700 anniversary of the Canonisation of St Thomas

17 April 1320 – 700 years ago on Friday 17 April 2020

In 1290, Richard Swinfield, Thomas’s successor as bishop, appealed to Pope Nicholas IV to consider canonising his predecessor, and this request was followed in the next few years by appeals from King Edward I, the archbishop of York, fifteen other bishops, seven abbots, eleven counts and numerous barons and noblemen who all wrote proclaiming Thomas’s virtues and miraculous powers. Finally, on 23 August 1306, Pope Clement V (1305–14) issued a papal bull authorising a canonisation inquiry to take place in 1307 to investigate Thomas’s life, death, and reputed miracles.

In 1307 commissioners embarked on a process of enquiry—conducted in Hereford and in London between July and November. Their enquiry interviewed those who had known Thomas personally or who had claimed his miraculous intervention in their favour. The evidence includes testimony regarding Thomas’s life and miracles, lists of the miracles arranged both in chronological order and according to type and inventories of offerings at the shrine. The inquiry in London ran for four weeks from 13 July until 12 August, after which the commissioners turned their attention to Hereford, where the enquiry concluded on 12 November.

For all the rigour of the enquiry, canonisation was still not granted immediately. It must have seemed as if Thomas’s cause like that of other saintly bishops who were candidates for canonisation in those times—such as Robert Grosseteste of Lincoln, Walter de Suffield of Norwich, and Cantilupe’s own uncle, Bishop Walter of Worcester—would come to nothing. Indeed, Bishop Richard died in 1317 without seeing the successful conclusion of his life’s work. He was succeeded by Adam de Orleton who continued the process, even getting King Edward II to write to the pope urging the canonisation.

Eventually on Thursday 17 April 1320 Pope John XXII went to the church of Notre Dame des Doms in Avignon and with his brother cardinals, proceed to canonise Thomas. The pope preached on the text: ‘He was tried and found perfect and he shall be in glory’. (Sirach 31: 10).


From the Bull of Pope John XXII for the canonisation of Thomas Cantilupe:


At length the saint, from being an innocent lamb, was made a good shepherd in the church of Hereford, and ever studying to advance from virtue to virtue from the time when he was placed in so high a position in the temple of God, so shone as to be called the very jewel of bishops.

He went before his sheep to the pastures, defended them from fierce wolves and led them back to Christ’s sheepfolds, fed them by word and example. He stoutly defended the rights of his church, having put on justice as a breastplate. Thus this blessed man, in committing his soul to God, from being a stranger and pilgrim became an illustrious citizen of heaven.


The image shows a notarial instrument (ref HCA 1445)—a document recording the inspeximus in the presence of Adam Orleton, bishop of Hereford, of the original papal bull of Pope John XXII for the canonisation of Thomas Cantilupe in 1320. The text of the original document is recited: setting out Cantilupe’s excellent character, his abstinence and learning and describes a few of the miracles attributed to him.


One of the four main lights of the east window in the parish church of St Mary, Ross-on-Wye, dating to 1430. It was commissioned by Thomas Spofford, bishop of Hereford (1421–48), for his episcopal palace at Stretton Sugwas, on the banks of the River Wye. This palace seems to have also been one of St Thomas’s favourites, appearing often in the itinerary we can construct from his surviving episcopal register. The palace and chapel at Stretton Sugwas was pulled down 1792, but its glass was described by antiquaries and several of the main panes were sold and are now in Ross-on-Wye Church. Continuing associations with St Thomas of Canterbury, it is said that a window displaying him was near to that of St Thomas of Hereford in the chapel.