27 November 2019, The Tablet

Hail to Durham’s Prince Bishops


Arts

Hail to Durham’s Prince Bishops

St Peter’s Chapel, Auckland Castle
Photo: Graeme Peacock

 

Newly reopened Auckland Castle tells the tale of the turbulent prelates of Durham

“When I read the news from Germany of one base device added to another to degrade, to wound, to injure and finally to destroy those ancient and gifted people, I feel a kind of blind rage within me that I cannot draw the sword and go to the help of the low against the mighty.”

The people here referred to are of course the Jews; the writer, more surprisingly, was a Bishop of Durham. An anti-appeasement campaigner known as “the fighting bishop”, Hensley Henson (served 1920-1939) had himself depicted in the portrait hanging in his former study at Auckland Castle holding the sword of his medieval warrior predecessor, Bishop Antony Beck (1284-1310).

As Bishop of Durham he stood in a proud line of “fighting bishops” with something of a record as turbulent priests. In his passionate defence of the Jews he trod in the steps of his eighteenth-century predecessor, Bishop Richard Trevor (1752-1771), who, after mustering the support of his fellow bishops, helped to squeak the Jewish Naturalisation Act through Parliament in 1753 – only to provoke such a violent backlash that the Bishop of Norwich was stoned in his cathedral, and two years later the hated “Jew Bill” was repealed.

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