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Tomb of Bernard Gilpin

Bernard Gilpin (1517-1583) was the outstanding churchman of his day in Durham. The successive clerical culls of the Reformation, the return of Catholicism under Queen Mary Tudor followed by the restitution of Anglicanism by Elizabeth I, had led to a see in disarray and a church in disrepute. Under the rule of Queen Mary, Gilpin was summoned to an ecclesiastical court in London. He left Houghton le Spring in the full expectation of being burned at the stake, but was saved by breaking his leg on the way: by the time he recovered, the queen had died.

As well as being a great friend to the poor and undertaking dangerous missions in Northumberland, Gilpin was a hard-hitting preacher against the abuses of his fellow clergy. He criticised the antagonistic Bishop Richard Barnes to his face, calling him the “author of all these evils” – and, remarkably, the grand prince bishop admitted his responsibility.

Gilpin’s tomb in Houghton Church remains the focus for the memory of a man of great virtues: simplicity and charity, courage and determination.

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