The stripping of the altars



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"
THE STRIPPING OF THE ALTARS
This magnificently produced volume must rank as one of the most important landmarks in the study of late medieval English religion to have hitherto appeared, and it is unlikely to be superseded for quite some time.... The sheer scale of Duffy's achievement, the enormous value of the information he provides and the vigour and elegance with which he presents it, make his book, in every sense, a must."—Robert Peters, History Review
"This is a monumental work. . . Duffy writes elegantly, handling complex and controversial subject matter in a way at once sober and factual. . . . It should be read by every historian of the medieval and early modern periods, by every Catholic, indeed by every Christian with a serious interest in the history of Christendom" Evelyn Birge Vitz, Theological Studies
"A valuable source of information supported with excellent illustra­tions and bibliography." Choice
"A very illuminating and satisfying book, which takes a major step towards better understanding of the English reformation."—Margaret Aston, Evlish Historical Review
"This is a work of exceptional importance, demonstrating massive erudition, great sympathy, and eloquence of style. It presents a mar­velously detailed new picture of traditional religious belief and prac­tice in England during the century prior to the Reformation and it shows exactly when and how the customs of faith and ceremony were stripped away in the sixteenth century. Our interpretation of the Reformation and our understanding ofTudor religion will never be the same." Stanford Lehmberg, Sixteenth Century_ Journal
"Scholarly, compulsively readable and revolutionary in thesis.. . Scholars of the period will enjoy the controversy and the general reader will ... be carried back empathetically to the days when reli­gion was not as we know it now."—Gillian Mottram, Faith and Freedom
"[This book I at last gives the culture of the late Middle Ages in England its due, and helps us to see the period as it was and not as Protestant reformers and their intellectual descendants imagined it to be. . . . A monumental and deeply felt work"—Gabriel Josipovici, Times Literary Supplement
"An outstanding history of the English Reformation"—Commonweal

T
NEW HAVEN AND LONDON


HE STRIPPING

OF THE ALTARS

Traditional Religion in England
c.1400—c.1580

EAMON DUFFY



YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS

C
y
ONTENTS

Acknowledgements xi

Preface to the Second Edition xiii

Introduction 1


PART I: THE STRUCTURES OF TRADITIONAL RELIGION 9
A: LITURGY, LEARNING ANI) THE LAITY
1 Seasons and Signs: the Liturgical Year 11

The Ceremonies of Holy Week 22

Sacred Place, Sacred Time 37

"Sacred" and "Secular" Time? 46
2 How the Plowman learned his Paternoster 53

Priests, People and Catechesis 53
'Ilie Impact of Catechesis: Imagery and


Dramatic Evidence 63

l'he Impact of Literacy: Lay Didactic and

Devotional Collections 68

1Tic Comin of Print 77
B: ENCOUNTERING THE HOLY 89
3 The Mass 91

Seeing the Host 95

Seeire and Believing 102

"Dredd" into ''Sweetness'' 107

viii

CONTENTS







CONTENTS

ix




Spectators or Participants? Lay Religion and

the Mass

109




D: NOW, AND AT THE HOUR OF

OUR DEATH



299




Praying the Mass: the Individual's Experience

117













Praying the Mass: Privatization?

121

9

Last Things

301




Praying the Mass: the Parochial Experience

123






















The Image of Death

303




Making the Peace

126






















The Hour of Death

310













Ars Moriendi

313

4

Corporate Christians

131






















Death and Memory

327




Gild and Parish

141



















10

The Pains of Purgatory

338

5

The Saints

155













71ie Saints in their Images

155




Purgatory: Ante-room of Heaven or Outpost of

Hell?

343




"77îe debt of interchanging neighbourhood"

160




Christendom(' and Kindred

348




Old and New Allegiances

164




Ways of Deliverance: Shortening the Paints of







Holiness and Help

169




Purgatory

354




Coins, Candles and Contracts

183




The Works of Mercy

357




Gift, Grace and Fellou'_feeliiii

186

71e Rejection of Penny Doles

362




Pilgrimage

190

Bridges and Highways

367




St Wnlstan of Baivbngh

200

Prayers and Supplications

368




C: PRAYERS ANI) SPELLS

2()7

PART II: THE STRIPPING OF THE













ALTARS, 1530—1550

377




"Lewed and Learned": the Laity and the Primers

209













11

The Attack on Traditional Religion I:







77ie Primer and Lay Prayer

210
















From the Break with Rome to the Act of

Six Articles



379

7

The Devotions of the Primers

233










Devotions to the Passion

234 12

The Attack on Traditional Religion II:







7'lie Mass of St Gréc,rory and the Wounds of Jesus

238

To the death of Henry VIII

424




7'he Seven Words on the Cross

248










Devotions to the Virgin

256 13

The Attack on Traditional Religion III:













The Reign of Edward VI

448

8

Charms, Pardons and Promises: Lay Piety and













"Superstition" in the Primers

266 14

The Impact of Reform: Parishes

478

Pardons and Promises

287










15

The Impact of Reform: Wills

504




x

CONTEN'T'S




16

Mary

524




Religions Priorities in Marian England

527




The Marian Primers

537




The Pro(;-ramrne in the Parishes

543




The Visitation of Kent, 1557

555

17

Elizabeth

565

Abbreviations

594

Bibliography

595

Photographic Acknowledgements

626

index

627

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

In the course of more than seven years' work on this book, I have accumulated many debts. Much of that indebtedness has grown from the writings, conversations and arguments of workers in the same or related fields: Margaret Aston, John Bossy, Susan Brigden, Pat Collinson, Christopher Haigh, Dorothy Owen, Miri Rubin, Jack Scarisbrick, Bob Scribner, and Margaret Spufford have all helped to stimulate my thoughts and provoke nie to question, though they will not always approve of the answers. Ann Nichols and Dick Pfaff not only shared their learning in late medieval liturgy, iconography, and sacramental theology, but drove with nie through rural East Anglia in search of its material traces.

