The Saxon Bishops of Wells

The Saxon Bishops of Wells

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Excerpt from The Saxon Bishops of Wells: A Historical Study in the Tenth Century

The bishopric of Wells was founded a thousand years ago, in the reign of Edward the Elder; but a reasonable tradition takes back the church of St. Andrew another two hundred years. King Ina had carried the Saxon Conquest beyond the limits of Somerset, driving the British before him as far as Exeter. The kingdom of Wessex had become too large a diocese to be ruled by a single bishop with his seat at Winchester; so the western portion was now cut off and placed under the supervision of a second bishop sitting at Sherborne. This was in 705, and the new bishop was the learned Abbot of Malmesbury, St. Aldhelm, who died in 709 in the little wooden church of Doulting, in the course of one of his episcopal tours among the villages of Somerset. Brief as was the period of his rule, Aldhelm wrought great good for his people. Before he became bishop his learning and his gentleness had done much to persuade the British folk to join with their Saxon fellow Christians in keeping Easter on the same day, and to abandon certain customs, trivial in themselves, but mischievous when clung to as symbols of separation. At the same time King Inas generous legislation was treating the conquered as almost on the level of their conquerors, and the two races soon began to coalesce. Ina built a new church of stone for the British monastery at Glastonbury, east of the wattled church of immemorial antiquity; and we may readily accept the tradition that it was the same king who, under St. Aldhelms guidance, built the first church by the Wells of St. Andrew.

The creation of a separate bishopric for the county of Somerset was not an isolated act.

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