Remembering John Moorman

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John Moorman (1905 - 1989), Bishop of Ripon, was a leading authority on St Francis of Assisi and the history of the Franciscan Order. After his ordination in 1929, he was curate of Holbeck in Leeds before being appointed rector of Fallowfield in Manchester. During the Second World War, staying true to his pacifist beliefs, he worked as a farmhand in Wharfedale quite literally digging for victory. In 1946 he reopened Chichester Theological College and served as chancellor of Chichester Cathedral, before being appointed Bishop of Ripon in 1959. Throughout his life he researched and wrote on St Francis and the history of the Franciscan movement, amassing an enormous collection of over 2,000 manuscripts and books. Many of his books became best-sellers and his A History of the Franciscan Order from its Origins to the Year 1517 is still a major text in Franciscan study. In his will, he bequeathed his Bibliotheca Franciscana to Gladstone’s Library, and endowed a scholarship to enable students, scholars, and authors to use this collection for reading and research. 

The Bishop Moorman Franciscan Collection concentrates on the history of the Franciscan movement to 1517. It includes books on St Francis and the history of the Friars Minor, Poor Clares and secular Franciscans together with works of important Franciscan authors, and sets of periodicals on Franciscan history. Among Incunabula (early printed books) are a 1476 edition of a confessors’ handbook by Nicholas of Osimo and a 1485 Venetian copy of Ubertino of Casale’s Arbor Vitae Crucifixae Jesu. In addition, there are various editions of the early bibliographies of St Francis and 18th and 20th century editions of Luke Wadding’s Annales Minorum the archive collection of his personal research papers. 

John Moorman is fondly remembered by my Grandpa as his ordaining bishop and mentor. I remember him telling stories about John Moorman when I was younger, and my absolute favorite is of the time he visited my Grandpa at his parish in Kenton, Newcastle Upon Tyne. My aunt, who was around four or five at the time, met John Moorman and told him that he wasn't a proper bishop. He explained that he was and showed her his Pectoral Cross but she still said he wasn’t. She then went off and drew a picture of a ‘proper’ bishop in a cope and miter which she showed him. John Moorman replied that he didn’t wear his church robes all the time and eventually managed to convince her that he was in fact a proper bishop. My Grandpa was delighted when I told him that I’d been offered a place on the Graduate Work Experience scheme here at Gladstone’s Library and I wanted to give him the opportunity to share his memories of John Moorman.  

He remembers,

‘I first saw him as I stood on the North Transept steps of York Minster with some his former students when he whisked by in a Triumph Gloria as he arrived for his Consecration as Bishop. I then had the honor of meeting him personally in the Watchman's House in Ripon where I was introduced to him by Bishop Henry de Candole who was Suffragan Bishop of Knaresborough. I acted as Crucifer at his enthronement that day. As I was still in the RAF I did not see him again until he interviewed before I was accepted as a candidate for Ordination. I met him a few times while I was at College and then It was time for the last preparation before Ordination. I was made Deacon on Trinity Sunday, 28th May 1961in Ripon Cathedral. The following year on Trinity Sunday, 17th June I was Ordained Priest to serve in the Parish of St. Hilda, Cross Green, Leeds.

As my Bishop I met him on numerous occasions, one of which stands out. In the Week of Prayer for the Unity of the Church, Bishop John was an observer at the Second Vatican Council so he arranged for a great gathering in Leeds City Hall. I was his chaplain on that occasion and stood beside him and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds. After some Readings from the New Testament we all stood and said the Lord's Prayer together. This truly was a moment of history as in former times Roman Catholics were not even allowed to even join other Christians in saying it.

 Parish life at Cross Green carried on with usual visits from the Bishop and Mrs Moorman. Then in 1964 I had an appointment with the bishop to ask permission to get married. This was duly given after about a three week wait, but as there were no vacancies coming up in the Diocese and I was advised to look towards Newcastle. I left St. Hilda's Leeds for St. Hilda's Marden in North Shields. With the beginning of a new life as a married priest in a busy Parish I lost personal contact with Bishop John until the mid seventies when he retired and moved to Durham.

After that I had the odd meeting with him. He was, of course, even in retirement busy with his Franciscan Studies. There were odd occasions when former Cisestrians in the North East met up for social chat and renewing contact with Bishop John. Sometime in the late seventies he came to my parish, then in Newcastle, to give a talk to a gathering off the other churches in the area. I picked him up from his home in Durham and he had a meal with us at Kenton Vicarage. That was about the last time I saw him as soon after we were on the move again down to Wallsend. I was able to be at his funeral in Durham. I thank God for him, for despite his learning and position he was a very humble and holy man. He was the ideal man for Yorkshire as he himself was born in Leeds and understood the way that Yorkshire Folk live.’

Bishop John Moorman was one of the most influential Anglican figures of the 20th Century and his collection remains an unrivalled resource for those studying the life of St Francis and the history of the revolutionary Franciscan movement. He is remembered as a scholar, mentor, friend, writer, priest, and prominent ecumenist promoting unity between Anglicanism and Catholicism.

Records for all the items in the Bishop Moorman Collection can be found in our online catalogue by searching 'MFC', together with records for Franciscan material added to the main collection since 1989. All archives and special collections can be accessed via a Request to Read Restricted Items form.   

By Emily Dewar, Graduate Work Experience