Monday, 18 July 2016

over my dead "carkas", you will not dismantle my tomb.

I love late medieval wills, they are so full of interesting information that tell us about contemporary attitudes towards death, burial memorialisation, about interpersonal relationships and the duty felt by people to provide for those they left behind.  I'm currently doing a bit of research on gentry display and memorialisation in Derbyshire, which is taking me into the interconnected world of late fifteenth and early sixteenth century society and a lot of that depends on the evidence of wills.  As I was doing this I came across the will of Thomas Babington of Dethick, a Derbyshire landowner, lawyer and member of parliament, who died in 1519.   I had first come across his will about sixteen years ago when I was working on the patronage of Derbyshire's medieval stained glass.

The tomb of Thomas and Edith Babington at Ashover in Derbyshire.
© Copyright 
Michael Garlick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The county of Derbyshire, particularly the northern part, was made up of enormous country parishes, covering great stretches of upland and consisting of lots of small townships.  Dethick, the township where Thomas had the centre of this estates, was part of the parish of Ashover.  Also in the parish of Ashover was the town of Lea, home to the equally wealthy Rolleston family.  For burial purposes these major families were expected to resort to the parish church of Ashover and the eastern bays of the north and south aisles were given over to the two families for their use.  The eastern bay of the north aisle was the 'Rolleston quire' and the eastern bay of the south aisle was the 'Babington quire'.  As well as containing their graves, these spaces were decorated with heraldic stained glass that referred to the families and their alliances and in effect privatised the space.  The 'Babington quire' was dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury and St Katherine and contained a perpetual chantry founded in 1511 by Thomas, at about the time his wife Edith Fitzherbert had died.
Babington appears to have had a particular attachment to St Thomas of Canterbury, his name saint and in his will he bequeaths his soul to 'oure lady, saint John Baptist and Seint Thomas of Canterbury' that they might pray for him.  Glass in the windows here and in the clerestory of the nave referred to Thomas Babington and Edith and also to their son Sir Anthony.  Sadly it has all gone.

This demarcation of separate space is not to suggest that the Rollestons and the Babingtons were at loggerheads or were in competition with one another, they were not.   Thomas Babington's sister Anna was married to James Rolleston of Lea and they are commemorated by a brass in the church. Towards the end of Thomas Babington's life his nephew Thomas Rolleston was in charge of the Lea estate.  The demarcation of separate space was to do with status and esteem, more than competition.   

The tomb of Thomas and Edith Babington at Ashover in Derbyshire.
© Copyright 
Michael Garlick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

As well as providing a chantry for this soul, he also erected during his own lifetime a tomb over the grave of Edith and this still remains in the Babington quire. Their tomb is a fabulous, fashionable and expensive alabaster monument, with recumbent effigies of Thomas and Edith in secular dress in the attitude of prayer.  He has a gold chain of office around his neck and a large purse at his waist, a wonderfully conspicuous way his wealth and political authority.  The effigies have been wonderfully recoloured to give the impression of their original appearance. 

The tomb of Thomas and Edith Babington at Ashover in Derbyshire.
© Copyright 
Michael Garlick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Their many children occupy the sides of the tomb chest as weepers.  In form it strongly resembles the monument of his father-in-law Ralph Fitzherbert of Norbury.    On the west end of the monument, Thomas and Edith are shown kneeling on either side of figures of St Katherine and St Thomas of Canterbury, images that reflect Thomas' personal devotion and the dedication of the chapel.  Thomas Babington was clearly in direct control of the creation of the monument.

 Ashover, Derbyshire

Although Edith was buried below this wonderful monument, it seems that Thomas wasn't buried underneath it, in fact his extraordinary will expressly forbids it:
'I will my body be buryed in my parish church of Ashover, nere by wif Edith, it it fortune me to deceas within xx. myles of the same.  And ells in such place as shalbe thought by them that shalbe wt me at the tyme of my diceas; But I will not that the Tombe which I have made in the Church of Ashover be broken or hurt for my carkas, but that it be leyde nere the same, and over that place that I shall lye in, a stone with a scripture after myne executors and supervisour myndis or the more parte of them to be leyde'. 
So in other words, he doesn't want the monument to be dismantled just to admit his body to a grave below it, as he is worried it would damage it, the monument was costly and he was evidently proud of it.  Instead he asks to be buried close to the tomb under a flat stone with an inscription, the inscription to be devised by his executors and executors, if they can agree on it!