One of the many benfits of working in Cambridge is the unflagging and unostentatious expertise of the staff of the University Library. The endless patience and helpfulness which I have found in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Rooms there have smoothed many a rugged mile in lily research.

Getting hold of the pictures iii this book would have been a nightmare without the help of many institutions and individuals. Particular thanks must go to the staff at the Conway Library and the Cambridge University Library for their patient assistance, to David Hoyle and Jan Rhodes for lending photographs, and especially to Melissa Garnett, who acted as unpaid research assistant in the Bodleian Library. I am greatly indebted to the Morshead-Salter fund of my college for financial help with the cost of illustrations.

My greatest debt is to the many friends and colleagues who have patiently (tor the most part) read through all or part of the book, in its many drafts, and have helped reduce its tally of errors and idiocies. Colin Armstrong, John Bossy, Nicholas Boyle, Pat Collinson, Peter Cunich, David Hoyle, Jane Hughes, John Morrill, Geoffrey Nuttall, Michael O'Boy, Bob Ombres, Richard Rex, John Stevens, and Helen Weinstein have all at one time or another shouldered this burden. In addition, Jan Rhodes put her unrivalled knowledge of Tudor devotional literature and her apparent gift of

8 INTRODUCTION

book commanded anything like such a readership, and they offer an unrivalled insight into the religious preoccupations of the people who used them, yet the Primers have been virtually ignored by religious historians. Taking these Primers as a basic source, in these chapters I analyse the modes, methods, and matter of lay prayer, and the beliefs which underlay it. The range of material used by lay people in these books was enormous, from the liturgical prayers of the Little Hours of the Virgin or the Office of the Dead, to bizarre and apparently magical incantations based on the names of God. They therefore pose in an acute form the question of the relation between orthodox Christianity and magic in the religion of the late medieval laity. It is my contention that this "magical" dimension of late medieval religion can best be understood in the context of the official liturgy, from which it borrowed most of its rhetoric and ritual strategies: in this perspective it represents not superstition, a largely meaningless pejorative terns, but lay Christianity.

The fourth and final section of part I, "Now, and at the Hour of our Death", deals with late medieval belief about death and the world beyond death. There is a case for saying that t{e defining doctrine of late medieval Catholicism was Purgatory. These two chapters seek to set that belief in context, to explore late medieval thinking about death and judgement, to examine the deathbed ministry of the Church, to analyse the imagery and institutions in which the doctrine of Purgatory was articulated. But I also suggest that the cult of the dead, so central in the pieties of every late medieval Catholic, was also in an important and often overlooked sense a cult of the living, a way of articulating convictions about the extent and ordering of the human community, and hence of what it was to be human. In this perspective, the Reformation attack on the cult of the dead was more than a polemic against a "false" metaphysical belief: it was an attempt to redefine the boundaries of human community, and, in an act of exorcism, to limit the claims of the past, and the people of the past, on the people of the present.

CHAPTER 1
SEASONS AND SIGNS: THE
LITURGICAL YEAR

Any study of late medieval religion must begin with the liturgy, for within that great seasonal cycle of fast and festival, of ritual ob­servance and symbolic gesture, lay Christians found the paradigms and the stories which shaped their perception of the world and their place in it. Within the liturgy birth, copulation, and death, journeying and homecoming, guilt and forgiveness, the blessing of homely things and the call to pass beyond them were all located, tested, and sanctioned. In the liturgy and in the sacramental celebra­tions which were its central moments, medieval people found the key to the meaning and purpose of their lives.

For the late medieval laity, the liturgy functioned at a variety of levels, offering spectacle, instruction, and a communal context for the affective piety which sought even in the formalized action of the Mass and its attendant ceremonies a stimulus to individual devotion. Ecclesiastical law and the vigilance of bishop, arch-deacon, and parson sought to ensure as a minimum regular and sober attendance at matins, Mass, and evensong on Sundays and feasts, and annual confession and communion at Easter. But the laity expected and gave far more in the way of involvement with the action and symbolism of the liturgy than those minimum requirements suggest.

It is widely recognized, for example, that the liturgy's ritual structures provided a means of ordering and perhaps also of negotiating social relations. The etiquette of liturgical precedence in the late Middle Ages reflected deep-seated anxieties about order and influence within the "secular" reality of the community. Mervyn James has written eloquently of the way in which the Corpus Christi procession in late medieval communities "became the point of reference in relation to which the structure of precedence and authority in the town is made visually present". This was the "social miracle", the sacramental embodiment of social reality. But it was often, perhaps always, a precarious and difficult process, an attempt to tame and contain disorder, or to impose the hegemony


12 LITURGY, LEARNING, AND THE LAITY SEASONS AND SIGNS 13
of particular groups, rather than the straightforward expression of the inner harmonies of a community at peace with itself. Bloody riots broke out during the Chester Corpus Christi procession in 1399, and an ordinance, made at Newcastle in 1536 but referring to earlier events, spoke of regulating the procession "in avoideing of dissencion and discord that bath been among the Crafts of the .. . Towne as of man slaughter and murder and other mischiefs . . . and to induce love charity peace and right".'

What was true of the social complexities of the great towns was true also for individuals and for villages, where the passion for one's own proper "worship" was just as highly developed. The Wife of Bath's determination that


In al the parisshc wif ne was ther noon

That to the offrynge bifore hire sholde goon


is well-known and, as we shall see, far from singular.' Mere participation in ceremony, therefore, was no infallible indicator of either individual piety or social harmony. As the village or urban community's most usual gathering-place, the church and the ceremonies conducted there certainly had many functions not envisaged by the rubrics. Young men went to church to survey the young women, and a neighbour attempted the seduction of Margery Kempe as they both went in to evensong on the patronal festival of their parish church. Margery's is our only account of such an encounter by a participant, but the situation was evidently sufficiently common to provide the material for a number of ribald carols:
As I went on Yol I)ay in our procession,

Knew I joly Jankin by his mery ton.



Kyrieleison.

