Before Rowan Williams the last bearded Archbishop of Canterbury was the Staffordshire Moorlands born Gilbert Sheldon who was the See of Canterbury from 1663 to !677.
Sheldon recounted a curious story to the writer and gossip John Aubrey about an exotic visitor to Ipstones in the 1650s. A poor crippled man of the village was disturbed one Sunday by a knock at the door. The stranger desired a glass of beer, which was given him. The stranger asked the old man how long he had been ill and told him that he could cure him by an herbal preparation. The old man was told that he must also constantly and fervently serve God. The cure seemed to work although no one else saw the stranger who was curiously dressed in a purple shag gown wandering the streets of Ipstones. Sheldon intimated that the visitor was the Wandering Jew.
The story of the Wandering Jew commonly called Ahasuerus or sometimes Cartaphilus is an ancient one. The legend began to spread in Europe in the 13th century. The original account concerns a Jew who taunted Jesus the way to the Crucifixion was then cursed to walk the earth until Christ returns.
After his fate is declared he became a penitent Christian who did good deeds and issued pious warnings to the people he encountered
There were claims of sightings throughout Europe, since at least 1542 in Germany up to 1868 in New York. Joseph Jacobs, writing in the 1911 commented 'It is difficult to tell in any one of these cases how far the story is an entire fiction and how far some ingenious impostor took advantage of the existence of the myth'.
As a representation the character became symbolic of the fate of a benighted people oppressed over the ages. The figure of the doomed sinner, forced to wander without the hope of rest in death till the millennium, impressed itself upon the popular imagination, and passed thence into literary forms .The Wandering Jew features in work from Chaucer’s Pardoners Tale onwards. Works by Hans Christian Andersen, the German poet Schiller, Shelley and Alexander Dumas all feature him.