Sources
On the chantry and the choirs the source is: J. C. Cox, Notes on Derbyshire Churches, vol. 1, p. 33 and vol. 2, p. 183. On the glazing: A. B. Barton 'The Stained glass of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire 1400-1550', unpublished PhD thesis, York, 2004, pp. 107-111. The will of Babington is published in Derbyshire Archaeological Journal 19, pp. 80-93.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Into the charnel house they go

Aylmerton, Norfolk

Following on from a post about burying the dead in church buildings in late medieval Britain, I now offer a post about digging up the dead.  As a historian I have long been perplexed by the modern notion that churchyards can be become 'full' and that we are running out of burial space for the dead. The idea that our historic churchyards with the marked graves of long-forgotten Victorians and Georgians, cannot be reused for the burial of modern people, is a bizarre notion and is at variance with the traditions and ideas of past generations, including the Victorians and Georgians who now dispossess our generation of the right to be buried in God's acre.   In the past the grave was not considered to be private, alienable property that could be occupied for perpetuity, the churchyard was considered a communal space that individuals borrowed to enable the clean and efficient decomposition of their shrouded corpses.  Human remains would be kept within the confines of the church and churchyard for perpetuity, but the concept that an individual grave space was yours and yours alone, was unknown.

Christ Church, Gleadless
The leaning grave in the centre is that of my great, great grandparents.  They died in the 1890s and they and their neighbours continue to block up space that would be better reused  for the burial of their descendants.
When I was Rector of a benefice in Norfolk, one pleasant September afternoon I went to conduct my first funeral in one if my four medieval churches. My first act as incumbent was to deal with a rather fine specific of a human jaw bone, complete with an excellent set of gnashers, which was presented to me by the churchwardens.  After I had conducted the funeral in the churchyard, the jaw bone was popped back into the ground as part of new grave's infill.  That was the way we operated in this church, one of my predecessors had the good sense to start to re-use part of the churchyard that had last been used in the eighteenth century.  When new graves were cut the bones of the dead were quite often disturbed and were usually added to the infill of the new grave by the gravedigger to one side of the new coffin.   In doing that we were to all intents and purposes following the pattern that persisted in past centuries.   The defleshed bones of the long dead, made way for the freshly dead corpses of the current generation.  This whole process was both pragmatic and sensible and a churchyard never came to be filled.

The Hague, MMW, 10 F 17, 73r.   from a French Book of Hours, c. 1490. 
Morgan Library MS M 199, f. 172r  From a French Book of Hours, c. 1460. 

In many medieval images of the burial of the dead from illuminated manuscripts you can see such a process being undertaken, though with a bit less dignity and decorum than in my former parish churchyard.  In the French images I share on here of that subject matter, the gravediggers manhandle shrouded corpses into their last resting place in a shallow grave, while around the graves, lying on the ground are the skulls and bones of those accidentally exhumed in the process.

Morgan Library, MS M 169, f. 99r.   From a French Book of Hours, c. 1470

Notice in the image above the little painted grave markers that mark the burial place.  For both economical and for practical purposes, these were made of wood.  Intended to last a generation or two at the most, they lasted just long enough for the deceased pass out of mind. Unlike the stone headstones favoured in the recent past, they were designed to decay and to be temporary.

Rothwell, Bone Crypt
image copyright Martin Beek
   

Rather than returning the bones to the ground as part of the grave infill, it was quite common in the later medieval period, for the bones disinterred during the digging of graves, to be added to a communal bone hole or a structure called a charnel house.   

BL MS Yates Thompson 46, f. 156v.   French Book of Hours, c. 1410-20.   How many clergymen does it take to bury one body?
The fabulous illuminated image above, is taken from an early fifteenth century French Book of Hours now in the British Library.  The scene is the same as in the other manuscript images I've shared, the burial of the corpse in a shallow grave,  In the background of the scene is a building with a pitched roof, this is a 'charnel' house, stacked to the rafters with the grinning skulls.  A number of medieval charnel houses remain in British churches, some have their grisly contents, some don't.  Some are subterranean structures, some like that in the French manuscript illustration are constructed above ground as freestanding structures.