Jankin at the Sanctus craked a tuerie note,

And yet me thinketh it dos nie good, — I payed for his coat. Kyrieleison.

Jankin at the Agmis bored the pax-brode;

He twinkled, but said rout, and on min fot he trede

Kyrieleison

Benedicamus Domino, Crist fro schame nie shilde.

Mervyn James, "Rimai, Drama and the Social Body" Past and Present, XCVIII, 1983, p. 5: John Bossy, Christianity in the West 1400-1700, 1985, pp. 57-72, and "The Mass as a Social Institution", Past and Present, C, 1983, pp. 29—61; Alan Nelson, The Medieval English Stage, 1974, p. 13; M. Rubin, Corpus Christi, 1991, pp. 266-70.



2 Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, lines 449—50; sec below, chapter 3, "The Mass" pp. 126-9.

Deo Gracias, therto — alas, I go with childe! Kyrieleison.3

Some days, like St Agnes's Eve, were less noted for their religious observances than for the rituals by which young women sought to discover the identity of their future sweethearts.4 And there were in the parish calendar days which hardly seem religious at all. The hock ceremonies, held on the Monday and Tuesday of the second week of Easter, when bands of men and women held travellers of the opposite sex to ransom for fines, are a case in point, but they received some sort of sanction by being used to augment church funds. The plough ceremonies, held on the first working day after Christmas, were fertility rites, when the young men of the village harnessed themselves to a plough which they dragged round the parish, ploughing up the ground before the door of any household which refused to pay a token. Once again, these patently pagan observances were absorbed into the religious calendar: many churches had a "plough-light", perhaps burning before the Sacrament or the Rood. At Cawston in Norfolk the magnificently carved beam of the plough gallery survives, with its fertility prayer and its final pun on the fund-raising plough ales or festivals:

God spede the plow

And send us all corne enow

our purpose for to mak

at crow of cok of the plowlete of Sygate Be mery and glade

Wat Goodale this work mad.s

There were, too, a number of feast-days which had a clear, Christian, religious rationale, but which had absorbed round them ludic and parodying observances which were always problematic for the sternly orthodox. The boy-bishop celebrations associated with St Nicholas's day on 6 December, and similar celebrations in which children carried out episcopal or priestly functions and exercised rule over their seniors, associated with the feasts of St Katherine, St Clement, and the Holy Innocents, are a case in point. A perfectly good Christian justification could be offered for these popular observances, however close to the bone their elements of parody and misrule brought them: Christ's utterances about children

Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe, cd. S. 13. Meech and H. E. Allen, EETS, 1940, p. 14; M. S. Luria and R. L. Hoffman, Middle English Lyrics, 1974, no. 86, and see also nos 85, 87.

J. Brand, Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, ed. H. Carew Hazlitt, 1870, I pp. 19-20, 103-7.

5 N. Pevsner, Buildings of England: North-East Norfolk and Norwich, 1962, p. 112.


14 LITURGY, LEARNING, AND THE LAITY SEASONS AND SIGNS 15


and the Kingdom of Heaven, Isaiah's prophecy that a little child shall lead them, and the theme of inversion and the world turned upside-down found in texts like the "Magnificat" could all be invoked in their defence. Equally clearly, more explosive, more complex, and less pious social tensions were at work here, in a society in which age and authority could bear heavily on the young. 6

The relation of the Christian calendar to turning-points of the seasons — Christmas and the winter solstice, Easter and spring — meant also that many observances associated with the religious feast served to articulate instincts and energies which were not exclusively Christian, however readily they could be accom­modated within a Christian framework. The dances and games with balls and eggs and flowers played in many communities at Easter, sometimes in the church itself, are a case in point, for they are clearly related to the spring theme of fertility, but perhaps the clearest examples are the battles, staged all over Europe, be­tween the flesh and the spirit, Christmas and Lent, on Shrove Tuesday.' One such battle was enacted in Norwich in January 1443, when John Gladman (aptly named) disguised himself as King of Christmas, and rode crowned round the city on a horse decked out in tinfoil, preceded by a pageant of the months "disguysed as the seson requiryd" and with Lent (March) clad in "whyte and red heryngs skinns and his hors trappyd with oystershells after him, in token that sadnesse shuld folowe and an holy tyme". This masking was perhaps not as innocent as it was subsequently made out to be: for one thing, it came a month too early, and riots ensued, in which deep-seated and long-standing resentments against the authority over the city of the bishop and priory of Norwich found vent. The church authorities were convinced that the masking was no laughing matter, and that Gladman was the leader of an insurrec­tion. The details need not concern us, for, whatever his motives, Gladman was clearly able to call on a vocabulary derived from the ritual calendar, in which secular and sacred themes, the polarities of fast and feast and downright misrule, were difficult to disentangle.'

" On the boy-bishop celebrations sec Brand, Antiquities, I pp. 232—40; R. L. dc Molen, "Pueri Christi Imitatio: the Festival of the Boy Bishop in Tudor England", Moreana, X1, 1975, pp. 17—29; S. E. Rigold, "The St Nicholas Tokens or `Boy Bishop' tokens", Pro­ceedings of the Suffalk Institute of Archaeology, XXXIV/2, 1978, pp. 87—101.

Brand, Antiquities, I pp. 28—57; E. O. James, Seasonal Feasts and Festivals, 1961, pp. 225—7, 232—4, 237—8.

" Brand, Antiquities, I pp. 38—9; N. Tanner, The Church in Late Medieval Norwich, 1984, pp. 146—52; more generally, P. Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, 1978, pp. 178—243.

