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Ancient Diocese of Norwich

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Though this see took its present name only in the eleventh century, its history goes back five hundred years earlier to the conversion of East Anglia by St. Felix in the reign of King Sigeberht, who succeeded to the kingdom of his father Redwald on the death of his half-brother Eorpweald in 628. St. Felix fixed his see at Dunwich, a sea-coast town since submerged, the site of which is in Southwold Bay. From Dunwich, St. Felix evangelized Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire, the counties which formed the diocese. He was succeeded by Thomas (647), Beorhtgils (Boniface), who died about 669, and Bisi, on whose death, in 673, St. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, divided the see into two, with cathedrals at Dunwich and Elmham. The following are the lines of episcopal succession based on the most recent research, with approximate dates of accession where known:—

Dunwich: Æcci, 673; Alric; Æscwulf; Eardred; Ealdbeorht I; Eardwulf; Cuthwine; Ealdbeorht II; Ecglaf; Heardred; Ælfhun, 790; Tidfrith, 798; Waermund; Wilred, 825.

Elmham: Beaduwine, 673; Nothbeorht; Heathulac; Æthelfrith, 736; Eanfrith; Æthelwulf; Ealhheard; Sibba; Hunfrith; St. Hunbeorht; Cunda (there is some doubt as to whether Cunda was Bishop of Elmbam or Dunwich).

The See of Elmbam came to an end about 870, when St. Edmund, King of the East Angles, and Bishop St. Hunbeorh were murdered by the Danes. The country was ravaged, the churches and monasteries destroyed, and Christianity was only practised with difficulty. Bishop Wilred of Dunwich seems to have reunited the dioceses, choosing Elmbam as his see. His successors at Elmham were:—

Husa; Æthelweald; Eadwulf; ÆIfric I; Theodred I; Theodred II; Æthelstan; Ælfgar, 1001; Ælfwine, 1021; Ælfric II; Ælfric III, 1039; Stigand, 1040; Grimcytel, 1042; Stigand (restored), 1043; Æthelmaer, 1047; Herfast, 1070. Bishop Herfast, a chaplain to William the Conqueror, removed his bishop's chair to Thetford. He died in 1084, and was succeeded by William de Bellofago (de Beaufeu), also known as William Galsagus (1086-91). William de Bellofago was succeeded by Herbert de Losinga, who made a simoniacal gift to King William Rufus to secure his election, but being subsequently struck with remorse went to Rome, in 1094, to obtain absolution from the pope. He founded the priory of Norwich in expiation for his sin and at the same time moved his see there from Thetford. The chapter of secular canons was dissolved and the monks took their place. The foundation-stone of the new cathedral was laid in 1096, in honor of the Blessed Trinity. Before his death, in 1119, he had completed the choir, which is apsidal and encircled by a procession path, and which originally gave access to three Norman chapels. His successor, Bishop Eborard, completed the long Norman nave so that the cathedral is a very early twelfth-century building though modified by later additions and alterations. The chief of these were the Lady chapel (circa 1250, destroyed by the Protestant Dean Gardiner 1573-89); the cloisters (circa 1300), the west window (circa 1440), the rood screen, the spire and the vault spanning the nave (circa 1450). The cathedral suffered much during the Reformation and the civil wars.

The list of bishops of Norwich, with the dates of their accession, is as follows:—

Herbert Losinga, consecrated in 1091, translated the see to Norwich in 1094; Eborard de Montgomery, 1121; William de Turbe, 1146; John of Oxford, 1175; John de Grey, 1200; Pandulph Masca, 1222; Thomas de Blunville, 1226; Ralph de Norwich, 1236; vacancy, 1236; William de Raleigh, 1239; vacancy, 1242; Walter de Suffield, 1245; Simon de Walton, 1258; Roger de Skerning, 1266; William de Middleton, 1278; Ralph de Walpole, 1289; John Salmon, 1299; William de Ayerminne, 1325; Anthony Bek, 1337; William Bateman, 1344; Thomas Percy, 1356; Henry le Despenser, 1370; Alexander de Totington,-1407; Richard Courtenay, 1413; John Wakering, 1416; William Alnwick, 1426; Thomas Brown, 1436; Walter Lyhart, 1446; James Goldwell, 1472; Thomas Jane, 1499; Richard Nykke, 1501; William Rugg (schismatic), 1536; Thomas Thirleby (schismatic but reconciled in Mary's reign), 1550; John Hopton, 1554, who died in 1558, being the last Catholic Bishop of Norwich.

The diocese, which consisted of Norfolk and Suffolk with some parts of Cambridgeshire, was divided into four archdeaconries, Norfolk, Norwich, Suffolk, and Sudbury. At the end of the seventeenth century there were 1121 parish-churches, and this number had probably not changed much since Catholic times.

The chief religious houses in the diocese were: the Benedictine Abbeys of Bury St. Edmund's, Wymondham, and St. Benet's of Hulm, the cathedral priory of Norwich, the Cistercian Abbey of Sibton, the abbeys of the Augustinian Canons at Wendling, Langley, and Laystone. The Dominicans and Franciscans were both found at Lynn, Norwich, Yarmouth, Dunwich, and Ipswich; the Dominicans also had houses at Thetford and Sudbury; the Franciscans at Bury St. Edmund's and Walsingham, where the great shrine of Our Lady was; the Carmelites were at Lynn, Norwich, Yarmouth, and Blakeney; and the Augustinian friars at Norwich, Lynn, and Orford. There were no Carthusians in the diocese. The arms of the see were azure, three mitres with their labels, or.


BRITTON, Hist. of the See and Cath. of Norwich (London, 1816); COTTON, Hist. Anglicana necnon Liber de archiepiscopis et episcopis Angliae (London, 1859); JESSOPP, Dioc. Hist. of Norwich (London, 1884); QUENNELL, Norwich: the Cath. and See (London, 1898); Visitations of the Diocese of Norwich, 1492-1532, ed. JESSOPP (London, 1888); WINKLE, Cathedral Churches of England and Wales, II (London, 1851); GOULBURN AND SYMONDS, Life, letters, and sermons of Herbert de Losinga (London, 1878); ANSTRUTHER, Epistolae Herberti de Losinga (London, 1846); Hist. MSS. Comnmission, First Report (giving a list of principal records in the bishop's registry); SEARLE, Anglo-Saxon Bishops, Kings, and Nobles (Cambridge, 1899).

About this page

APA citation. Burton, E. (1911). Ancient Diocese of Norwich. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Burton, Edwin. "Ancient Diocese of Norwich." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Joseph E. O'Connor.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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