Bone Crypt, Rothwell, Northamptonshire
The Rothwell bone hole, image copyright Martin Beek.  This Northamptonshire charnel house was reorganised and the last century.  The skulls have all been neatly placed on shelves and the long bones stacked in a large pile in the centre.  
There are two subterranean charnel houses in Britain that are known to still retain their contents. I say known, as there are no doubt others that have not been discovered or opened.  The known ones are are at Hythe in Kent and Rothwell in Northamptonshire.   The one at Hythe is a vaulted tunnel under the chancel.  The one At Rothwell (illustrated above) is a vaulted chamber under the south nave aisle.  This charnel house contains the remains two and half thousand (2500) of Rothwell's inhabitants, mostly dating from between the thirteenth and the sixteenth century.



The current neat arrangement of the chamber with skulls on wooden shelves and bones sorted into type dates only from 1912.  As the image above shows, the earlier arrangement was less ordered ans more shocking to behold.   The bones were originally arranged in heaps against three walls of the chamber.  Long bones in stacks, skulls on the tops of each heap.  In the Middle Ages the walls of the end wall of the chamber was painted and in the nineteenth century there were still faint traces of an image of the Resurrection of Christ, wonderful fitting for a chamber devoted to those awaiting the general resurrection. 

Of the many freestanding charnel house standing in churchyards, few now remain and those that do have long been emptied of their contents and turned to a different use.  In south Pembrokeshire, there are a couple.

Carew Cheriton

The first is at Carew Cheriton and is a fourteenth century whitewashed building to the west of the main church.    It consists of an upper Chapel, over a barrel vaulted charnel chamber.  I haven't been inside, but I understand there is a Piscina in the upper chamber, indicating its ecclesiastical former use.   This charnel house has survived because it continued to have a purpose for many years.  Following the Reformation, still no doubt with its grisly contents intact, it was used as a parish school room and continued being used as such until the twentieth century.

Carew Cheriton

There is a door into the lower chamber from the west end, but on north and south wall there are two curious round openings at ground level.  Presumably these were primarily for ventilation, but they could also have been used for depositing human remains into the chamber without the need to enter it.

Angle, Pembrokeshire

Down the road from Carew at Angle, is a second churchyard charnel house.   This little fifteenth century,structure known as the 'Seamen's Chapel' or the chapel of St Anthony, is smaller, but similarly constructed to the Carew charnel house.  The lower chamber is a vaulted charnel chamber, entered by a door in the east end.

Angle, Pembrokeshire

Above is a beautiful barrel-vaulted chapel, restored in the early twentieth century with an Arts and Crafts altarpiece by Coates Carter.  A plaque in the chapel records that the Chapel was founded in 1447 by Edward de Shirburn of Angle, I've not been able to find any evidence of that.

Angle, Pembrokeshire

As at Carew the charnel chamber is ventilated by two openings in the north and south walls.


Tunstead, Norfolk

At Tunstead in Norfolk there is a raised platform at the east end of the vast fifteenth century chancel, which forms an extraordinary backdrop for the high altar.  This platform, which also formed the support for the high altar reredos and was in the shadow of a monumental east window (now blocked) is raised over a narrow vaulted chamber.  The chamber is entered through a small door in its western face and it has an opening on its roof protected by a metal grille.  

Tunstead, Norfolk

Although this chamber is now just the repository for an old plastic swivel chair, it is almost certainly an internal charnel house, I can't see what else it could be.  Some fanciful suggestions have been made like it's a repository for relics, or was built as platform for the performance of mystery plays!   What hogwash, it's a charnel house.  Perhaps the bones is contained were brought up to surface when the chancel was constructed?  It is curious to have such a space created within the church building, but it was probably put here for practical reasons.  The chancel at Tunstead goes right to boundary of the churchyard and there would have been no space for one outside the east wall of the chancel.   What an extraordinary setting for the parish mass this would be. The fifteenth century parishioners of Tunstead would have witnessed the mass, with its prayers for the departed and all its supposed efficacy for the souls of the faithful, in front of the communal grave of the parish faithful.  

Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire

Internal charnel houses that shape the liturgical arrangements of a church building are not unique. The extraordinary nave altar at Dorchester Abbey in Oxfordshire, with its fourteenth century painted reredos is built on the roof of a substantial charnel vault. The altar, which in the Augustinian Abbey church was the parish or 'peoples' altar, is raised up on a flight of steps built up over the remains of the dead.  As the people of Dorchester worshipped, they worshipped with the physical remains of those who had passed that way before them.    

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Waterbougets on a chasuble?