Yet while acknowledging the secular functions, respectable or otherwise, of liturgy and liturgical time in late medieval England, it is impossible not to be struck also, and more forcibly, by the abundant evidence of the internalization of its specifically religious themes and patterns and their devotional elaboration in lay piety. This aspect of late medieval devotion is perhaps most familiar to the twentieth century in connection with Christmas, particularly in the enormous richness of the late medieval carol tradition, designed for convivial use yet pervasively indebted to liturgical hymnody: the constant allusive use in carols of Latin tags and whole lines from the hymns and proses of the Offices and Masses of Advent and the Christmas season argues a widespread lay familiarity with those parts of the liturgy. Less obviously, the same familiarity is pre-supposed in the highly compressed liturgical framework of refer­ence which underlies apparently simple vernacular nativity poems like "I sing of a maiden" and "Adam lay abounden".9 But the centrality of the liturgy in lay religious consciousness was not confined to Christmas, and even more dramatic if less familiar evidence may be found in a connection with other festivals. Mini Rubin has explored one such, the feast of Corpus Christi." I shall consider here two rather different feasts, Candlemas and Holy Week.

Candlemas, the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary or, alternatively, of the Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple, was celebrated forty days after Christmas, on 2 February, and constituted the last great festival of the Christmas cycle. The texts prescribed for the feast in breviary and missal emphasize the Christmas paradoxes of the strength of the eternal God displayed in the fragility of the new-born child, of the appearance of the divine light in the darkness of human sin, of renewal and rebirth in the dead time of the year, and of the new life of Heaven manifested to Simeon's, and the world's, old age." Celebrated as a "Greater Double" — that is, of lesser solemnity only than the supreme feasts such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, but of equal status to Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, and All Saints — its importance in the popular mind is reflected in the fact that it was one of the days on which, according to the legend of St Brendan, Judas was allowed

' The Early English Carol, ed. R. L. Greene, 2nd ed. 1977, pp. Ixxxi—cix; for "I sing of a maiden" see the essays in Luria and Hoffman, Middle English Lyrics, pp. 325—49. 1" Rubin, Corpus Christi, passim.



Missale ad Usum Insignis et Praeclarae Ecclesiae Sarum, ed. F. H. Dickinson, 1861—83, cols 696—706; Breviarium ad Usum Insignis Ecclesiae Sarum, ed. F. Proctor and C. Wordsworth, 1882—6, III cols 131—48.


16 LITURGY, LEARNING, ANI) THE LAITY SEASONS AN]) SIGNS 1 /


o ut of Hell to ease his torment in the sea.12 The Purification was marked by one of the most elaborate processions of the liturgical year, when every parishioner was obliged to join in, carrying a blessed candle, which was offered, together with a penny, to the priest at Mass. The candles so offered were part of the laity's parochial dues, and were probably often burned before the principal image of the Virgin in the church.' 3 An account survives from fourteenth-century Friesthorpe in Lincolnshire of a row between the rector and his parish because on the day after Candlemas "maliciously and against the will of the parishioners" he took down and carried off all the candles which the previous day had been set before the Image of the Blessed Virgin, "for devotion and penance".14 The blessing of candles and procession took place im­mediately before the parish Mass, and, in addition to the candles offered to the priest, many others were blessed, including the great Paschal candle used in the ceremonies for the blessing of the baptismal water at Easter and Pentecost. The people then processed round the church carrying lighted candles, and the "Nunc I)imittis" was sung. Mass began immediately afterwards with the singing of verses from Psalm 47, "We have received your mercy, O God, in the midst of your temple.''

The imaginative power of all this for the laity is readily under-stood, for the texts of the ceremony are eloquent evocations of the universal symbolism of light, life, and renewal, themes which were carefully expounded in Candlemas sermons. ' But there was more to the appeal of Candlemas than mere symbolism, however eloquent. The first of the five prayers of blessing in the ritual for Candlemas unequivocally attributes apotropaic power to the blessed wax, asking that "wherever it shall he lit or set up, the devil may flee away in fear and trembling with all his ministers, out of those dwellings, and never presume again to disquiet your servants".I' Here, undoubtedly, lay one of the principal keys to the imaginative power of Candlemas over lay minds. The people took blessed candles away from the ceremony, to be lit during thunderstorms or

" Mirk'a Festial: a Collection of Homilies by lohamrcs Mirkus, cd. 'I. Erbe, ELLS, 1905, p. 80.

Though not always: the Candlemas wax offering at Spelsbury in Oxfordshire was burned before the Trinity. Seel Cox, Churchwardens' Accounts, 1913, p. 164.



'4 I). M. Owen, Church and Society in Medieval Lincolnshire, Lincoln Record Society, 1971, p. 111. This seems also to he the reason Mr the third exemplum given by Mirk in his Candlemas sermon, a conventional story of a wicked woman saved from Hell by the fact that, despite her evil ways, she had maintained a candle before the image of the Virgin in a church; there is no other link with the Candlemas feast.

s Missale, cols 696-703.

'`' Speculum Sacerdotale, ed. E. H. Weatherly, EETS, 1935, pp. 24—9.

'7 Missale, col. 697.

in times of sickness, and to be placed in the hands of the dying.

Whose candelle burneth cleere and bright, a wondrous force and might ,

lloth in these candelles lie, which, if at any time they light, They sure believe that neither storm nor tempest dare abide, Nor thunder in the skie be heard, nor any divil spide,

Nor fearfull sprites that walk by night, nor hurt by frost and

haile.'s


The Tudor jest-book, A Hundred Merry Tales, tells the story of John Adoyne, a Suffolk man who unwittingly terrifies his neigh­bours by wandering around the town in his demon's costume after a local religious play. The squire, on being told that the devil is at his door, "marvelously abashed called up his chaplain and made the holy candle to be lighted and gat holy water" to conjure him away.19 The beliefs suggested in the jest were no laughing matter. The Golden Legend has a story of a devout woman who, unable to attend the Candlemas celebrations at her local church, was granted a dream vision of a heavenly celebration of the Candlemas liturgy, in which Christ was the priest, assisted by the deacon saints Laurence and Vincent, while a company of virgins sang the Candlemas antiphons. The Blessed Virgin herself led the procession and offered a candle. Angels gave the dreamer a candle to offer in her turn to the priest, according to custom, but she refused to part with so great a relic: the angel tried to wrest it from her grip, and she awoke to find the broken stump in her hand (Pl. 1). This piece of holy candle was henceforth reverenced as a "a grete jewel, tresoure and a relyck", so that "alle the seke whomever it touchid afterward were there-through hole delyvered". This story, almost invariably included in Candlemas sermons and vividly illustrated at Eton and in the Winchester Cathedral Lady Chapel series of frescos of the miracles of the Virgin, was clearly designed to impress on congregations the solemnity and importance of the Candlemas observances, and the rewards of devotion to the Virgin. But the celestial candle-stump must also have provided a paradigm for lay perception of the holiness and power of the candles, the "highly prized sacramental" which they took away from the ceremony.'' Not surprisingly, the distribution of these holy candles, and the

Bartabe Googe, quoted in R. T. Hampson, Medii Aevi Kalendarium, 1 n.d., p. 156. ''' A Hundred Merry Tales, cd. P. M. Zall, 1963, p. 69.

