Information for Volunteers

The Bishops

In its time, Wells has seen numerous Bishops of Bath & Wells come and go. Our present bishop, Bishop Peter, is the 60th Bishop of Bath & Wells. The impact these bishops have had on the diocese has varied and for some of these it is unclear or even unknown what they achieved; records relating to some Bishops, particularly pre-reformation, are scant, giving little information on the character of the man, his piety and his work here and elsewhere. The length of tenure played some part in their achievements here, ranging from a year (Mawe) to 34 years (Ralph of Shrewsbury) with the average tenure being just over 12 years.

We do know that some bishops created a lasting legacy in relation to The Bishop’s Palace building (Jocelin, Burnell, Bagot), moat and ramparts (Shrewsbury), and garden (Law, Price), others made notable contributions to structures elsewhere in the city (Beckynton). Some never came to the city at all and others sought to extract as much money as they could from across the diocese and city, alienating the townsfolk in the process.

Many were bishops not just of Bath & Wells but elsewhere, before or after their appointment to this see. Appointments were often as a result of strong relationships with senior statesmen, other clergymen or members of the royal family at the time; Royal Patronage was once a major factor in many ecclesiastic appointments.

The Bishops of Bath & Wells were not just men of faith; some were powerful men of State (Wolsey), some fought in wars (Mews, Henderson, Bickersteth, Wand), others showed skills such as cryptanalysis (Willes), diplomacy and planning wars (Fox), writing (Wand, Underhill), and teaching (Willson). Many were significant scholars of theology (Montague, Still), but also in subjects such as mathematics (Hooper), ancient languages (Kidder) and modern languages (Willes). Many also had distinguished academic careers at Oxford or Cambridge.

As with bishops across the land, some Bishops of Bath & Wells were penalised in various ways for their religious convictions: thrown into jail (Ken, Piers), executed (Laud) or deprived of their living and dying in penury (Curle).

Today’s bishops live in a very different world to that of many of their predecessors; they do not rely on patronage, they don’t fear losing their heads and they cannot delegate their duties to others whilst carrying out roles and lives elsewhere. A bishop’s pastoral role today is central to all that they do in their diocese. Our current bishop puts ministry at the centre of his role – seeking ‘to be [one of]God’s people living and telling the story of Jesus’.

Take a look at the documents below for more information on the Bishops of Bath & Wells and on the portraits in the Long Gallery