Cathedral of Chichester

Pages 47-51

A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section


The history of the South Saxon cathedral establishment during the time that the bishop's seat was at Selsey is virtually a blank. A number of charters (fn. 2) of doubtful authenticity record the gifts by Saxon nobles during the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries, by which the bishop and canons came to hold those possessions which are found in their hands at the time of the Domesday Survey. (fn. 3) From these charters, moreover, we may gather that the Selsey foundation was originally one of monks following the Benedictine rule, under an abbot who was also bishop, but that subsequently the regulars were replaced by secular canons. As a result of the recommendations of the council of 1075, the South Saxon cathedral was removed from the insignificant village of Selsey to the important town of Chichester, where the nuns of St. Peter's Church were displaced to accommodate the canons, (fn. 4) the memory of the old church being perpetuated by the circumstance that the nave of the cathedral church of Holy Trinity was considered to be the parochial church of St. Peter the Great.

The church begun by Bishop Stigand was either remodelled or entirely rebuilt by Ralph Luffa, who was consecrated in 1091; but hardly was the new building complete before it was seriously injured by a great fire in 1114. Bishop Ralph, however, with the king's assistance, at once restored the cathedral, as did Bishop Seffrid II when a similar disaster befell it in 1187. Nor did Ralph confine his attention to the fabric of his cathedral, for he is said to have established the offices of dean, precentor, chancellor, and treasurer. These officials, however, do not seem to have possessed any definite endowments, or but slight ones, until the time of Hilary, nearly half a century later, for Pope Eugenius III, when he took the church of Chichester and its possessions under the papal protection, about 1150, confirmed Hilary's 'foundation' of a treasurer, (fn. 5) and Alexander III, in 1163, similarly confirmed the chancellorship, here said to have been founded by the same bishop. (fn. 6) Besides these four dignitaries there were prebends founded from time to time, and eventually attaining their present number of twenty-seven, inclusive of the four founded by Bishop Sherborn between 1520 and 1523. Of these prebends most appear to have been endowed by bishops, as that of Ferring by Hilary, that of Eartham by John (c. 1178), that of Seaford by Seffrid II (c. 1185), and that of Hove by Richard le Poor (1216), the last-named being divided into Hova Ecclesia and Hova Villa in 1353. (fn. 7) Marden prebend was founded by the family of Aguillon, (fn. 8) and that of Heathfield by Bishop John, in conjunction with Richard de Kaynes, who gave the church of Selmeston for that purpose. (fn. 9) About 1150 the abbot of Séez allowed Bishop Hilary to appropriate the churches of East and West Dean, which belonged to the abbey's cell of St. Nicholas at Arundel, to the prebend of Singleton; (fn. 10) and during the episcopate of Seffrid II (1180–1204) the abbot of Grestein gave the church of Firle to Chichester, on condition that the bishop should form a prebend out of the abbey's churches of Wilmington, Willingdon, and East Dean, to be held by the abbot and his successors, who were to appoint suitable vicars to reside on these cures. (fn. 11) Similarly, in 1346 the priory of Lewes proposed to grant their churches of Waldron and Horsted Keynes to form a prebend annexed to the see of Chichester in return for the formation of a second prebend out of their churches of West Hoathly, Ditchling, and Clayton, which should be assigned to the priory; (fn. 12) this, however, fell through. The prebend of Singleton was set aside by Hilary for the provision of the communal loaves, (fn. 13) that of Wittering was, at least from the time of Archbishop Boniface (1259), reserved for a canon capable of lecturing on theology, (fn. 14) and that of Highley was annexed to the mastership of the prebendal school in 1477. (fn. 15)

Of the officials the chief was, of course, the dean, who had control not only over the cathedral staff but also over the urban deanery, which comprised the whole of the city of Chichester, excepting the archbishop's peculiar of the Pallant, and the churches of Rumboldswyke and Fishbourne. (fn. 16) Within these limits he had the rights of visitation and institution of incumbents, but the power of depriving clergy belonged to the bishop, who also had the right of holding periodic visitations, during which the dean's jurisdiction was suspended. (fn. 17) The right of electing the dean was originally vested in the chapter, but even in the mediaeval period it was often interfered with or reduced to a mere form. Thus in the last years of the fourteenth century the pope gave the deanery to Cardinal Palosius, and on his death before possession, to Cardinal Marini, and complained of the intrusion of William Lullington, and of John Maydenhithe who had exchanged with him. (fn. 18) In this case, however, although Maydenhithe was compelled to resign temporarily, he made good his position against the papal nominee. But in 1551 the crown ordered the chapter to elect Traheron, and two years later presented Sampson to the dignity without even the form of an election. Queen Mary restored the privilege to the chapter, Elizabeth and Charles I issued mandates for the election of deans, but at the Restoration the appointment was definitely usurped by the crown. (fn. 19) Occasional references are found to the sub-dean, and the nave of the cathedral, which formed the parish church of St. Peter the Great, was known as the sub-deanery church.

To the precentor, who acted as president of the chapter in the dean's absence, belonged the control and conduct of the singing and services. The chancellor acted as librarian, secretary to the chapter, and schoolmaster, paying special attention to the instruction of the readers in elocution. The care of the church, its lights and ornaments, fell upon the treasurer, for whose direction elaborate instructions concerning the number, size, and position of candles to be used on various occasions were inserted in the statutes. Under him were the two sacrists, with a clerk, and servants to ring the bells, open and shut the doors, and clean the church—the weekly cleaning of the chapter-house, however, was undertaken by the inmates of St. Mary's Hospital. (fn. 20)

The canons were supposed to be resident, absence for more than three weeks in a quarter entailing loss not only of the daily 'commons,' or allowance of food, but also of the extra perquisites of office, including their share of legacies, and of the prebends of deceased canons, which were bestowed half to the fabric of the church and half to canons in residence. As time went on, however, the common fund became too small for the support of a large number, and residence was discouraged by a rule compelling a canon entering on residence to pay 25 marks to the chapter, and the same to the fabric, and rendering compulsory attendance at every service for the whole year, a single omission necessitating a fresh start. (fn. 21) Finally, in 1574, the number of residentiaries was fixed at four, besides the dean, and their term of residence reduced to three months. (fn. 22)

Every canon was required to provide a perpetual vicar, to whom he was to pay certain fixed 'stall wages,' and whom he was to feed at his own table. The vicars were also entitled to three pence a week from the common fund and two white loaves and one 'cob' loaf every day, provided they were present at mattins before the end of the last psalm. (fn. 23) Accordingly, when the dean and chapter leased the 'communa' in 1481, they stipulated (fn. 24) that the lessee should provide daily

sixty white loaves so leavened, cooked and well bolted with the bolting-sieve called a 'coket' as they have been of old, and of clean, dry, pure wheat without admixture of other grain, of which each loaf when baked should be of at least the weight of 55 shillings, and also thirty loaves called 'cobbes.'

The vicars choral were incorporated by charter of 30 December, 1465, (fn. 25) by which they were given power to elect a principal and to possess a common seal, and also to hold lands, further licence to acquire lands to the value of 40 marks being granted in 1468. (fn. 26) By the statutes of Bishop Sherborn, drawn up in 1534, the principal was ordered to preside in hall, and to see that the vicars observed the statutes, reporting offenders to the dean and chapter; regulations of the usual type for the maintenance of the decency and dignity of the life of the cathedral community were issued at the same time. (fn. 27) After the Reformation the vicars-choral were reduced to six or seven, and since 1660 there have been only four, each representing seven canons, and receiving annually £2 16s. 8d. (fn. 28)

Although the vicars were chosen largely for their musical abilities, and formed the bulk of the choir, there were also from an early period ten boy choristers, and in 1481 there were twelve such boys, of whom eight were to have high, clear voices, the other four being bigger boys, whose duty it was to carry the censers. (fn. 29) Eight was apparently still their number in 1523, when Bishop Sherborn made arrangements that on his anniversary the chapter should provide the chorister boys with eight glass cups filled with egg and milk, coloured with saffron and sweetened with sugar, with which in one hand and a little loaf and a silver spoon in the other, they were to go to his tomb, and having finished their savoury mess, to say, 'May the soul of Bishop Robert, our benefactor, and the souls of all the faithful dead, by the mercy of God, rest in peace.' (fn. 30) Worthy Bishop Sherborn further augmented the musical staff of the cathedral by founding four lay clerkships, the holders of which were to have good voices, and at least one to be a bass. (fn. 31) Mention of organists is found in various accounts of the sixteenth century, and 'the grete organs' are mentioned at least as early as 1479. (fn. 32) In 1611 the rather remarkable injunction was given that the organist should remain in the choir until the last psalm be sung, and then go up to the organs, and having done his duty return into the choir again; (fn. 33) and in 1685 the stipend of one of the Sherborn clerks was attached to the office of organist. (fn. 34)

In addition to the regular staff of the cathedral there were a number of chaplains serving chantries at the various altars; at the time of the suppression of the chantries these numbered fifteen, (fn. 35) but some were no doubt also vicars of the cathedral.

Like several other cathedrals Chichester had its own 'use' or form of service, and St. Richard in 1250 ordered that this use was to be followed throughout the diocese, (fn. 36) but Archbishop Chicheley, who was appointed in 1414, abolished the local use in favour of that of Sarum. (fn. 37) No specimen of the Chichester use is known to have survived, (fn. 38) nor are any of its features known, except possibly the custom of censing the host at the moment of elevation, which was done by two acolytes specially maintained by the abbey of Robertsbridge. There was also a curious local custom observed at the Epiphany, by which two vicars used to pass round the choir carrying the symbol of the Holy Spirit and offering it to the dean and then to the canons in turn until some one accepted it, the recipient being bound to present some ornament to the church during the following year. (fn. 39)

The life of the cathedral centred mainly upon the shrine of its canonized bishop St. Richard. He was enrolled among the saints, as has already been noticed, in the spring of 1262, and at the same time permission was given to the chapter of Chichester to translate his body to a worthy shrine. Probably owing to the heavy expenses incurred in connexion with his canonization, and to the disturbed state of the realm, culminating soon afterwards in the civil war (in which Bishop Stephen took a prominent part on the side of the barons), no use was made of this permission until 1276, when on 16 June the body was removed from its humble grave by the archbishop, in the presence of the king and a great concourse of nobles and clergy, to the shrine prepared for it. (fn. 40) The head of the saint appears at this time to have been separated from the rest of his body and made an especial object of veneration, as gifts and bequests to 'the head of St. Richard' are as numerous as those to his shrine, while his mitre, chalice, and original tomb were also reverenced. (fn. 41) The shrine itself became an object of more than local fame and was one of the great pilgrimage centres in the south of England, the pilgrims being so numerous and eager on the day of the saint's anniversary, 3 April, that unseemly quarrels frequently arose, and in 1478 Bishop Story ordered that the pilgrims should carry crosses and banners instead of the painted staves which were too easily converted into weapons of offence, and further laid down the order of precedence to be observed by the several parishes. (fn. 42) So great was the fame of the shrine that the cathedral was sometimes called the church of St. Richard. (fn. 43) Its sanctity, however, could not protect the shrine from sacrilegious hands, and in 1280 a thief stole some of the jewels affixed to it, but being unable to smuggle them out of the church hid them under a chest, where they were discovered (fn. 44) by a chance which the pious king considered almost miraculous. (fn. 45) Gifts of jewels (fn. 46) and of money continued to flow in for 250 years, and when at last in 1538 Sir William Goring and William Ernely, by the king's orders, (fn. 47) destroyed this famous shrine, the plunder, if not to be compared with that from Canterbury, St. Albans, or Walsingham, was well worthy of the king's acceptance. (fn. 48)

For details of the inner life of the cathedral establishment we are dependent upon such visitations as have survived to us, and these while revealing few offences of any gravity show a general air of laxity pervading the whole. Thus in 1403 chapters were held irregularly; the dean neglected to enforce the statutes; the chancellor was negligent in teaching the choristers and in his care of the cathedral books, and the vicars behaved irreverently during service. (fn. 49) In 1441 many of the vicars were given to not rising for mattins and being absent from other services, or if present not singing; the canons neglected to provide for their vicars, who had to get meals where they best could; the cloisters and graveyard were used for public traffic and a children's playground. (fn. 50) When Bishop Story visited the cathedral in 1478 he found that the dean was lax and neglectful; the revenues were insufficient for the support of the vicars, who consequently failed to attend the services, wandering about the city instead; even the sacristans omitted to ring the bells and lock the doors. (fn. 51) This state of laxity was unfortunately not one of the abuses done away with at the Reformation, or it would hardly have been necessary for Bishop Harsnett in 1611 to give such orders as that no vicar or clerk should indulge in unseemly talking or gestures or leave the choir during service time, and that any vicar being a drunkard, gamester, or brawler should be deprived after three monitions. (fn. 52) After a visitation in 1616 the chapter issued orders for the better care of their church; the purging of the churchyard of hogs, dogs, and other trespassers; the verger was to clean the cloisters and to 'scourge out the ungracious boys with their tops,' and the principal of the vicars was to keep his subordinates in order. (fn. 53)

