Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Apostle of the North (NZ342498)

Bernard Gilpin is one of the true icons of the history of the North-East of England. He was born in Kentmere in what we now call the Lake District, but earned his fame as Rector of Houghton-le-Spring during 1558-1583.

Gilpin was born into a well-to-do family in 1517 and attended Oxford University where he became a student of religious doctrine. Prior to his appointment at Houghton-le-Spring he moved through various posts and places during what was, of course, a period of turbulent religious and political manoeuvrings (the 1540s and 1550s). He even spent a spell on the continent during the reign of Queen Mary.

On his return to England, he was invested with the archdeaconry of Durham by his mother’s uncle, the Bishop of Durham (in 1556). Gilpin, though, had a history of attacking clerical vices – a stance which brought him many enemies. Twice at around this time he was openly attacked by his peers, but defended by the Bishop. It was then that he was handed the attractive post at Houghton-le-Spring. Attacked again thereafter he was summoned to London, but was saved possible martyrdom by breaking his leg en route and the convenient death of Queen Mary. So off he toddled back to the North-East.

During his long tenure as Rector at Houghton-le-Spring he gained a reputation for great benevolence. The richness of his office enabled him to entertain the great and the good – as well as the poor. Every Sunday from Michaelmas to Easter he kept open house, providing dinner for all who came. He also aided in the education of the local children, including the building of a grammar school in the town.

Gilpin, though, gained his reputation proper by travelling widely across the region, from Northumberland to Yorkshire and from Cumberland to Teesdale, where he spread the word of God and became the so-called ‘Apostle of the North’. He was offered other posts, including the See of Carlisle, but preferred to carry on the work he had started from his base in Houghton-le-Spring.

In 1583, aged 66, and much weakened by a recent accident with an ox in Durham Market, Bernard Gilpin died, and was laid to rest in his church. His tomb still adorns the interior.

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