Idolatry led to Wren's arrest

PUBLISHED: 12:11 16 November 2006 | UPDATED: 13:36 04 May 2010

In 1638 Matthew Wren was made Bishop of Ely. His religious and political beliefs could not have been further from those of the Collector of the Tithes in the Isle, Oliver Cromwell. Matthew Wren was born in 1585 and attended Pembroke College where he was a

In 1638 Matthew Wren was made Bishop of Ely. His religious and political beliefs could not have been further from those of the Collector of the Tithes in the Isle, Oliver Cromwell.

Matthew Wren was born in 1585 and attended Pembroke College where he was a protégé of Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Ely in the reign of James I from 1609 - 1619.

Along with the previous Bishop of Ely, William Fuller (1636-38), Wren followed the views of Archbishop Laud. These prescribed to the view that the most important part of services was the giving and receiving of the sacraments. Importance was placed on ritualism, vestments and ceremonialism and the altar considered far more important than the pulpit.

This High Church approach included the introduction of music in the form of choral services. In Ely the repairs to the organ, which took place from 1636, and the provision of new books for the choir, show this influence.

Laud and his followers insisted that the altar in churches was raised and railed off. Stained glass was reintroduced and worshippers were expected to bow every time the name of Jesus was said out loud. To the Puritans these practices smacked of idolatry. They were further incensed when a reduced length of sermons was ordered.

Wren went further and would only allow sermons to be given once a week across his diocese and dictated the content of what was to be said and by whom. Any vicar who did not follow these strict guidelines was suspended. He also said that the pastimes listed in The Book of Sports should take place on Sunday afternoons and was roundly accused by Sabbatarians of defiling the Sabbath.

Whilst the Laudians had the support of the King, their causes and actions were pushed through. In 1640 the tide began to turn and Charles I had no alternative but to call Parliament. As I suggested last week, the problem for the Royalists was that the opposing side were now just that. They had radicalised and saw themselves as defenders of the rights of the common man.

The king and his followers had tried to promote the concept of the Divine Right of Kings and this was now questioned, particularly in terms of Charles' religious sympathies.

In the first month of the Long Parliament Cromwell and opposition leaders such as John Pym and John Hampden were prominent in attacking the organisation of the church. Their speeches were especially derogatory against the episcopacy. On December 19, 1640 the MPs moved in on Bishop Wren.

In the proceedings of the House of Commons it is recorded that they desired to 'let their Lordships know, that they have received information of a very high nature against Matthew Wren, Lord Bishop of Elie, for setting up of Idolatry and Superstition in divers Places.' He was ordered to pay bail of £10,000 in case he decided to leave the country.

However, in 1642 Parliament decided that Bishop Wren should be arrested. He was taken into custody at the Bishop's Palace in Downham and taken to the Tower of London, where he was kept until 1659. Unlike Laud, he survived. In 1665 a new chapel was consecrated at Pembroke College, built by his nephew, Christopher Wren and where Matthew Wren is buried.

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