ST.ALBAN’S CHURCH, WICKERSLEY – ITS ORIGINS AND EARLY MINISTERS
This is an edited version of a document originally produced by Rev.R.J.Draper, Rector 1982-2000.
From the general histories of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, we can learn the following. We know that a major religious revival took place in England during the reign of King Stephen (1135 — 1154). (The novels of Brother Cadfael are set in this period.) The twelfth century was a great age of Church building and, this was particularly the case in the North of England in the old ‘Danelaw’ areas. Churches were usually built by the local lords, who also appointed the parish priests. Later in the century the custom grew up to give the power to appoint parish priests to the new religious foundations that had been established. These religious communities often became important centres of pilgrimage. St. Alban’s Abbey, for example, around 1150 was at the height of its power and prestige, and it produced the first and only English Pope — Adrian IV in 1154. It was only after the death of Thomas Becket in 1170 that the Shrine of St. Alban was eclipsed by the Shrine of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury, as the great place of pilgrimage.
Concerning Wickersley itself, Joseph Hunter, in his book on South Yorkshire published in 1831, suggested that the first Church in Wickersley was erected about a century after the conquest. This claim has been strikingly confirmed by the research of Leslie and Sylvia Beckett. They have shown:
– In 1147 Richard de Wickersley gave some of his land to Cistercian Monks to found Roche Abbey.
– In 1148, 1156 and 1173 gifts of land in Wickersley were made by the De Wickersleys to the Hospital of St. Peter in York.
– In 1177, Richard’s son, Roger, gave to Worksop Priory the right to appoint ministers to Wickersley Church.
So we know there was a Church in Wickersley by 1177. It seems likely that during the religious revival of King Stephen’s reign (1135 — 1154), the Lord of Wickersley who was willing to give land to establish a new monastery and support a hospital, would also have built a new Church. The dedication of this Church to St. Alban perhaps suggests that he, like so many others, had been on pilgrimage to the Saint’s Shrine at St. Alban’s Abbey. (One day, if the deeds from Worksop Priory can be located, perhaps this suggestion can be proved or disproved.) What we do know is that Worksop Priory was founded by a member of the Lovetot Family and this family were the Lords of the neighbouring village of Whiston. It is easy to see why Richard’s son, Roger, felt drawn to give to this religious community the power to appoint ministers to Wickersley Church.
The first Rector whose name we know is Guido (appointed Rector in 1240), but there must have been others who served as Parish Priests in Wickersley before him from 1150 to 1240. We can only use the general histories of the period to guess at what life was like for them, and what kind of people they were. They may or may not have been celibate. There is quite a lot of evidence of married clergy from this period. They are unlikely to have been well educated. One of the constant complaints of the time was the lack of education of the clergy. They are also unlikely also to have had a reliable or regular income. This was, by the time of the Lateran Council of 1215, recognised as a major weakness of the Church. Pope Innocent III at that Council called the Churches of Europe to undertake a major reform programme to give Parish Priests job security and an adequate income. The post of Rector of Wickersley was created as part of this European reform programme aimed at improving the income, security and quality of parish priests.
Some Bishops in England, like Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, left clear records showing that between 1209 and 1235 he created over 300 such posts. But the evidence suggests that all the English Bishops were doing the same kind of work. Certainly there is considerable evidence of this in South Yorkshire, of the reforming work of the Archbishop of York. The first Rector of Maltby was appointed in 1230, of Warrnsworth in 1235, of Armthorpe in 1237, of Braithwell in 1238, of Harthill in 1239, of Sandal Parva in 1240, of Fishlake in 1242, and of Barnby Don in 1245.
At the same time Bishops were striving to raise the educational level of their clergy. They were insisting that clergy were trained in Theology and in Music. They created in Archdeacons and Rural Deans a ‘middle management’ to ensure that clergy were supported in their work, and to ensure that they kept abreast of the reforms of the time. Regular Diocesan Conferences were held for Clergy and Bishops issued regular pastoral teaching to their clergy. One such list survives from the time of Guido — from Robert Grosseteste Bishop of Lincoln. He set out what every parish priest should know — the 10 commandments, the 7 deadly sins, the 7 sacraments and the creed. He set out also how his clergy should behave:
‘He should allow no woman, whose presence might cause suspicion of evil, to live in his house, nor frequent taverns, nor engage in merchandise, nor act as a bailiff, nor make profit of the goods entrusted to him, nor attend plays, nor game with dice, nor carry arms. The cemetery should be enclosed, no markets or games or lawsuits should be allowed in holy places, clandestine marriages should be forbidden, no laymen, except perhaps the patron, should be with the clerks in the chancel during divine service’.
It is an interesting list! Perhaps the best picture that comes to us of the medieval parish priest comes from Chaucer in the prologue to The Canterbury Tales. There he writes with great affection of a. parson who was: ‘a learned man, a clerk, who truly knew Christ’s gospel and would preach it devoutly to parishioners and teach it … Christ and his Twelve Apostles and their lore he taught, but followed it himself before …’
Perhaps some of the early parish priests of Wickersley were such men.