We’re delving back a long way into London’s history here to the Anglo-Saxon period when London was known as Lundenwic. Credited as the first bishop of London in the Anglo-Saxon period, Mellitus is perhaps most famous for having founded the precursor to today’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

Mellitus-stoneTradition holds that Mellitus was a priest – perhaps an abbot – of noble birth who was among a group of missionaries, known as the Gregorian mission, sent from the monastery of St Andrew on the Coelian Hill in Rome to England by Pope Gregory the Great in response to a call from St Augustine – the first archbishop of Canterbury – for people to help convert the Saxons to Christianity.

The mission was dispatched to England in 601 AD (apparently Mellitus brought with him a number of books, including possibly the St Augustine Gospels now at Cambridge University) coming via Gaul where the mission paused to deliver letters to various Frankish kings.

The group reached England sometime prior to 604 AD for that year St Augustine, with the permission of Saxon King Æthelberht of Kent (aka Ethelbert), consecrated Mellitus Bishop of the East Saxons with London as his seat, making him the first post-Roman-era bishop of the city.

Records are scant about Mellitus’ time as bishop but he is believed to have constructed a simple wooden church dedicated to St Paul (the first ‘version’ of St Paul’s Cathedral) in 604 with King Æthelberht as his patron (the ruler of Lundenwic was King Sæberht but, while he was then a pagan and unlikely to welcome the building of a church, he apparently owed his allegiance to Æthelberht as his overlord (Sæberht was later baptised by Mellitus). It was apparently constructed in the ruins of a temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Diana as per the instructions Mellitus had carried from Rome to convert rather than destroy pagan temples.

Mellitus is known to have left the city in 610 to attend a council of bishops called in Italy by Pope Boniface IV. He returned with letters from the Pope for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Laurentius (or Laurence), and one for King Æthelberht.

There was a crisis following the death of both kings Æthelberht and Sæberht some time around 616-618. Sæberht’s three sons inherited and subsequently drove Mellitus out of the city into exile (Bede suggests it’s because he refused them a ‘taste’ of the sacramental bread but its also suggested he was exiled from his bishopric because the overlordship of the East Saxons passed from the now dead King Æthelberht of Kent to the pagan East Anglian King Raedwald and thus the brothers felt there was no need to allow a Christian bishopric in the city any longer).

Mellitus fled first to Canterbury but King Æthelberht’s successor Eadbald was also a pagan and so he continued to Gaul. He was eventually recalled – some suggest his exile was only a year – after Archbishop Laurentius converted Eadbald. Mellitus was not to return to Lundenwic, however, and the bishopric remained vacant for some years thereafter (it wasn’t until 654 that Cedd reclaimed the bishopric).

Mellitis, meanwhile, went on to greater things – he succeeded Laurentius as the third Archbishop of Canterbury following Laurentius’ death in 619. During his time as archbishop, legend has it that Canterbury was saved from fire due to his prayers which summoned a strong wind that kept the flames from the town.

He eventually died on 24th April, 624. He was buried at St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury (the ruins of the abbey remain in the city today).

Mellitus, who has a stone memorial at Canterbury Cathedral (pictured), was later elevated to sainthood within the Roman Catholic Church  and there was a shrine to Mellitus in Old St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

PICTURE: Ealdgyth/Wikipedia

 

Another of London’s gates which had its origins in Roman times, it was built as the city exit for Ermine Street which ran all the way to York.

The gate is believed by many to have taken its name from Bishop Erkenwald, a seventh century Anglo-Saxon Bishop of London who is said to have ordered the gate’s reconstruction on the gate’s Roman foundations.

Bishopsgate – the site of which is marked by a bishop’s mitre attached to the facade of a building near the junction of Wormwood Street (pictured) – was rebuilt several times over the centuries (its first known mention was in the 12th century). This included in the 1470s when it is said to have been rebuilt by Hansa merchants who did so apparently in return for exemptions from tolls (or, according to some, other trade privileges).

The gate – which was known for having the heads of traitors displayed on spikes upon its top – took its final form in 1735 before it was finally demolished along with several other London gates in 1760 as part of road widening measures.

The name Bishopsgate is remembered in the street of the same name as well as one of the City of London wards. Among the notable people associated with Bishopsgate are William Kemp, an Elizabethan comic actor who, in a remarkable feat, is said to have performed a Morris dance starting at the gate and finishing in Norwich.

Recently making news headlines thanks to the work of Adrienne Barker of the University of Dundee in reconstructing his face, Simon of Sudbury wasn’t born in London and, in fact, spent much of his early life elsewhere. But, as Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury, he was a key figure in the 14th century city and it was in London that he eventually met his grisly death during the Peasant’s Revolt.

Simon Theobold was born around 1316 – the son of a wealthy Norfolk merchant – and, while details of his early life are scant, it has been suggested he studied at Cambridge before eventually entering the service of William Bateman, the Bishop of Norwich. He apparently became caught in the middle of a dispute between the bishop and the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds (the details of which we don’t have time to get into here) and it was this which is said to have led to the issuing of a royal order for his arrest, a move which forced him to flee England for the papal court at Avignon.

He quickly came to the attention of the popes and took on an official role, the reward for which was the income from various positions in the English church including Chancellor of Salisbury. In 1356, Pope Innocent VI sent him on a peace mission to King Edward III and it was during this mission that he came to the attention of the king. Having never been formally outlawed, he was apparently forgiven his earlier crimes and was soon acting on behalf of the king including at the Papal court.

In 1361, Simon was made Bishop of London and spent the next 10 years in the role, as well as continuing to act for the king, notably as a diplomat.

In 1375 following the death of incumbent William Whittelsey, he was elevated to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. His time as archbishop was somewhat troubled – as well as facing accusations of being too close to the king, he also faced criticism over his treatment of Bible translator John Wycliffe – but it was his role in secular politics which led to his demise.

Following the accession of King Richard II in 1377, in 1380 Simon was appointed chancellor, a position which meant he bore the ultimate responsibility for the imposition of an extremely unpopular new poll tax. In 1381, there were calls for his death at the outbreak of rebellion in Kent, notably when the rebels entered Canterbury Cathedral. But as the crisis now known as the Peasant’s Revolt gained momentum, Sudbury remained with the king in the Tower of London where he apparently counselled a hard line.

King Richard II when to parley with the traitors at Mile End on 14th June and there apparently indicated that action would be taken against traitors around him (Wat Tyler was killed when the king again met the rebels, this time at Smithfield, the following day). A group of rebels subsequently stormed the tower and dragged out Sudbury and the treasurer, Sir Robert Hales. Taken to Tower Hill, they were there beheaded. Sudbury’s head, which apparently had a skullcap nailed to his skull, was impaled on a lance and put on display over London Bridge. His body was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

The skull, meanwhile, was apparently taken down by a Sudbury man and taken back to his home town where it was kept at St Gregory’s Church. Some 630 years later, following an approach by Sudbury locals, forensic artist Adrienne Barker from the University of Dundee was asked to recontruct Simon’s head.

Following some CT scans of the skull, Barker – who carried out the work as part of her MSc Forensic Art studies under the tutelage of renowned facial reconstruction expert Professor Caroline Wilkinson – used state-of-the-art reconstruction techniques to recreate Sudbury’s facial features and complete a series of 3-D bronze-resin casts of his head. The models, one of which will be on permanent display at St Gregory’s Church in Sudbury alongside Simon’s skull, were unveiled in September.

PICTURE: University of Dundee