'" The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints as bnglished by William Caxton, ed. F. S. Ellis, 1900, III pp. 25—6; Festial 60—1: Speculum Sacerdotale, pp. 28—9; L. Eisenhofer, The Liturgy of the Roman Rite, 1961, p. 228; M. R. James and E. W. Tristram, "The Wall-Paintings in Eton Chapel and the Lady chapel of Winchester Cathedral", Walpole Society, XVII, 1929, pp. 1-44.


18 LITURGY, LEARNING, ANT) THE LAITY SEASONS ANI) SIGNS 19


e mpowerment of lay people against hostile and evil forces which they represented, tended to override every other aspect of the feast in popular consciousness, so much so that the clergy might make a point of distinguishing between popular usage and the official character of the feast — "this day is callyd of many men Candylmasse. But that is of non auctorite, but of custom of folke."' This clerical suspicion of "custom of folk" is understand-able, since according to the author of Dives and Pauper the laity were capable of diverting such sacramentals to nefarious ends: witches were known to drop wax from the holy candle into the footprints of those they hated, causing their feet to rot off."

Of course none of the scriptural passages associated with the Feast of the Purification makes any mention of candles. The imagery of light in the ceremonies was derived from Simeon's song, in which the child Jesus is hailed as "a light to lighten the Gentiles". The Golden Legend made it clear that the processional candles on the feast were carried to represent Jesus, and underlined the point with an elaborate exposition of the significance of wax, wick, and flame as representing Jesus' body, soul, and godhead, an exposition invariably taken over into Candlemas sermons.23 In lay conscious­ness, however, the annual procession with candles, far from remaining a secondary symbolic feature, invaded and transformed the scriptural scene. In late medieval paintings of the Purification like the Weston Diptych, in the Order of St John Museum, St John's Gate, London, the setting is clearly a parish church and the scriptural figures, including the child Jesus Himself, carry candles, like good fifteenth-century parishioners, as they do iii the Purification scene in the window at East Marling (PI. 2). Similarly, in the Chester Purification play Mary offers the scriptural doves, but Joseph declares to Simeon

A signe I offer here allsoc

of virgin waxe, as other moo,

in tokeninge shee hase lived oo

in full devotion.24

Mary and Joseph and Anne made a "worshipful processioun" to the Temple with the Child, according to the Candlemas sermon in the Speculum Sacerdotale, a phrase which reveals the extent to which popular liturgical observances had come to shape perceptions of the scriptural event which they commemorated."

' Speculum Sacerdotale, p. 25.



22 Dives and Pauper, ed. P. H. Barnum, SETS, 1976, I pp. 162-3.

23 Golden Legend, III p. 23; Festial, p. 60; Speculum Sacerdotale, p. 28.



24 The Chester Mystery Cycle, ed. R. M. Lumiansku and I). Mills, SETS, 1972, I p. 209.

25 Speculum Sacerdotale, p. 28.

The Candlemas ceremonies help to emphasize a distinctive feature of late medieval liturgy, one which brings it close to the practice of private meditation. This tradition, embodied in such works as the Meditationes Vitae Christi, stressed the spiritual value of vivid mental imagining of the events of the life of Christ, especially his Passion, to "make hym-selfe present in his thoghte as if he sawe fully with his bodyly eghe all the thyngys that be-fell abowte the crosse and the glorious passione of our Lorde Ihesu".'t' This search for spiritual communion with God through vivid picturing of the events of Christ's life and death was, of course, evolved as part of an individual and intensely inner spirituality. But it came to be applied to the liturgy itself, and to be seen as the ideal way of participating in the Church's worship. The pious lay person at Mass was urged to internalize by such meditation the external actions of the priest and ministers. The early sixteenth-century treatise Meditatynns for goostely exercyse, In the tyrne of the masse interprets the gestures and movements of the priest in terms of the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and urges the layman to "Call to your remembrance and Imprinte Inwardly In your hart by holy meditation, the holl processe of the passyon, frome the Mandy unto the poynt of crysts deeth. ''' The effect of this sort of guidance was to encourage the development of representational elements in the liturgy and to set the laity looking for these elements. The Candlemas procession and ceremonies, enacting the journey up to Jerusalem and Mary's offering in the Temple there, were ideally suited to such an understanding of the working of liturgy, and this was certainly an element in their popularity with lay people. Margery Kempe tells how at Candlemas
whan the sayd creatur be-held the pepil wyth her candelys in cherch, hir mentie was raveschyd in-to beholdyng of owr Lady offeryng hyr blisful Sone owrc Savyowr to the pi-cyst Simeon in the Tempyl, as verily to hir gostly undirstondyng as [if] sehe had he ther in hir bodily prescris.
This inner contemplation was so intense that, beholding it and
the hevynly songys that hir thowt sehe hard whan owr blisful Lord was offeryd up to Symcon that sehe myth ful evyl beryn up hir owyn candel to the preyst, as other folke dedyn at the

26 C. Horstmann (ed.), Yorkshire Writers, 1895, I. p. 198.



27 Tracts on the Mass, ed. J. Wickham Legg, Henry Bradshaw Society, XXVII, 1904, pp. 25-6, and see below pp. 118-23.

LI I l/KhY, LEAKNING, ANI) I HE LAI I Y

tyme of the offeryng, but went waveryng on eche syde as it had ben a drunkyn woman.28

Margery's response was characteristically extreme, but in essence her expectation of the liturgy was very much that of her neigh­bours, and there is no reason to think that the "hevynly songys" were anything other than the liturgical chants for the day, sung with all the splendour and resources which a great urban church like St Margaret's, Lynn, could command. The Candlemas cer­emonies were designed to summon up the scenes they commemor­ated, and the quest for the visionary vividness which made Margery unsteady on her feet lay behind the tendency in late medieval England to elaborate and make more explicit the representational and dramatic dimension of the liturgy.