When Laud's commissioner visited Chichester in June, 1635, he did not find much to correct in the cathedral staff; the choir was well furnished, and though there were no copes they were willing to buy some, only pleading poverty. The fabric was somewhat out of repair, and the churchyard not as well kept as it might be, but the chief failing was in the behaviour of the congregation, and orders were issued against walking and talking during divine service, and against the wearing of hats within the church, for which offence one of the aldermen had to be publicly rebuked. (fn. 54)

The story of the wrecking of the cathedral by Waller's troops has already been related; not only was the fabric mutilated, the plate stolen, and the revenues of the bishop and prebendaries confiscated, but even the humbler officials—the vicars, lay and choral—lost their stipends and were driven to petition Parliament in 1643 for means of livelihood. (fn. 55) With the Restoration the old state of affairs seems to have been resumed, and the visitations of the eighteenth century reveal the continuance of a slackness and disregard of decency and dignity, in outward matters at least, which was hardly reformed within the memory of many still living.

Deans of Chichester (fn. 56)

Odo, 1115

Richard, 1115

Matthew, 1125

Richard, 1144

John de Greneford, 1150

Jordan de Meleburn, 1176

Seffrid, 1178

Matthew de Chichester, 1180

Nicholas de Aquila, 1190

Seffrid, 1197

Simon de Perigord, 1220

Walter, 1230

Thomas de Lichfield, 1232

Geoffrey, 1248 (fn. 57)

Walter de Glocestria, 1256

William de Bracklesham, 1276

Thomas de Berghstede, 1296

William de Grenefeld, 1302

John de Sancto Leophardo, 1307

Henry de Garland, 1332

Walter de Segrave, 1342

William de Lenne, 1349 (fn. 58)

Roger de Freton, 1369

Richard le Scrope, 1383

William de Lullyngton, 1389

John de Maydenhithe, 1400

John Haselee, 1407

Henry Lovel, 1410

Richard Talbot, 1415

William Milton, 1420

John Patten, or Waynflete, 1425

John Crutchere, 1429

John Waynflete, 1478

John Cloos, 1481

John Prychard, 1501

Geoffrey Symson, 1504

John Young, S.T.P. 1508

William Fleshmonger, 1526

Richard Caurden, 1541

Giles Eyre, S.T.P. 1549

Bartholomew Traheron, S.T.P. 1551

Thomas Sampson, S.T.P. 1552

William Pye, 1553

Hugh Turnbull, 1558

Richard Curteis, 1566

Anthony Rushe, 1570

Martin Culpepper, M.D. 1577

William Thorne, 1601

Francis Dee, 1630

Richard Steward, 1634

Bruno Ryves, 1646

Joseph Henshaw, 1660

Joseph Gulston, S.T.P. 1663

Nathaniel, Lord Crew, LL.D. 1669

Thomas Lambrook, 1671

George Stradling, S.T.P. 1672

Francis Hawkins, S.T.P. 1688

William Hayley, S.T.P. 1699

Thomas Sherlock, 1715

John Newey, 1727

Thomas Hayley, D.D. 1735

James Hargraves, D.D. 1739

Sir William Ashburnham, Bart. 1741

Thomas Ball, A.M. 1754

Charles Harward, 1770

Combe Miller, 1790

Christopher Bethell, 1814

Samuel Slade, 1824

George Chandler, D.C.L. 1830

Walter Farquhar Hook, D.D. 1859

John William Burgon, D.D. 1875

Francis Pigou, D.D. 1887

Richard William Randall, D.D. 1892

John Julius Hannah, 1902

The common seal of the Dean and Chapter (fn. 59) is of the twelfth century, and is an oblate pointed oval: a church, no doubt intended for the original cathedral; beneath it the inscription:—


In the field above two estoiles of eight points.



