Bishopric of Anglo Saxon Leicester

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There were Anglo-Saxon Bishops of Leicester from around 680. The records of Leicester Cathedral cite Bishop Cuthwine as the first Bishop of Leicester. While there is no further record of the life of Cuthwine, his reign as Bishop is believed to have begun circa 680 until his death, thought to be in 869.

Given the lack of information about Cuthwine, it has been suggested by authors such as Stephen Butt, in his book ‘The History of Leicester in 100 People’, that Cuthwine may never have truly existed but been an invention of another writer.

Assuming that Cuthwine was real and was a Bishop of Leicester, it can be argued as to whether he was the first. In 669, Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, appointed St. Chad to the diocese of Lichfield. At that time, Lichfield was the capital of Mercia.

Theodore intended to establish a Mercian see at Leicester and, in 680 divides the great diocese of Lichfield into five separate dioceses: Worcester, Hereford, Dorchester, Lichfield, and Leicester. Some sources suggest that the same Bishop continued as both Bishop of Lichfield and Bishop of Leicester, while others cite Cuthwine as the first Bishop of Leicester in 680.

With the exception of 705 to 737 when Leicester was united with Lichfield, there continued to be an Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Leicester until 869. This was the year in which Bishop Coelred, the finally Saxon Bishop of Leicester, died and the time around which the Danes invaded the Midlands. At Coelred’s death, Leicester’s jurisdiction was moved to Dorchester in Oxfordshire, and the see of Leicester was removed and Leicester became one of the Danish five boroughs.

It would be another 200 years before Leicester became part of the Norman diocese of Lincoln, and it was only in the 20th Century, in 1927, when Leicester once again had its own Bishop with Cyril Bardsley as its first modern incumbent.

The seat of Anglo-Saxon Leicester was unlikely to have been at the same site as the current St. Martin’s Cathedral. According to Cathedral Historian, Irene Turlington, evidence from excavations show that the most likely site would have been between Jewry Wall and St. Nicholas Church. However, Roman remains were discovered during a 19th Century rebuilding of the tower and spire, and evidence was also discovered that an Anglo-Saxon church had been on the site prior to the 11th Century Norman church.


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