There were limits to how far this process could be carried within the formal structure of the liturgy itself, so the Candlemas ceremonies generated para-liturgical and dramatic elaborations. The gild of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Beverley, founded in the 1350s, moved from liturgical re-enactment to dramatic impersonation. Each year on the morning of Candlemas the gild assembled at some place distant from the church. One of their number, "qui ad hoc aptior invenietur", nobly and decently dressed and adorned as the Queen of Heaven, carried a doll in her arms to represent the Christ child. Two other gild members dressed as Joseph and Simeon, and yet another two dressed as angels carried a candelabrum or hearse of twenty-four thick wax lights. Surrounded by other great lights, and to the accompaniment of "music and rejoicing", they processed to the church, the sisters of the gild immediately after the Blessed Virgin, followed by the brethren, two by two, each carrying a candle of half a pound weight. At the church, the Virgin was to offer her Son to Simeon at the high altar, and then the gild members, one by one, offered their candles and a penny apiece.

There is no explicit mention in the gild certificate of a Mass, but it is very unlikely that this would have taken place without one. The Beverley gild of St Helen, which mounted a similar costumed procession and tableau of the finding of the Holy Cross once a year, and whose gild certificate very closely resembles that of the Candlemas gild, made their offerings at a Mass: the presumption must be that the Candlemas tableau was part of a procession and Mass." But at any rate, what we have here is clearly an elaboration

" Book of Margery Kempe, p. 198.

'9 Candlemas gild certificates are printed in Karl Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church, 1933, II pp. 252—3; summarized, with that of St Helen's gild, in L. Toulmin-Smith, English Gilds, EETS, 1870, pp. 148—50.

OLI].nll`I.) .~.,. .~.~,~..~

and extension of the parochial Candlemas celebrations, encouraging an even deeper or more immediate sense of imaginative partici­pation in the biblical event by gild members than that offered by the prescribed liturgy. And the observances of other Candlemas gilds, even where they lacked the mimetic elements of the Beverley ceremony, must have served similarly to heighten and internalize the themes of the parochial liturgy. Margery Kempe's intense imagining of the scriptural scene may well be connected with the activities of the Candlemas gild which we know functioned in her parish church.'"

Nevertheless, it is the liturgical celebration which shaped and defined such gild observances, and the same centrality of the pattern of the liturgy is evident in a number of the surviving Corpus Christi plays of the Purification. In the East Anglian Ludus Coventriae play of the Purification, for example, Simeon receives the child Jesus with a speech which is simply a literal verse rendering of the opening psalm of the Mass of the feast. While he holds the child in his arms, a choir sings "Nunc Dimittis", almost certainly to the Candlemas processional music. Joseph distributes candles to Mary, Simeon, and Anna, and takes one himself. Having thus formed, in the words of the Speculum, a "worshipful processioun", they go together to the altar, where Mary lays the child, and Joseph offers the temple priest five pence. For the audience, the whole play would have been inescapably redolent of the familiar Candlemas liturgy, and in essence an extension of it.31

Deliberate evocation of the Candlemas liturgy is even more obvious in the Digby play of Candlemas, where, after Simeon has received the Child and expounded the "Nunc Dimittis", Anna the prophetess calls together a band of girls, and forms them up:


Ye pure Virgynes in that ye may or can, with tapers of wax loke ye come forth here and worship this child very god and man Offrid in this temple be his model- derc.
Simeon, as priest, takes charge

V. B. Redstone (cd.) "Chapels, Chantries and Gilds in Suffolk", Proceeditçgs of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology, XII, 1906, p. 25: this is a reference to the Candlemas gild at Bury St Edmunds, which processed to the Lady altar in St James's church on Candlemas. For the Lynn Candlemas gilds see H. F. Westlake, The Parish Gilds of Medieval England, 1919, nos 243—5, 280. For other Candlemas gilds see also nos 9 (Great St Mary's, Cambridge), 93 (Castor, Lincs.), 147 (in the church of St Benedict, Lincoln), 168, 169 (Spalding, Lincs.), 310 (Outwell, Norfolk), 337 (Upwell, Norfolk), 461 (unnamed, but in Yorkshire).



Ludus Coventriae or the Plaie Called Corpus Christi, ed. K. S. Block, EETS, 1922, pp. 167-9.


22 LI I URI, Y, LL"HKINIINh, A1N11 11-iL LAI 1 Y



SEASONS AND SIGNS 23
N ow, Mary, I shull tell you how I am purposed: to worshipe this lord / I will go procession; ffor I se anna,, with virgynes disposed,

mekly as nowe, to your sonys laudacion.32


Mary and Joseph agree and they all process in order "abought the tempill", the virgins singing "Nunc Dimittis", again almost certainly to the liturgical setting for the Candlemas liturgy. At the end of the procession Simeon preaches a little sermon, comparing the candle, wax, wick, and flame, to Christ's body, soul, and divinity. This is a homiletic commonplace, found in the Golden Legend and from there in Mirk's Candlemas sermon, and so a staple in Candlemas homilies in parish churches up and down the country. Anna then urges the maidens to follow her
... and shewe ye summe plesur as ye can,

In the worshipe of lesu, our lady, and seynt Anne.33


She then leads the company in a dance. This and the final dance of virgins to the accompaniment of minstrels, with which the play concludes, takes it beyond the scope of liturgy, but not perhaps worlds away from para-liturgical observances like those of the Beverley Candlemas Gild, which, the gild certificate states, were to conclude "cum gaudio". What is beyond argument, however, is that the spectrum of Candlemas observances evident in these sources testifies to a profound and widespread lay assimilation and deployment of the imagery, actions, and significance of the liturgy of the feast. And the introduction of a "folk" element into the Digby play, in the form of dances "in the worshipe of Iesu, our lady, and seynt Anne", serves to warn us against underestimating the links between liturgical observance and the "secular" celebratory and ludic dimensions of lay culture at the end of the Middle Ages. is

The Ceremonies of Holy Week

Holy Week, the period from Palm Sunday to Easter Day, con­stituted the heart of the late medieval Church's year, just as the Passion of Christ, solemnly commemorated then, lay at the heart of late medieval Christianity. The ceremonies of Holy Week were extremely elaborate, especially from the Wednesday onwards, when



32 The Digby Plays with an Incomplete Morality, ed. F. J. Furnivall, EETS, 18%, pp. 18—23.

33 Golden Legend, III p. 23; Festial, p. 60.

sa The "Anna" of the play is not Anna Propheta, but the Lord's grandmother, with whom she was sometimes identified. The Digby play was performed on 26 July 1512, the feast of St Anne.

each day had its distinctive ritual observances. But much of the ceremonial prescribed in the Sarum rite had by the fifteenth century long since lost its imaginative power for lay people. The Easter Vigil, for example, with its elaborate ceremony of light, even now one of the most striking and moving parts of Catholic liturgy, was not held in darkness but on the morning of Holy Saturday, in broad daylight, and appears to have attracted no lay interest whatever. Lay people did attend the Tenebrae services on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. These were celebrations of the divine Office during which candles were snuffed out one by one to symbolize the abandonment of Jesus by his disciples: the standard sermon collections include explanations of this striking ceremony.35 But to judge by lay sources of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the aspects of Holy Week which consistently seemed to matter to parishioners were the Palm Sunday procession, the veneration or "creeping to the cross" on Good Friday, the observances associated with the Easter sepulchre, and of course the annual reception of communion — "taking one's rights" — on Easter Sunday, an action which was necessarily preceded by going to confession. Confession and communion will be dealt with elsewhere, but an exploration of the other components of Holy Week observance will do much to flesh out our sense of the ways in which the laity appropriated and used the liturgy.

The Palm Sunday procession was by the end of the Middle Ages the most elaborate and eloquent of the processions of the Sarum rite, with the possible exception of the special case of Corpus Christi. The parish Mass began as usual with the blessing and sprinkling of holy water. Immediately that had been done the story of Christ's entry into Jerusalem and greeting by the crowds with palms was read from St John's Gospel. The priest then blessed flowers and green branches, which were called palms but were usually yew, box, or willow.36 The palms were distributed and clergy and people processed out of the church, led by a painted wooden cross without a figure. The procession moved to a large cross erected in the churchyard, normally on the north side of the building at its east end, the choir singing a series of anthems recapitulating the biblical story of Palm Sunday (Pl. 3).

While the palms were being distributed a special shrine supported on two poles was prepared, into which the church's principal relics

" Festial, pp. 117—18; Speculum Sacerdotale, pp. 101—2.

° Missale, cols 253—7. The palms were intended, of course, for use in the procession, but were certainly taken hack to people's homes and put to apotropaic use; one of the benedictions prayed for the banishment of "adverse powers" wherever the palms were brought and blessings for the inhabitants of any such home.


GY L11 uKL~T, Lt.AKIVUVIs, AIV1) 1H6 LAI I Y

SEASONS ANI) SIGNS 25
w ere placed, along with the Blessed Sacrament to represent Christ. According to the rubrics, this shrine, carried by two clerks and sheltered by a silken canopy, was now brought in procession to join the parishioners and clergy at the churchyard Palm cross. By the end of the Middle Ages this aspect of the rite had been simplified in many places, the Host being carried instead in a monstrance by a single priest. In the meantime the story of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem from Matthew's Gospel was read to the parishioners in the churchyard. The procession with the Blessed Sacrament now approached the parochial procession gathered at the Cross, and, according to the ritual, three clerks wearing surplices and plain choir copes sang an anthem, "Behold, O Sion, thy king cometh", after which clergy and choir venerated the Sacrament by kneeling and kissing the ground before it. In popular English practice this part of the ritual was elaborated, the singers of the anthem being costumed as Old Testament prophets with flowing wigs and false beards: payments "for hyering of the heres for the p[rolfetys uppon Palme Sundaye" are a regular item of expense in many surviving sets of churchwardens' accounts.37 At Long Melford in Suffolk the part of the prophet was played by "a boy with a thing in his hand", a wand or staff of some sort or possibly a scroll, who stood on the turret over the Rood-loft stairs, on the outside of the Clopton aisle on the north side of Melford church, and pointed to the Sacrament while the "Ecce Rex Tuus" was sung. 3s The two processions then merged, and a series of invocations to the Host were sung:

Hail, thou whom the people of the Hebrews bear witness to as Jesus .. .

Hail, light of the world, king of kings, glory of heaven

Hail, our salvation, our true peace, our redemption, our strength .. .

During the singing the procession moved round the east end of the church to the south side, where a high scaffold had been erected (Pl. 4). Seven boys stood on this scaffold and greeted the Host with the hymn "Gloria, Laus et honor" ("All glory, laud and honour to Thee, Redeemer King"). In a further elaboration of the prescribed ritual, flowers and unconsecrated Mass-wafers ("obols" or "singing-cakes") were usually strewn before the Sacrament from this

37 H. J. Feasey, Ancient English Holy Week Ceremonial, 1893, pp. 75—6; J. C. Cox, Churchwardens' Accounts, 1913, pp. 254—5.