Reverse. A smaller pointed oval counterseal. Our Saviour seated on a throne of Gothic style under a trefoiled canopy, and lifting up the right hand in benediction, in the left hand an open book. Legend:—


The fourteenth-century seal of the Dean and Chapter ad causas is a pointed oval: our Saviour lifting up the right hand in benediction, in the mouth a sword; seated on an open throne, with His feet resting on an ornamental corbel. In the field the letters q r (fn. 60)


The following seals of individual deans are known:—

Walter A.D. 1230, or 1262

Pointed oval: the dean, full-length, holding a book, and standing in a Gothic niche with a canopy and tabernacle work at the sides. (fn. 61)



Pointed oval: the dean, full-length, holding a book, and standing on a platform under a finelycarved Gothic canopy with tabernacle work at the sides. (fn. 62)


William de Grenefeld, A.D. 1296-9

Pointed oval: our Saviour with nimbus, lifting up the right hand in benediction, in the left hand a book; seated on a throne under an early Gothic canopy. In the field at the sides the heads of SS. Peter and Paul, couped at the neck; below them their respective emblems. In base, under arch, a figure of the dean. (fn. 63)

. . . . . . LL'I : DECANI : E . . . . . . . . . : CICESTRENSIS


  • 1. Dugdale, Mon. viii, 1159–71; Stephens, Mem. of the See of Chichester; Swainson, Hist. and Constitution of a Cath. of the Old Foundation; Mackenzie Walcott, 'Statutes of Chich. Cath.' (in Archaeologia, xlv, 143–235).
  • 2. Mon. Angl. viii, 1163–70.
  • 3. See V.C.H. Suss. i. 389–91.
  • 4. Will. of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontif. (Rolls Ser.), 205.
  • 5. Swainson, No. 6.
  • 6. Ibid. No. 8.
  • 7. Arch. xlv, 149.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Curia Regis R. 72, m. 25.
  • 10. Swainson, No. 7.
  • 11. Ibid. No. 26.
  • 12. Pat. 20 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 33.
  • 13. Swainson, No. 7.
  • 14. Cal. Papal Let. iv, 190.
  • 15. Arch. xlv, 149.
  • 16. Ibid. 144.
  • 17. Swainson, No. 115.
  • 18. Cal. Papal Let. v. 209.
  • 19. Arch. xlv, 221.
  • 20. Swainson, No. 85.
  • 21. Arch. xlv, 216.
  • 22. Ibid. 219.
  • 23. Arch. xlv, 179–89.
  • 24. Swainson, No. 188.
  • 25. Pat. 5 Edw. IV, pt. i, m. 24.
  • 26. Pat. 8 Edw. IV, pt. ii, m. 21.
  • 27. Stephens, Mem. 333–6.
  • 28. Add. MSS. 30266, fol. 66.
  • 29. Arch, xlv, 183.
  • 30. Stephens, Mem. 192.
  • 31. Ibid. 195.
  • 32. Will of W. Jacob; P.C.C. Logge, 93.
  • 33. Add. MSS. 30266, fol. 66.
  • 34. Ibid.
  • 35. Chant. Cert. No. 50.
  • 36. Swainson, No. 70.
  • 37. Ibid. No. 153.
  • 38. At the visitation in 1403 it was stated that the uses of the cathedral were not committed to writing.
  • 39. Swainson, No. 178.
  • 40. Gervase of Canterbury (Rolls Ser.), ii, 285.
  • 41. Suss. Arch. Coll. ii, 151.
  • 42. Chich. Epis. Reg. Story, fol. 43b.
  • 43. Close, 14 Edw. III, pt. ii, m. 51d.
  • 44. Assize R. 924, m. 26.
  • 45. Pat. 8 Edw. I, m. 23.
  • 46. e.g. Suss. Arch. Coll. ii, 139; xxviii, 55.
  • 47. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xiii (2), 1049.
  • 48. A list of objects obtained is preserved, but no valuation is given. Ibid. 1103.
  • 49. Chich. Epis. Reg. Reade, fol. 28
  • 50. Ibid. Praty, fol. 73.
  • 51. Ibid. Story, fol. 68.
  • 52. Stephens, Mem. 343.
  • 53. Ibid. 344.
  • 54. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1635, p. xliii.
  • 55. Hist. MSS. Com. Rep. v, 119.
  • 56. From Hennessy, Chich. Dioc. Clergy Lists; prior to 1342 the dates are those of earliest occurrence, after that year the date of election is given.
  • 57. Suss. Arch. Coll. xxiv, 43.
  • 58. Cal. Papal Let. iii, 340.
  • 59. Cott. Ch. 'xii, 80.
  • 60. Add. Ch. 18707.
  • 61. B.M. lvii, 38.
  • 62. Harl. Ch. 83 C. 32.
  • 63. B.M. lvii, 39.