served both the Mercians and the Middle Angles.

Until the Norman Conquest, the boundaries of bishoprics tended to vary; at first with the changing boundaries of the kingdoms into which Britain was divided; then under the pressure of the Danish raids the County of Nottingham emerged by 1066, as a part of the Archdiocese of York. Derbyshire remained in the diocese of Lichfield throughout - although the episcopal see of this diocese had a tendency to wander from Lichfield to Chester and Coventry and back again. Leicester had its own bishop from 680 to 874, when it was amalgamated with the diocese of Dorchester-on-Thames -- an arrangement which endured up to the Norman Conquest. The foundation of Leicester was the work of Archbishop Theodore, a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, who ruled Canterbury from 668 to 690 and did so much to reduce the chaotic Anglo-Saxon church to some sort of order and to revive learning in the country.

Another see founded by Theodore in 680 was that of Stow in Lincolnshire, and this also was subsequently amalgamated with Dorchester. By the end of this period, the counties of the present diocese were divided as follows: Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and the county of Rutland under Dorchester-on-Thames; Nottinghamshire under York, and Derbyshire under Lichfield-and-Coventry.

Monasteries arose, centres both of contemplation and of learning. That at Repton was said to have been founded by King Wulfhere of Mercia (658-675). One of the monks, intending to devote himself to a hermit's life, became the St.Guthlac who died at Croyland in the Lincolnshire Fens on April 11, 714 and who may be considered as the earliest saint of this Diocese. His last home became a shrine and the site of a Benedictine monastery. Repton church was later to be the last resting-place of St.Wystan, a member of the Mercian royal house, who died a martyr's death in 850. When the Danes sacked this monastery in 874 his body was carried to Evesham. In Lincolnshire, the Abbey at Bardney was founded shortly after 679, and from this time to 909 was the centre of the cult of St.Oswald who died in 642 after ruling Northumbria for nine years and whose body had been translated to the Abbey church.

The present diocese has connections with two other Saxon saints. Lincolnshire formed part of the territory under the jurisdiction of St.Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne from 635 to 651. Derbyshire, and possibly the two counties to the east, were similarly ruled at one time by St.Chad, Bishop of Lichfield from 669 to 672.

From the Norman Conquest to the Reformation

The coming of the Normans brought organization and discipline to the Church. The Anglo-Saxons had been very different from their efficient descendants in modern England. The Norman Bishops brought in by William saw that their clergy obeyed the canon law of the Universal Church -- hitherto very much neglected. They moved their sees from out-of-the-way villages to the large towns. Dorchester gave place to Lincoln: now the centre of an enormous diocese stretching from the Thames to the Humber.

Early in the 12th century the dioceses were divided into Archdeaconries. These were usually co-terminous with the counties: Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, each had its own Archdeacon. Lincolnshire was divided into the Archdeaconries of Stow and Lincoln. Shortly after this there was a further sub-division into Deaneries, each averaging about twenty parishes. Some idea of the contrast between the thirteenth century and the present day may be obtained from Lincolnshire, where there were 24 of these Deaneries --and there are only 21 parishes today.

It is impossible in this short space to deal with all the variations in the 450 years between the Conquest and the Reformation. But it may be asserted that diocesan administration was careful and extremely healthy so long as it was free from governmental interference. The Bishops were constantly on the move in a round of visitations; the clergy were under the close supervision of their Archdeacons. The parishes were filled by priests who had been at least competently educated and properly examined before being given the care of souls. The number and beauty of the churches erected during these centuries are sufficient witness of the devotion of the people.

There was one flaw in the organization of the medieval Church: control of the higher appointments passed practically into the hands of the King, and of the lower appointments into the hands of the local gentry. At the lower levels the Bishop actually appointed the parish priests -- but he could usually only appoint a nominee " presented " by the lay patron of the parish. His choice was therefore very limited. At the higher levels, the Bishops were in theory elected by the Cathedral Chapters. But in practice, towards the end of the Middle Ages, the canons grew more and more accustomed to electing a candidate suggested by the King. Thus it happened that the character of the Bishops steadily deteriorated. Lincoln had a succession of great Bishops from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries: one, St.Hugh of Lincoln (1181-1200) was canonized; two others - Robert Grosseteste (1235-53) and John Dalderby (1280-1300) - were honoured locally after their death as saints, although they were never raised to the altars of the Church. In the fifteenth century things went from bad to worse, the Bishops being little more than statesmen and civil servants provided by the King with an income from the Church as a cheap way of paying them.

In the years immediately before the Breach with Rome, the five counties of this Diocese were practically without any episcopal government. Bishop Smythe of Lincoln (1496-1514) was taken up with his duties as President of the Council of Wales, and the same may be said of Bishop Blythe of Lichfield (1503-1533) who succeeded him in the Presidency. Cardinal Wolsey never set foot in his Archdiocese of York until his fall in 1529. The stage was set for the next generation of Bishops who under Henry VIII were to lead the Church in Schism.