Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Chester-le-Street’s Missing Gold (NZ277514)

In 1042, Durham needed a new bishop. By whatever means (thanks, supposedly, to the influence of the mighty Earl Godwin), a monk from Peterborough by the name of Egelric landed the job. So up he came to the North-East and began what he must have considered something of a plum job.

Durham had by that time been the home of the mortal remains of St Cuthbert for around half a century. The saint’s previous ‘home’ had been Chester-le-Street, where he had lain during 883-995AD. Since his removal, the little town had lost a good deal of it’s glamour, but Egelric decided to give it a bit of a facelift with the construction of a brand new stone church to replace the battered old wooden affair that had housed Cuthbert’s bits and pieces.

Now this is all supposed to have happened towards the end of the bishop’s reign, around 1054-56. The story goes that during excavational work for the new edifice a hoard of gold was found, the workmen having stumbled upon the treasury of the old Roman garrison. Reports vary slightly as to what exactly happened next, but it would appear that Bishop Egelric exercised what you might call his ‘executive right’ and appropriated the gold for himself and did a runner back to Peterborough.

More kindly reports have him ‘retiring’ the bishopric of Durham in 1056 and assuming some prominent post at Peterborough, where, suitably endowed with a mysterious fortune, he set about rebuilding many of the roads and pathways of the Fens. The new church at Chester-le-Street was built, however, though presumably the money had already been put aside for this task.

According to Arthur Mee’s Durham (1953), the dubious cleric ended up being thrown in the Tower of London for his misdeeds several years later by William the Conqueror.

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