Tales from the Vault: The battle of the bishops

Disputes in the Anglican Church tend to be quiet affairs. Strongly held views on various topics certainly exist, but debates mostly occur in hushed tones over teacups. This was certainly not the case in early Victoria.

Church membership was far more widespread than it is today, and opinions on church life and conduct were part of everyday life. So when the two most senior and respected clerics held different views on the conduct of church services, there was bound to be trouble. And in the early 1870s, trouble did erupt.

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The man at the centre of this dispute was the Very Reverend Edward Cridge, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral. Cridge had come to Victoria in 1855, in response to a request from the Hudson's Bay Company. The company needed a clergyman for its Pacific Northwest base, Fort Victoria. Cridge and his wife Mary came, and quickly became essential members of the community.

They wound up doing several jobs simultaneously.

Cridge was the only clergyman in the region, and often had to go on rough roads as far as Colwood and Metchosin to minister. As well, he had a glebe (clergyman's allotment) of 100 acres to clear, and use to feed his family. As if that were not enough, he established the first hospital in 1858, and in 1860 became the new colonial government's inspector of schools.

His wife Mary, in addition to bearing and raising several children, helped him in all his social endeavours and was a driving force in establishing the Protestant Orphanage in 1873 (now the Cridge Centre for the Family). They were the early colony's champions for the underprivileged and the unfortunate, and the leading force for social action.

The gold rush in the late 1850s caused a huge expansion in Victoria's population. Large numbers of transients were coming in and out of the region, and the political and social structures were unable to cope. Cridge appealed to Britain to send more clerical staff. In response, the Church appointed a new bishop for the colony. George Hills, the new bishop, arrived in 1860.

Cridge, who had run the show up till now, had to answer to a new boss.

At first all went well. The two men respected each other, and for the first few years everything was calm.

But there was always an underlying tension.

Cridge was a low churchman, who liked plain services with an unadorned altar, and wore a black habit. Bishop Hills, on the other hand, was a son of the Oxford Movement.

This was a neo-Catholic revival in the Church of England, which emphasized ritual and elaborate dress in its services. To a low churchman, such things could smack of "popery."

On Dec. 5, 1872, there was a consecration service for the new Christ Church Cathedral. Archdeacon Reece came over from Vancouver to preach.

Reece, an appointee of Bishop Hills, was a high churchman.

In this sermon he advocated more ritualism in the services.

This was too much for Cridge. At the end of the service he got up and protested vehemently. The bishop could not ignore this breach of Canon Law. A series of letters on this issue began between the two men.

This culminated in a letter Cridge wrote to the local newspaper. In this letter, published on Jan. 9, 1874, he publicly repudiated the Bishop's authority. In response, Bishop Hills brought Cridge before an ecclesiastical court. A trial was held, and Cridge was found guilty. His licence was then revoked.

But Cridge would not stand for this. He demanded the case be brought before an unbiased secular court. The case was then heard before Chief Justice Matthew Baillie Begbie. On Oct. 24, 1874, Beg-bie found for the bishop. He forbade Cridge from being rector of Christ Church Cathedral, or to act as a clergyman for the Anglican Church.

Cridge accepted this verdict, but it tore apart the social fabric of Victoria.

Many of the oldest and most prominent families were supporters of Cridge.

When soon after this he left the Anglican Church, and joined the Reformed Episcopal, much of the city followed him. Prominent among those was Sir James Douglas, who donated land at Humboldt and Blanshard streets for the new Church of Our Lord. Cridge became the rector of this new church, and was soon a Reformed Episcopal bishop.

He ministered to this new church until 1895, and continued to be active in social work thereafter. He died in 1913.

Cridge's life and work live on, through the church he founded and in the Cridge Centre for the Family. The events of the past now seem worlds away, and are largely forgotten.

For those wishing to understand the Cridge affair, the local history room of the Greater Victoria Public Library has excellent materials available. It has numerous clipping files on people concerned with these events and on the Church of Our Lord. It also has a variety of books.

Two unusual items are a typed manuscript reminiscence of Bishop Cridge by Edgar Fawcett, and a rare (and very fragile) pamphlet, published in 1875, giving a full account of the Cridge trial.

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