21 August 2021

A Model Diocesan Bishop

It would be interesting to know exactly what the Dean and Chapter of Exeter had heard about their new bishop in August 1327. They certainly knew that he had been 'supplied' by the Holy See in place of the man they had themselves elected and whom the King had already confirmed. Presumably they knew he was a favourite of Pope John XXII. I suspect they had also heard that he was a micromanager, because they immediately put in hand the creation of a new Cathedral inventory.

John de Grandisson (pronounced Grahns'n), member of a top-flight international family, certainly turned out to be a man who devoted scrupulous attention, and considerable funds, to worship. A decade or two ago, more than six centuries and one 'reformation' after his death, he still merited an entire section on himself in a major London exhibition of Gothic art ... and some vestments with his arms embroidered on them still repose in a sacristy in ... the Azores! After his enthronement (which as a devotee of the Mater Misericordiae he fixed for the Octave Day of the Assumption in 1328; he decreed that the day should be a top-ranking feast for ever) his first decree endeavoured to raise the level of devotion among the unreformed rabble of Cathedral clergy by granting ample indulgences to those who devoutly attended choir and bowed their heads at the Names of Jesus and Mary. (It didn't work; hearing a few weeks later that the junior clergy were still behaving like naughty third-formers, he sent the Dean a stinker: 'Someone has failed to take measures ...').

As the first of his many benefactions, he gave a sumptuous monstrance to the Cathedral so that Corpus Christi, recently (yes; don't believe all that Transiturus stuff) instituted by John XXII, could be properly observed with a procession. He began his great masterpiece, the Ordinale Exoniense, codifying and modernising the usages of his Cathedral (not, as some Art Historian nutter has written, of the Diocese; in a time of manuscript altar-books the concept of Diocesan Regulations is anachronistic). It was probably he who suppressed some dreadful old lyrics which had previously been sung in the Exeter Procession of Relics: Grandisson preferred the new cult of the Blessed Sacrament (and devotion to our Lady) to tall tales about dubious miracles performed by obscure relics. He dealt expeditiously with a false claim of a miracle, and suppressed a phony shrine of our Lady which enabled fortune-tellers to exploit the gullible. 

We have a couple of pages from a Mary Missal, for daily use in the Lady Chapel either at Exeter or at his collegiate foundation at Ottery, in which the bishop in his own handwriting has painstakingly corrected scribal errors. He completed the building of his Cathedral in great splendour. He went after a Cornish heretic who, as heretics sometimes do, had stolen a Host specifically in order to commit sacrilege ... more on him in a day or two. Grandisson sent his own private army to prevent the Primate of All England, his own metropolitan Archbishop and Legatus natus Apostolicae Sedis, from entering Exeter on Visitation. He complained to his Patron in Avignon about the Cornish weather. But he did his duty even in the wind-swept extremities of the Dumnonian peninsula, consecrating altars and composing conflicts and seeing to it that in Cornubiphone parishes the clergy could preach in Cornish.

Even though he did not die at this time of the year, he ordered that his obit be kept on the day after the Octave of the Assumption; that is, today. I can't think of a more suitable day.

He was a devout old bully and a most magnificently cosmopolitan pontiff and a gigantic credit to the much-maligned, unjustly maligned, Avignon papacy. What a mercy that a wise Providence in its eternal decrees did not call upon him to exercise his episcopal ministry in the Age of Bishops' Conferences; I can't imagine him ... er ... sitting quietly at a table ... and ... er ... just ... er ...

I said Mass for him this morning. They don't make them like him nowadays. Or do they?

Cuius animae intercedente Matre Misericordiae propitietur Deus.

1 comment:

FatherVC said...

I was in Bronescombe [sic] House at his Cathedral School, not the eponymous Prelate's, but at least it wasn't Stapledon... thank you for keeping the memory of this fine Bishop alive. Where was the purported shrine to Our Lady, out of interest?