Archbishop Richard Bancroft's remains rediscovered

Archbishop Richard Bancroft

There has been quite a lot of media coverage recently of the accidental discovery of the tomb of Archbishop Richard Bancroft, together with four other former Archbishops. Richard was a very important religious figure in the early 17th century, as he was appointment by King James to oversee the translating of a new authorised version of the Bible, which was eventually published in 1611 and known as the ‘ King James Bible’

Sadly Richard never saw the completion of his work on the Bible project because he died at Lambeth Palace on 2nd November 1610, and the whereabouts of his final resting place had been a mystery until recently.

I have over the years had lots of researchers contacting me regarding Archbishop Richard Bancroft [1544-1610], to see if they are related to him as a "Yorkshire Bancroft"....unfortunately he was not a Yorkshire born Bancroft but came from LANCASHIRE, but his story still makes interesting reading.

Richard was the son of John Bancroft & Mary Curwen and baptised on 9th September 1544 at Farnworth, a village in South Lancashire [now part of Widnes in Cheshire]. His early education was at Farnworth Grammar School, and later at Cambridge, firstly at Christ's College & then at Jesus College.
He was ordained in 1570 as Chaplin to the Bishop of Ely, and then became one of the preachers at the University. In 1584 he was made rector of St Andrew's in Holborn and a year later in 1585 was appointed treasurer of St Paul's Cathedral.
On 9th February 1589 he preached at St Paul's Cross and the theme of his sermon was a passionate attack on the Puritans and is said to have "denounced the exercise of the right of private judgement, and set forth the divine right of bishops in such strong language that one of the Queen's councillors held it to amount to a threat against the supremacy of the crown"'
In June 1597 he was consecrated Bishop of London, and from that time, because of the age and incapacity of the incumbent Archbishop Whitgift, he was virtually invested with the power of primate and had the sole management of ecclesiastical affairs.

One if his many duties when Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, was to be present at her death.

In 1604 Archbishop Whitgift died and Richard was eventually appointed his successor, albeit it after strong opposition from parliament because of a ‘Book of Canons’ which he had produced for royal approval earlier in the year.

At this time there was also strong opposition to the current religious practices from the  Puritan movement  who were continuing to gaining momentum and Puritan ministers collected signatures for a petition, known as the Millenary Petition signed by over 1,000 Puritan ministers, calling for a number of moderate church reforms to remove ceremonies, some of which were:
  1. the use of the sign of the cross in baptism [which Puritans saw as superstitious]
  2. the rite of confirmation (which Puritans criticized because it was not found in the Bible);
  3. the performance of baptism by midwives (which Puritans argued was based on a superstitious belief that infants who died without being baptized could not go to heaven]
  4. the exchanging of rings during the marriage ceremony (again seen as unscriptural and superstitious);
  5. bowing at the name of Jesus during worship (again seen as superstitious)
  6. the requirement that clergy wear vestments.
  7. the custom of clergy living in the church building.
The Petition argued that a preaching minister should be appointed to every parish (instead of one who simply read the service from the book of common prayer. In opposition to the Archbishop's policy that clergy must subscribe to the Book of Common Prayer and the use of vestments. The Petition argued for  the setting up of a Presbyterian system of church governance.
In 1608 he was chosen chancellor of the University of Oxford. One of his last public acts was a proposal laid before Parliament for improving the revenues of the Church, and a project for a college of controversial divinity at Chelsea. In the last few months of his life he took part in the discussion about the consecration of certain Scottish bishops, and it was in pursuance of his advice that they were consecrated by several bishops of the English Church. By this act were laid the foundations of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Museum Garden

And to bring the story up to date, Last year, during the refurbishment of the Garden Museum, which is housed in a deconsecrated medieval parish church next to Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official London residence, builders made the chance discovery of a lifetime: a cache of 30 lead coffins that had lain undisturbed for centuries.
There were records of archbishops being buried in the church, from the 17th to the 19th centuries. But it was thought their coffins had been swept away in 1851, when the ancient church was almost entirely rebuilt, except for its tower. It had been thought that the vaults below had been filled in.

St Mary's Tower

And so they had been – except for the single vault beneath the holy altar, the most important spot in the church. So the archbishops have slumbered on, undisturbed and completely forgotten.
Closer inspection of the coffins revealed metal plates bearing the names of five former Archbishops of Canterbury, going back to the early 1600s.
Building site workers made their discovery by chance as the former chancel at St Mary-at-Lambeth was being converted into an exhibition space. Stripping out some York stone to even out the precarious paving, and enable disabled access to the old altar, they accidentally cut a six-inch diameter hole in the chancel floor – and noticed a hidden chamber beneath.
Attaching a mobile phone to a stick, they dropped it into the hole. What they filmed astonished them…. a hidden stairway leading down to a brick-lined vault.

Hidden Coffins

Inside, piled giggle-piggledy on top of each other, were the coffins. On top of one rested an archbishop’s mitre, painted red and gold.

Archbishop's Mitre

It isn’t surprising, then, that six archbishops were buried in Lambeth, where the Archbishops of Canterbury have lived for nearly 800 years. What is surprising is that they should choose to be buried in tiny St Mary’s, rather than mighty Lambeth Palace itself.
The end this story, in the preface of the new King James Version of the Bible, the translator refer to Archbishop Bancroft as "chief overseer & task-master under his Majesty, to whom were not only we, but also our whole Church,much bound"

King James Bible

No comments: