The son of a Norman count, Henry of Seez, Osmund came to England in the wake of William the Conqueror, his mother’s half-brother. He became William’s chaplain until he was promoted to chancellor in 1072, obtaining in this office useful experience as an administrator.
In 1078 he succeeded Herman as bishop of Salisbury, a see that had been formed by uniting the dioceses of Sherborne and Ramsbury. The episcopal seat for the new diocese was at Old Sarum, where the cathedral was built in the same enclosure as the royal castle. Osmund completed and consecrated this cathedral and formed a chapter with its own constitution, which became a model of other English cathedrals. The Sarum Use, a local variation of the Roman rite which became widespread in medieval England and on which the first Book of Common Prayer (1549) was based, has been associated with Osmund, but it reached its definitive form under Richard le Poore, bishop of Salisbury from 1198 to 1228.
Osmund was known for his administration and for his scholarship. He had a great love for books and liked to copy them himself and to bind them with his own hands. According to the chronicler William of Malmesbury, he was known not only for his learning but for his purity also, for his strictness with himself and with others, and for a commendable lack of avarice and ambition at a time when these traits were common in Church and State. Osmund also promoted the veneration of Aldhelm, the Anglo-Saxon abbot of Malmesbury and bishop of Sherborne, accomplishing the translation of his relics to Old Sarum in 1078. This event marked the end of the period in which Aldhelm and other Anglo-Saxon saints had been under attack by the Normans and by Archbishop Lanfranc.
Osmund’s appointment to the see of Salisbury did not bring to an end his part in the administration of the kingdom, and he took part in collecting the information for William’s Domesday Book. He was present at the council of Sarum, when in April 1986 the results of the Domesday survey were presented to the king.
Osmund died on December 4, 1099, and was buried in his cathedral at Old Sarum. In 1226 his body and its tomb were translated to the new cathedral of Salisbury, a few miles away from Old Sarum. This translation is commemorated on July 16.
prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints and Celebrating the Saints
O God, our heavenly Father, who raised up your faithful servant Osmund to be a bishop and pastor in your Church and to feed your flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that they may minister in your household as true servants of Christ and stewards of your divine mysteries; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I feel a peculiar geographical connection to Saint Osmund in a rather roundabout way. Old Sarum, Osmund’s cathedral city and fortress, had been built on the site of an old Roman town, Sorviodunum (contracted and mutated to “Sarum” over the centuries), and it declined after Bishop Richard le Poore relocated the cathedral to the banks of the Avon River, where a new settlement grew up around the cathedral. In time, Sarum (now “Old” Sarum to distinguish it from “new” Sarum, or Salisbury) was depopulated and fell into ruin, its stones being used as building materials for the new town.
Its depopulation and ruin notwithstanding, from the reign of Edward the Second in the fourteenth century, the borough of Old Sarum elected two members to the House of Commons, despite the fact that from the seventeenth century there were no resident voters in the borough. One of the members of Parliament from this rotten borough was William Pitt the Elder, the Earl of Chatham, whose lands included Old Sarum. Pitt the Elder is of course the British prime minister and member of Parliament who was sympathetic to the Americans’ cause before and during the American War for Independence and is the namesake for the town outside of which I reside, Pittsboro, and the county in which I live, Chatham County.
Our family is now part of a newly-planted Anglican mission in Pittsboro, the Church of the Holy Trinity, or as we call it, Holy Trinity – Chatham (HTC). While he is not our named patron (our new church does not bear his name), I like to think that Saint Osmund is praying to God the Holy Trinity for the faithfulness and success of our endeavor as well.