As Bishop of Durham from 1494 to 1501 Richard Foxe held a very important position. For one thing, Durham was a very important and wealthy diocese, and anyone who became Bishop could expect to add considerably to his personal fortune. For another, the medieval Bishops of Durham were “Prince Bishops” who ruled the northern counties of England virtually as monarchs, on condition that they kept the Scots at bay.
However, Bishop Foxe had a problem when it came to formal banquets in the Great Hall of Durham Castle, which was the home of the Prince Bishops. This was that he always got cold dinners.
As Bishop, Foxe had the privilege of being served first. However, as Bishop, he also had the duty of blessing the food before anyone was allowed to start eating it. If the Hall was full, with more than 100 diners to be served, it could take quite some time before everyone had their plate filled and the food could be blessed. The result? Bishop Foxe’s food was cold before he could start eating it!
The solution? Not plate-warmers or anything technical in that sense, but a logical loophole in that the Bishop reckoned that if the food had already been blessed before it reached his plate, he had no need to wait. He therefore had the blessing written above the door through which all the food had to pass on the short journey from the kitchen to the Great Hall.
Merely being passed beneath the blessing was enough, in Bishop Foxe’s opinion, for the food to be sanctified, so as soon as he was served he could tuck in with a clear conscience!
© John Welford