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Elias of Dereham

    '''Elias of Dereham''' (died 1246) was the master mason designer associated with Bishop Jocelin of Wells
    The chapter house at Salisbury Cathedral displays a copy of the Magna Carta This copy was brought to Salisbury because Elias who was present at Runnymede in 1215 was to distribute original copies of the document Elias would become a Canon of Salisbury and would oversee the construction of Salisbury Cathedral iconsorguk He died in 1246


    Elias of Dereham a confidential clerk and estate steward especially associated with building projects was a native of West Dereham Norfolk His earliest patron was Hubert Walter later archbishop of Canterbury a fellow native of West Dereham and founder there of a Premonstratensian abbey whose charters are witnessed by Master Elias perhaps as early as 1188 Between 1193 and 1201 it is possible that he is to be identified with a master Elias steward to Gilbert de Glanville bishop of Rochester a close friend and kinsman of Hubert Walter Less likely but by no means impossible is the suggestion that he is to be identified with a man named master Elias the engineer or Elias of Oxford who prior to 1201 had charge of the king’s houses in Oxford and of various castle-building operations across southern England The only certainty is that by 1201 he was attached to the household of Hubert Walter at Canterbury being credited at least once with the title of archbishop's steward At about this time he acquired the churches of Brightwalton and Melton Mowbray gifts from the monks of Battle and Lewes
    Hubert Walter’s death in 1205 forced him to transfer to the household of Bishop Jocelin of Wells again as steward With the imposition of the papal interdict Jocelin and Elias went into exile in France together with Jocelin’s brother Bishop Hugh of Lincoln Hugh promoted Elias to the Lincoln prebend of Lafford and in November 1212 appointed him executor of his will The most important of Elias's contacts made in exile was with Archbishop Stephen Langton He was twice employed as Langton’s envoy to England and in 1213 at the end of the interdict returned to Canterbury as Langton’s steward In the next year he had custody of Rochester CastleFollowing the award of Magna Carta in 1215 Elias helped distribute the charter around the shires becoming an enthusiastic adherent of the rebel barons and preaching their cause at St Paul’s cross in London As a result he was despoiled of his various churches and exiled to France when the Royalist party triumphed in 1217 By 1220 he was pardoned and allowed to return to Langton’s household assisting the construction of a new shrine to St Thomas Becket in Canterbury in which context he is described by the chronicler Matthew Paris as an "incomparable artificer"Before 1222 he had acquired a prebend in Salisbury Cathedral under Langton’s pupil Bishop Richard Poer (qv under ‘Poor’) For the remainder of his life he was to be closely associated with the building of Salisbury’s new cathedral He is said to have served for twenty-five years as rector of the cathedral fabric fund and is undoubtedly found in association with the cathedral's masons and workshops Before 1234 he had supervised the construction of a model dwelling-place for himself within the cathedral close the profits from whose sale he later put towards Salisbury's fabric fund Elsewhere he renewed his contacts with Bishop Jocelin of Wells then in the midst of rebuilding the cathedral church in Wells He served three successive archbishops of Canterbury: Langton Richard Grant and Edmund of Abingdon either as steward or executor In 1228 Bishop Richard Poer was translated from Salisbury to Durham whereafter Elias is found witnessing deeds relating to both these sees He was later to serve as Poer’s executor and perhaps as proxy for Poer as the executor of William Marshal 1st Earl of Pembroke He also found service with Peter des Roches bishop of Winchester a leading political rival of Langton and Poer whom Elias none the less assisted with the foundation of monastic houses in Selborne and Titchfield and for whom he subsequently acted as executor Probably under Archbishop Edmund he was promoted to the Canterbury peculiar of Harrow the chancel of whose church he was repairing in 1242Throughout these years his services were much in demand at court Between 1233 and 1238 he had charge of royal building work at the great hall of Winchester Castle besides supervising the installation of windows and pavements at Clarendon Palace helping to construct a tomb used for the burial of Queen Joan of Scotland and being sent to direct the enclosure of an anchoress in BritfordInevitably given his association with building projects his work on Becket’s shrine the fact that Matthew Paris preserved Elias’s drawing of a wind-rose and since most of his employers were renowned as patrons of cathedral or monastic architecture Elias of Dereham has been canvassed as one of the principal influences in the development of early thirteenth-century English Gothic architecture Specifically an attempt has been made to present him as the architect of Salisbury Cathedral The attempt has failed through scepticism that one man could have supervised such a major project whilst still discharging Elias’s functions as steward and administrator elsewhere The best that can be said is that to appeal to such a wide diversity of patrons he clearly possessed some very rare talent indeed It is more likely that such a talent lay in site administration and the guidance of taste rather than in any practical work as craftsman architect or mason
    Elias died shortly after April 1245 whereupon his benefices were seized for the use of a papal nuncio



    Further reading

    • Nicholas Vincent ‘Dereham Elias of (d. 1245)’ rev Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press 2004 http://wwwoxforddnbcom/view/article/37391 accessed 21 Nov 2007