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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

Centre for Catholic Studies

Saving Catholic Grosseteste: Fr Philip Perry's Lost Biography

22nd February 2018, 17:30 to 19:30, Ushaw College, Dr Jack Cunningham

Dr Jack Cunningham

Saving Catholic Grosseteste: Fr Philip Perry's Lost Biography

The great medieval scholar and bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste (c. 1168-1253) was the very epitome of the polymath. A scientist, philosopher, translator, theologian and poet; his learning, imagination and his vast wisdom are little short of awe-inspiring. He was also bishop of the largest diocese in England and in this role he came into conflict with the papacy. In particular, he strongly opposed the policy of giving English benefices to absentee Italians, an opposition he was not afraid to voice in the strongest possible terms. For this reason he was much vaunted in later centuries by Church reformers. John Wyclif admired him greatly and by the time we get to the English Reformation writers such as John Foxe were keen to claim Grosseteste as a type of proto-Protestant.

In the eighteenth century Fr Philip Perry, the Rector of St Alban’s English seminary in Valladolid, decided to challenge this image by writing a biography of Grosseteste that would restore his reputation as a solid Roman Catholic. However, Perry’s timing could not have been less auspicious. In 1760s English Catholics were close to achieving emancipation, the Vicar Apostolic, Richard Challoner suppressed the polemical text and to this day it remains in handwritten manuscript form. This is a considerable pity because Perry’s work has many qualities and it offers us a fascinating glimpse into both the life of one of England’s greatest ecclesiastics and also into the precarious politics of the eighteenth-century English Catholic Church. This text has been recently prepared for publication by Jack Cunningham and it will provide the topic for his lecture.

Speaker biography

Dr Jack Cunningham FRHistS is Reader in Ecclesiastical History and Programme Leader for Theology at Bishop Grosseteste University. He is also been a member of the Ordered Universe Project at Durham University. This project brings together scientists, theologians, historians and mathematicians to work on the writings of Robert Grosseteste. His publications include: Robert Grosseteste; His Thought and its Impact and Robert Grosseteste and the pursuit of Religious and Scientific Learning in the Middle-Ages.

This lecture is open to all and is free of charge; registration is required. Please register online here.

There will be a minibus transporting people to the lecture as follows.

· Outward journey: Depart Elvet Riverside (New Elvet, Durham City) at 5.05pm

· Return: Depart from main entrance of Ushaw at 7.30pm, returning to Elvet Riverside via North Rd

To book a place on the minibus, please register by 10am on Thursday 15 February, specifying your need for transport. If you need transport from another location, please contact us at For directions to Ushaw, please see

Contact for more information about this event.