Wyclif Street, EC1V

Place Name

Originally  Lower Ashby Street from 1820 until around 1935 when it changed to the present name. John Wycliffe (sometime in the 1320s – December 31, 1384) was a 14thCentury religious reformer, who as an Oxford theologian and professor, produced the first handwritten English-language Bible manuscripts in the 1380s. With the help of his assistants and supporters, he made various copies of these manuscripts, translated out of the Latin Vulgate. He is considered an important predecessor to Protestantism, having questioned the privileged status of the clergy which had bolstered their powerful role in England living in luxury and pomp. Perhaps more pertinently he argued that the Church had fallen into sin and that it ought therefore to give up all its property and that the clergy should live in complete poverty. His views found support among many nobles, including John of Gaunt, who resented the fact that many of the high offices of state were held by clerics. The church continued to rally against him – but with powerful supporters there was little it could do. That changed when Wycliffe changed tact dismissing the traditional doctrine of transubstantiation (the belief that the communion becomes the body of Christ when blessed by the priest). This attack on one of the Church’s fundamental beliefs was too much even for the nobles who abandoned his cause. He died a few years later after suffering a stoke. His death however did not put paid to his teachings. His Biblical translations continued to remain in circulation, so infuriating the Pope that 44 years after Wycliffe died, he ordered his bones to be exhumed, crushed, and scattered in the River Swift. Even this failed to dampen his ideas which, though suppressed, continued to spread. As a later chronicler observed: “Thus the brook hath conveyed his ashes into Avon; Avon into Severn; Severn into the narrow seas; and they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wycliffe are the emblem of his doctrine which now is dispersed the world over.” They were still going strong by 1415 when John Hus, one of Wycliffe’s most loyal followers, was burned at the stake. Wycliffe’s translated Bibles were used as kindling for the fire. This street is one of a small cluster associated with martyrs, although Wycliffe himself was not one. Wycliffe Court a block of flats, stands on the site of the Smithfield Martyrs’ Memorial Church (also known as St Peter’s Church) dedicated to the protestant faithful who were executed at Smithfield stake.

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