Blyborough, Lincolnshire

This fabulous effigy of a fifteenth century priest, is in the north chapel of Blyborough church in north-west Lincolnshire. The inscription around the base of the effigy tells us that it commemorates Sir Robert Conyng, who was rector of Blyborough between 1424 and 1434 and died on the 3rd of May 1434. We know very little of Robert Conyng's life, except in the official records of the church. We know he was presented to the living of Blyborough by the patrons the Prior and Convent of Durham on the 2nd of June 1424 [1] At that time he was rector of Orsdall in Nottinghamshire, having acquired the living in 1418 and was also a prebendary of the Minster church at Southwell.[2] It was a fair exchange, in the 1292 Taxatio Ecclesiastica both livings were worth £20 a year.[3]  £20 was a good clerical income in 1292, and unless the rectorial glebe had been mismanaged in the hundred year period since the Taxatio, in the early fifteenth century when his turn came to hold the living, Conyng would have ample money to provide himself with a monument on his eventual demise.

Conyng's monument is currently in a curious position, it is placed north south in the north chancel chapel, occupying a position that was once, I imagine, occupied by a side altar. It hasn't always been in its present position. On the 12th of September 1835, William John Monson (later the 6th Baron Monson) visited Blyborough church in Lincolnshire and described the monument and its then position:
'A fine tomb of brown sand stone under the arch which divides the chancel from the north chapel on which is the figure of a priest in cope and stole with a cross down the breast, on which are four water bougets'[4]
 Blyborough, Lincolnshire

So it seems that the effigy was originally in the thickness of the wall under an arch between the chancel and the north chapel.  An ogee-headed arch remains in the south wall of the chapel and there is a corresponding arch in the north wall of the chancel.

Blyborough, Lincolnshire

The opening is now closed up and it is likely that the tomb was removed and opening filled in 1877, when the chancel and much of the rest of the church was thoroughly restored by James Fowler of Louth.  Fowler appears to have played with the floor levels at the east end of the chancel and inserted two steps for the altar to stand on.   So it would appear that Conyng's fine monument, on its tomb chest, occupied a position of honour in the church building; close to the high altar at which he would have celebrated mass during his time as rector.

Blyborough, Lincolnshire

Turning to look at the monument itself, let's look at it in a bit more detail.  Conyng's recumbent effigy is of a tonsured priest in full mass vestments.  He head is supported on a cushion by two crouching figures of angels, sadly headless.  His feet rest on a dog, also headless.  His vestments consist of alb with apparels, appareled amice, stole and maniple with a full, flowing chasuble.  The chasuble is curious.  On the front is cross-shaped orphrey and this is decorated with heraldic devices, four waterbougets - heraldic water buckets, or water carriers.

Blyborough, Lincolnshire

Blyborough, Lincolnshire

The tomb chest is decorated with a series of shields of arms, including the arms of England, there is also a shield which shows three waterbougets on a field and a second with a cross charged with four waterbougets. As my volumes of the excellent Medieval Ordinary are in my office, I will have to wait a while before I can work out whose arms they are, if I can, given that no tinctures are shown! Clearly, given the decorative waterbougets on the chasuble orphrey, the arms with the waterbougets on the tomb chest must be of some significance to Conyng himself. Was he from an armigerous family, or did he enjoy the patronage of an armigerous family that he was keen to commemorate?


[1] http://reed.dur.ac.uk/xtf/view?docId=ead/dcd/dcdregr3.xml
[2] http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/monographs/ordsall1940/ordsall19.htm
[3] http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/taxatio/index.html
[4] J. Monson (ed), Lincolnshire Church Notes made by William John Monson, FSA 1828-1840, Lincoln Record Society 31 (1936), p. 44.

Friday, 15 July 2016

'Elegant economy' - the Jesus college candle-stocks

The object illustrated below is in the collection of the British Museum.  It is a wax candle-stock, an artificial candle.   It's one of a pair and it's identically decorated fellow, is now in the possession of Jesus College Cambridge.  At fifty four (54) centimetres tall, these stocks when they were first made, would have fitted onto a pair of pricket candlesticks, perhaps a pair of altar candlesticks.  How did they work?  Well you have to imagine a metal ring or fitting on the top of the wax stock, in which a smaller candle would have been attached.   Candle stocks enabled the economic use of wax, while giving the appearance from a distance, that a larger candle was being burnt.

© Trustees of the British Museum.
The stocks are elaborately decorated, bands of colour spiral around them, a barbers pole of gilding, powdered red flowers, green bands and white trailing foliage.  The stocks are usually dated by most authorities to the fourteenth century, but are they?  The decoration on them and the colour palette is reminiscent of the decoration on East Anglian rood screens and would not be out of place in the later part of the fifteenth century.

This particular candle stock was bought by the British Museum in 1965 from the Kett family. It came with a family tradition attached to it that was found by George Kett during a renovation of a Norfolk church. George Kett was a skilled carpenter who had come to the notice of A.W. N, Pugin in the 1840s.  Pugin used him extensively in the interior work of the Palace of Westminster.  Kett would eventually go into partnership with James Ratee and establish the Cambridge firm of Rattee and Kett, who were involved in many east Anglian church restorations.



The provenance of the other candle-stock now in the possession of Jesus College Cambridge, gives a much more likely origin for the pair.  The Jesus College stock was given to the college in 1945 by Sir Ninian Comper.  According to Comper, his stock had been found by Pugin in a recess in Jesus college chapel, during the restoration he had undertaken between 1846 and 1849.  Both Kett and James Rattee are known to have worked under Pugin at Jesus College and it was there that their partnership was forged.  So both Kett and Pugin were in the same place at the same time and though circumstantial evidence, it seems that Jesus college chapel is the most likely origin for both stocks.

© Trustees of the British Museum.

The context of use within the chapel of Jesus college, makes sense of them.  Jesus college Cambridge was founded by Bishop John Alcock of Ely in 1496, but the chapel is the former monastic church of the small Benedictine nunnery of St Radegund. Unless these items were part of the chapel stuff acquired in the fifteenth century when Alcock founded the college, it is likely that the stocks were originally used in the earlier monastic context, the use of candle-stocks makes sense in this context.    From the beginning, St Radegunds was a poorly endowed priory and was beset with financial problems and a whole host of other issues.  In 1277 the bell tower of the church fell down and by 1373 during an episcopal visitation, the buildings were said to be ruinous and the prioresses management ineffective. To add insult to injury in 1376 the house burnt down and in 1389 the repaired buildings were badly damaged by a storm.  In the fifteenth century the house was frequently in debt.  In 1459 Bishop Gray of Ely found the church in a ruinous condition and the ornaments of the church in need of repair, offering forty days indulgence if anyone helped the nuns accomplish the repairs.   However, things didn't get any better, which is why John Alcock, the diocesan bishop, took the place into his own hands. In 1496 he moved the remaining two nuns elsewhere, dissolved the priory in favour of the foundation of a new Cambridge college.  These candle-stocks if they were in the priory's possession, would have added a welcome splash of colour to the altar of this poorly endowed and rather bleak little convent, while enabling the already cash-strapped nuns to save on candle wax.   "Elegant economy!" as they say in Cranford!  

Sources
J. Alexander and P. Binski, Age of Chivalry (London, 1987), pp. 243-244. 


  

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Intramural burial in medieval churches, some thoughts

Intramural burial of a shrouded corpse in a medieval chapel. The tiled floor of the chapel has been lifted to enable the body to admitted to a shallow grave.  MS M. 28, f.111r Morgan Library

Intramural burial was a common practice in late medieval England, not only for the socially elite on a county or national level, but for the local elites too, the leading clergy, townsmen, tradesmen and householders.  As England headed towards the Reformation, the trend seemingly increased, a trend motivated by a complex mixture of ideas.  Among the pressures that led to the rise were the social pressures of fashion and prestige, but there were also more spiritual motivations at work too.  There was a sense that burial in church gave the deceased a beneficial proximity to the holy, the closer the burial of the body to the chancel and the high altar and to the Body of Christ reserved in the hanging pyx, the better.  There may also have been a sense that burial in church, with or without a marker, gave public exposure to the burial place, which would enable a more lasting form of memorialisation than was possible in the anonymity of the churchyard.  Both the proximity to the holy and the possibilities for memorialisation, had spiritual benefits for the soul of the deceased, trapped in the pains of Purgatory.  The fashion for intramural burial was in earlier times discouraged by the church, however, by the late fifteenth century it seems to have been encouraged by the local church authorities.  The higher fees charged for burial in church, as opposed to the churchyard, produced a source of useful (and reliable) revenue for the churchwardens’, that could be used to benefit the religious life of the whole community.    

My title parish - Louth, Lincolnshire
The parish church of St James Louth.  

In the absence of parish registers, early churchwardens’ accounts give a good indication of the ubiquity of the practice and the sliding scale of fees involved.  Take for example the Lincolnshire market town of Louth, where the churchwardens’ accounts survive from the period 1500 to 1524.  During this period the number of burials in the church ranged from six (6) to thirty two (32) each year and in that entire quarter century, around two hundred and thirty (230) people are recorded as paying fees to be buried in graves within the church building. Of these twenty (20) are buried in the 'south kirke porch' in front of the main church door. I was curate at Louth for a time and walked through that porch every day and it is a tiny space about 16ft square.  It was evident that they were packing them in!   Burials in the church were a tidy source of income for the churchwardens’ of Louth who would receive 6s, 8d for a burial in the church.  It was cheaper to be buried in the 'south kirke porch', it only cost you 3s and 8d for the privilege of being constantly trampled under foot.[1]

Heydon, Norfolk
Packing them in at Heydon in Norfolk.  A whole series of medieval and early Modern graves are clustered at the east end of the nave in front of the rood screen.  Close to the chancel and in full view of their neighbours, these are the burials of the social elite in Heydon, the Dynne family and their associates.  

Of course there were practical consequences to such high levels of intramural burial.  The constant lifting of the floor and relaying of tiles, stones and other pavers to admit burials, must have been disruptive.  Certain areas, in front of the rood screen, in the centre of the chancel, in side chapels before altars, were hotspots for burial, but they were also busy parts of the building, in constant use in the liturgy of the church.  

Cley, Norfolk
The brass of John Symondes at Cley in Norfolk, portrayed in the shroud he was buried in in 1512. 

The physical consequences of the usual English practice of burying corpses in shrouds in shallow graves, must have created great discomfort for the living.  The putrid smells and effervescence emanating from hundreds of decomposing shrouded corpses, must have made some churches in busy and populous parishes, intolerable to linger in. 

Salthouse, Norfolk
The chancel floor at Salthouse in Norfolk, the series if slabs in a line at the centre of the floor are medieval and a post medieval burials with markers, but the undulations and dips of the pavement are almost certainly evidence of grave collapse after the burial of shrouded corpses.  

The physical consequences of solid floors that were supported only by soil and decomposing human remains, must have been felt for generations, as floor levels over burials dropped, slumped and became uneven.  The evidence of the effects of shrouded intramural burial, can still be seen to day in the undulating floors of some of our medieval churches.     




[1] R. C. Dudding, The First Churchwardens’ Book of Louth 1500-1524 (Oxford, 1941)
 













Wednesday, 13 July 2016

'the minister lifts the chasuble on his shoulder' - the adjustment of the Chasuble during the late medieval mass

In 1903 Percy Dearmer edited for the Alcuin Club, a facsimile of an extraordinary early sixteenth century treatise.  Dat Boexken Vander Missen or the Booklet of the Mass, is a treatise on the purpose of the Mass and of its ceremonial.  Written in Old Dutch, it was said to have been written by an Observant Friar called Gherit Vander Goude (Gerard of Gouda) and the earliest surviving old Dutch edition was printed in 1506 in Antwerp by Adrian van Bergen  Part of it consists of a block-book, in which the ceremonial of the mass is divided into thirty three articles, illustrated by thirty seven extraordinary woodcuts which show in great detail the different ceremonial elements of the mass.  In the intense religious environment of northern Europe there was a ready market for such a book, there were old Dutch editions in 1506 and 1507, a French edition in 1528, an English edition in 1532 and a Flemish edition in 1538.

