Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Osmund, Bishop and Confessor

[Saint Osmund]Article

Osmund (sometimes written Osimund, Edimund, or Ædmund) was count of Seez in Normandy, and came over with William the Conqueror, by whom he was created earl of Dorset. His life in the world was that of a saint in all the difficult states of a courtier, soldier, and magistrate. Brompton tells us, that he was for some time lord high-chancellor of England. But the favour of his prince, and the smiles of fortune had no charms to a heart which loved and valued only heavenly goods: and he who had long enjoyed the world as if he enjoyed it not, fled naked out of Egypt, carrying nothing of its desires or spirit with him into the sanctuary, and embracing an ecclesiastical state, he chose to become poor in the house of the Lord. His sanctity and great abilities were too well known for him to be allowed to enjoy long his beloved obscurity, and, in 1078, he was forced from his solitude, and consecrated bishop of Salisbury, where his predecessor Herman had just before fixed his see. Saint Osmund built the cathedral in honour of the Blessed Virgin, in 1087, placed therein thirty-six canons, and dedicated the same in 1092: and this fabric being burnt by lightning, he rebuilt it in 1099. Saint Osmund was very rigorous in the sacrament of penance, and extended his charity so far as often to attend criminals in person to the place of execution. In March 1095, in the assembly of Rockingham he was so far imposed upon, as to be drawn into the measures of those who, in complacency to the king, opposed Saint Anselm: but soon opened his eyes, repented, begged the archbishop’s absolution, and continued ever after his most steady friend. Being in every thing zealous for the beauty of God’s house, he made many pious foundations, beautified several churches, and erected a noble library for the use of his church. Throughout his whole diocess he placed able and zealous pastors, and had about his person learned clergymen and monks. Many whom the Conqueror invited over from France, and advanced to the first dignities in the English church, both secular and regular, were for introducing the particular ecclesiastical rites and offices of the places from which they came: whence great confusion was occasioned in the abbey of Glastonbury, under Thurston, a Norman, from Caen, whom the king had nominated abbot there, and in other places. To remove this inconvenience, and to regulate so important a part of the divine service with the utmost decency, piety, and devotion, Saint Osmund compiled the Use, or Breviary, Missal and Ritual, since called of Sarum, for his church: wherein he ascertained all the rubrics which were before not sufficiently determinate, or where books were inconsistent with each other, as it often happened, while transcribers took the liberty of varying from their copies: he adjusted and settled the ceremonial of divine worship in points that were before left to the discretion of them that officiated, which created confusion and disagreement in the celebration of the divine office, though all churches agreed in the substance, and, as Mr. Johnson observes, it was established here by our first converters to say the divine office in Latin, which continued till the reign of Edward VI. Several other English bishops made Uses or books of rubrics and rituals, which, in certain accidental points, differ from those of Sarum, though this latter was so much approved as to be adopted in most diocesses of this kingdom, till, in the reign of Queen Mary, so many of the clergy obtained particular licenses of Cardinal Pole to say the Roman Breviary, 5 that this became universally received.

Saint Osmund wrote the life of Saint Aldhelm, and disdained not, when he was bishop, to copy and bind books with his own hand. The saint, though zealous for the salvation of others, and for the public worship of God, was always solicitous, in the first place, for the sanctification of his own soul. Being perfectly dead to the world, he was totally a stranger to ambition and covetousness, and lived in continual war with the pleasures of the senses. His patience having been exercised, and his soul purified by a lingering sickness, he departed to God, whose glory alone he had sought on earth, on the night before the 4th of December, in 1099. He was buried in his cathedral; his venerable remains were afterwards translated into the new cathedral, and, in 1457, were deposited in the chapel of our Lady in that church. His sumptuous shrine was destroyed in the reign of Henry VIII. his bones remain still interred in the same chapel and are covered with a marble slab, on which is the inscription only of the year MXCIX. He was solemnly canonized by Calixtus III in 1456.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Osmund, Bishop and Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 2 December 2013. Web. 4 December 2021. <>