Worcester Cathedral Library houses a medieval manuscript entitled Registrum Sede Vacante or Register of the Vacant See. It is a detailed account of the work of the Diocese done in the weeks or months between the departure of a Bishop, and the consecration of his successor. This happened several times in the period covered by the Register, between 1302 and 1435.
Bishops’ Registers were detailed accounts of episcopal business such as the ordination of clergy and placement in available benefices. Bishops also regularly visited religious institutions in their Dioceses, to ensure that religious teaching was orthodox, that finance was correct and that behaviour was moral. In the absence of the Bishop the work of the Diocese had to continue, and be done by someone else, in Worcester Diocese usually by the Prior of Worcester Monastery. The Registrum was a compilation of work done by different Priors between the stated dates.
The Library also owns a copy of an 1897 work by J W Willis-Bund, a lawyer, professor, local councillor and archaeological amateur with several publications to his name.
Willis-Bund describes each entry from the Registrum either in summary or as a translation from the original Latin. A map of the Diocese of Worcester is printed at the beginning of the work, showing it as it was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, a document of great interest to anyone interested in the medieval history of the Diocese.
In the first place it shows the very large extent of the medieval Diocese of Worcester. It had been first established in 679 CE to be overseen by a Bishop with the Latin title Episcopus Hwicciorum meaning Bishop of the Hwicce People. The Hwicce were descendants of Anglo-Saxon invaders who had reached England via the Severn estuary and settled along its banks, forming the southern half of the Kingdom of Mercia. The northern part was covered by the Diocese of Lichfield.
Here are some parts of the Map which are definitely no longer in Worcester Diocese!
Each of these map extracts includes the names of churches and religious houses such as abbeys, priories and nunneries that were visited by the Prior of Worcester in the absence of a Bishop. The next extract brings this nearer home:
WYGORN is the Latin name for Worcester itself, in its position on the River Severn. The red line on the left is the boundary of the Diocese, the other side being Hereford. Five religious houses are shown in Worcester:
Thus the map shows the Cathedral and four other religious houses in Worcester: the Priory, St Wulfstan’s Hospital, St Oswald’s Hospital and the Nunnery of Whiston.
Whiston Nunnery was also known as White Ladies, indicating that it followed the Cistercian Rule. Its former place in the City is commemorated in road names just off Barbourne Road, White Ladies Walk and White Ladies Close. Two other foundations for women are also shown – Cokehyll was Cookhill Priory, another Cistercian house, and Westewodde to the north was Westwood Priory, a small house of Benedictine nuns.
Powycke church was also visited and the two Malvern Priories: Majoris Malv’nie and Minoris Malv’nie, Great Malvern and Little Malvern, as well as Pershore Church and Abbey. One part of the Diocese was not visited however, the area marked with hatched lines – Evesham. Evesham Abbey was one of the wealthiest in the country and in 1206 it was granted exemption from the Bishop’s control.
The blue line in the bottom righthand corner is a part of the division between the two Archdeaconries of the Diocese, Worcester and Gloucester. One part of the Diocese that is shown on the Map but not named is the town of Dudley. It is a little place at the extreme north of the Diocese just above Halesowen and Kedermyster (Kidderminster).
In 1238 the Bishop of Worcester and the Bishop of Lichfield agreed to divide the jurisdiction of Dudley. The town and its two churches were for Worcester, the castle and priory for Lichfield. Today of course Dudley is an Archdeaconry in Worcester Diocese.
The register of the Diocese of Worcester during the vacancy of the See : usually called “Registrum Sede Vacante” / edited for the Worcestershire Historical Society by J. W. Willis Bund.