18

The article within Dat Boexken that I'm interested in drawing to your attention today, is the eighteenth article, which describes the ceremonial preparation for the consecration of the oblations of bread and wine at mass.   The woodcut illustration (above) shows the Priest at the altar, holding the Host in his right hand, with his assistants the Deacon and Subdeacon kneeling on the step below.   However, the caption describes other actions in addition to those that are illustrated.  This is Dearmer's translation of the Old Dutch caption:  
'How the priest takes the Host in his hand, and the minister lifts the chasuble from his shoulder, and then the priest prepares himself to consecrate and to offer the Holy Sacrament of the Body of our Lord'.     
I want to focus more closely on one bit of this text and bring to your attention this clause: 'the minister lifts the chasuble from his shoulder, and the prepares himself to consecrate'. To start with I think Dearmer has actually mistranslated the Old Dutch here.   The Old Dutch which Dearmer translates as 'from his' are the words 'op sÿn'. Dearmer has I think got this wrong, these words don't mean 'from his', but rather 'on his'. So the bit of the caption that I want to focus on is this
 'the minister lifts the chasuble on his shoulder, and prepares himself to consecrate'.  
What appears to be described is a common, but rather obscure bit of ceremonial, that is missed out of the rubrics of the Missals.  Incidentally those acquainted with the rubrics of medieval Missals will not be surprised at such an omission, the rubrics are sparse.   In the later Middle Ages the chasuble worn by the priest was still in its full form.  In order for the priest to be prepared to perform the manual acts and also the elevation of the Host and chalice, which necessitates the raising of the arms, there is a brief pause to ensure that the chasuble is not in the way.   Dat Boexken suggests that the sides of the chasuble were folded neatly over the shoulders of the Priest. The fact that the word 'minister' is used to describe the person doing this, while the word priest is used to describe the priest's actions, suggests that the Deacon or Subdeacon undertook this role.  In fact it's difficult to see how the Priest could perform this himself without some assistance.

Elevation of chalice

If you don't believe me that the action of folding the chasuble over the shoulders is meant here, look at the illustrations for article twenty of Dat Boexken, the illustration of the the elevation of the chalice. It is evident as the priest elevates the chalice, that the sides of the chasuble have indeed been folded over the shoulders to free the arms.

I said earlier that this ritual recorded in Dat Boexken was a common piece of ritual, but how do I know that?  Well there is ample late medieval visual evidence to prove that the this little bit of ceremonial is not just some obscure bit of Dutch liturgy, but was common practice in many parts of Northern Europe.


From a French context we have this illustration of the Mass of St Gregory from the early sixteenth century Hours of Henry VIII in the Morgan Library in New York. The saint is wearing a gold chasuble, which has been turned over his shoulders to reveal a green lining. 


Then from a Netherlandish context, there is the superlative image of the Mass of St Giles, which shows St Giles celebrating mass in St Denys in Paris.  His chasuble, captured in such great detail, appears to be of black velvet, but the luscious pink lining of the vestment is revealed, because the material of the chasuble is folded over the shoulders. The folding shown here cannot be the consequence of the priest getting himself caught up wrongly in the vestment, but only through deliberate placement.  

Gresham, Norfolk

Then from an English context we have some of the delightful images of the mass from Seven Sacrament fonts.  The font at Gresham in Norfolk, seems to show the celebrant, a bishop, with a folded chasuble.  

The font at Cley is a very clear example, with arms of the priest free as he elevates the host. The best is perhaps the font at Westhall in Suffolk, which still retains traces of colour and where the red lining of the chasuble is revealed.

All Saints, North Street, York - Sung Mass, Elevation of the Host

How long this informal ceremony persisted is quite unclear. The chasuble of course evolved on the continent from the full medieval form into the Latin form (image above), which in effect is a form of the chasuble with all the excess material that was once folded over the shoulder, permanently removed.   That change would have rendered the action obsolete.  

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Wymondham Burse

It was excellent to see an article this month on the website of Wymondham Abbey about this extraordinary object within their collection.


This is a medieval burse, or Corporas case.   The burse is a piece of liturgical equipment, consisting of two hinged pieces of stiffened fabric.  They were used in the Middle Ages to store and transport a 'pair' of linens corporals, the two cloths used at the altar during the Mass.  One of these corporals was placed under the chalice and on it the body of Christ was consecrated, hence the name; the other was folded to cover the top of the chalice.  


The Wymondham burse is a rare survival.  Worked in silk thread, it is primarily decorated with a 'tree of life' pattern and this dates the piece to the end of the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth century. This is accompanied by a series of shields of arms, which have been identified as those of the Warrenne, Say, Molintune, Gurney and Leuknor family.  A group of families all connected in turn to the powerful Bigod family, Earls of Norfolk. The piece on the abbey website suggests that the Burse might have been an apprentice piece, I doubt it.  The work is of the highest quality and its continued use and repair over a two hundred year period suggests that it was part of a important and treasured set of vestments.  The burse may originally have been part of a set of vestments given by the Bigods to the important Benedictine Abbey of Wymondham.     


The vegetable dyes used in the silkwork have faded over time and it is suggested that the reconstruction above is close to the original colour scheme.  How this object survived the ravages of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Reformation is anybody's guess.   One suggestion is that it fell to the bottom of a chest full of books and documents, whatever the the truth, it surfaced again in the eighteenth century.