Rival bishops, rival cathedrals: the election of Cormac, archdeacon of Sodor, as bishop in 1331
By Sarah E. Thomas
The Innes Review, Vol. 60:2 (2009)
Abstract: On 6 July 1331, two procurators arrived in Bergen claiming that Cormac son of Cormac had been elected bishop of Sodor by the clergy of Skye and the canons of Snizort. Their arrival is recorded in a letter sent by Eiliv, archbishop of Nidaros, to two canons of the church of Bergen ordering that there be an examination of the election in the cathedral of Bergen on 12 July 1331. Cormac’s election was contentious for three main reasons: firstly, there was already a new bishop of Sodor; secondly the right to elect a bishop of Sodor seems to have lain with the clergy of Man; and thirdly the king of Scots had the right to present the candidate to the archbishop of Nidaros. This paper examines the identities and careers of both Cormac and his successful rival, Thomas de Rossy, and the potential reasons for Cormac’s claim and its ultimate failure. Therefore, this study reveals some of the underlying geopolitical realities of the diocese of Sodor in the mid-fourteenth century.
Introduction: In the early fourteenth century, the diocese of Sodor, or Sudreyjar meaning Southern Isles in old Norse, encompassed the Isle of Man and the Hebrides. Both the name of the diocese and its place in the ecclesiastical hierarchy were the result of Norwegian settlement and claims to the Hebrides and Man. In 1153, when the new Norwegian province of Nidaros was established, the diocese of Sodor became part of that church province and, despite the Norwegian cession of the Hebrides and Man to Scotland under the terms of the treaty of Perth in 1266, was to remain so until the creation of St Andrews as an archbishopric in 1472.
Until 1331, the bishops of Sodor seem to have been consecrated by the archbishop of Nidaros, their metropolitan. In July of that year, the archbishop of Nidaros was asked to confirm the election of Cormac son of Cormac as bishop of Sodor by the clergy of Skye and the canons of Snizort. Cormac’s request for confirmation presented the archbishop with a dilemma; should he confirm a candidate with close links to Nidaros, but who seemed to have been elected by an electoral body of dubious legitimacy? Ultimately, the archbishop may have avoided having to make a decision by the news that the pope had already in June confirmed another cleric as bishop of Sodor.