Sir W. Parker, The History of Long Melford, 1873, p. 72: for the reduction of the rite by the replacement of shrine by a monstrance (probably in the interests of visibility, and in parishes where there was only one priest) sec R. Pecock, The Repressor of Over Much Blaming of the Clergy, ed. C. Babington, 1860, I. p. 203.

scaffolding, to be scrambled for by the children. At Long Melford they were "cast over among the boys". There is no doubting the attraction of this picturesque feature of the Palm Sunday ceremonies to lay people, or its dramatic potential, and the singing of the hymn "Gloria, Laus" and scattering of flowers before the pro-cession were adopted wholesale in the "N-Town" play of the Entry into Jerusalem.'

The procession then moved to the west door, where the clerks carrying the Sacrament in its shrine stood on either side of the door and raised the poles above their heads. In many parishes the priest elaborated the prescribed ceremony at this point by taking the processional cross and striking the door with its foot, symbolically demanding entry for Christ, a gesture interpreted as representing Christ's harrowing of Hell, after bursting the gates of death. For some reason this gesture was expressly forbidden by the rubricists, but it was clearly widespread and evidently spoke to many parishioners: Margery Kempe comments specifically on its de­votional effect on her. `'II The clergy and people entered the church, passing under the shrine with the Sacrament, and then the whole procession moved to its culminating point before the Rood-screen. All through Lent a great painted veil had been suspended in front of the Crucifix (Pl. 5) on the Rood-screen. This veil was now drawn up on pulleys, the whole parish knelt, and the anthem "Ave Rex Noster" was sung, while the clergy venerated the cross by kissing the ground:

Hail, our King, Son of David, Redeemer of the World, whom the prophets proclaimed the saviour of the house of Israel who is to come. You indeed are the saving victim whom the Father has sent into the world, for whom the saints have waited from the beginning of the world. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.41

Mass then began, but at the Gospel there was a final, striking deviation from the normal Sunday liturgy. The whole of the Passion story from St Matthew's Gospel was sung, by three clerks in churches which had the resources, the words of Jesus in a bass

;'' Cox, Churchwardens' Accounts, loc. cit.; l.udus Coventriae, p. 241.

4° For official disapproval sec Clement Maydeston, " Crede Michi" in Tracts of Clement Maydeston with the Remains of Caxton's Ordinale, ed. C. Wordsworth, Henry Bradshaw Society, VII, 1894, pp. 50—1; for the actual practice see The Book of Margery Kempe, pp. 186—7, and J. Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials, 1822, III part 2, p. 392; for similar observances in Germany, but associated there with Easter Sunday, see R. W. Scribner, Popular Culture and Popular Movements in Reformation Germany, 1987, p. 27.

4I Missale, col. 260.


26 LITURGY, LEARNING, AND THE LAITY SEASONS AND SIGNS 27


r egister, the narrator in a tenor one, and the words of the crowd in an alto. It was widely believed that crosses made during this reading of the Passion narrative had apotropaic powers, and many people brought sticks and string to church on Palm Sunday to be made up into crosses, a dimension of popular participation in the ritual which became a particular target of reformed criticism. Less controversially, in many parishes the reading of the Gospel was elaborated in the interests of dramatic effect and it was often sung by clerks standing in the Rood-loft itself, at the foot of the Crucifix which the whole parish had just venerated. With regional variations, this highly dramatic ritual was enacted all over late medieval Europe, but the English versions had a number of dis­tinctive features, of which the most important was the use of the Blessed Sacrament to represent Christ. In many parts of Europe the presence of Christ was symbolized by a cross or a Gospel book, in Germany usually by a life-sized wooden carving of Christ on a donkey, which ran on wheels, the Palmesel.42

The Palmesel was an obvious manifestation of a feature of late medieval worship we have already noticed in connection with the Candlemas rituals, the tendency to turn liturgy into "sacred per­formance". The use of the Sacrament in English Palm Sunday ceremonies was at once more and less dramatic than the represen­tational realism evident in the Palmesel, which looked like Jesus and directly represented the ride into Jerusalem. The Blessed Sacrament did not look like Jesus, but, far more vividly, was Jesus, body, blood, soul, and divinity, taking part in the communal re-enactment of his entry into the city not by a wooden proxy, but with all the overwhelming reality which late medieval believers attributed to the Host.

The Host was rarely carried iii procession outside the church: the other festival on which this was done, Corpus Christi, was conceived and presented in late medieval communities as a cel­ebration of the corporate life of the body social, created and ordered by the presence of the Body of Christ among them. The Palm Sunday procession, from which much of the Corpus Christi ritual was derived, was also a celebration of the redeeming presence of the divine within the community, made visible and concrete as the Host was carried around the churchyard, surrounded by the entire parish. The York play of the entry into Jerusalem catches this dimension of the Palm Sunday celebrations particularly clearly,

" Scribner, Popular Culture, pp. 25—6; L. Eisenhofer, The Liturgy of the Roman Rite, 1961, pp. 186—7; Terence Bailey, The Processions of the Sarum Rite and the Western Church, 1971, pp. 116—17.

when eight citizens of Jerusalem greet Christ in a series of invoca­tions which are highly reminiscent of, and probably modelled on, the "Ave" invocations of the Palm Sunday procession

Hayll conqueror, hayll most of myght, Hayle rawnsoner of synfull all,

Hayll pytefull, hayll lovely light,

Hayll to us welcome be schall,

Hayll kyng of Jues.

Hayll comely corse that we the call

With mirthe that newes.

Hayll domysman dredful, that all schall deme, Hayll that all quyk and dede schall lowte, Hayll whom our worscippe most will seme Hayll whom all thyng schall drede and dowte. We welcome the,

Hayll and welcome of all abowte

To owre cete.43

The similarity of these invocations to the prayers used by the laity at the elevation at Mass is very striking. The dramatic Christ of the play has been subsumed into the Eucharistic Christ. The play's "Burghers of Jerusalem" are patently citizens of York, welcoming the presence of Christ among them, like the four yeomen who carried the canopy over the Sacrament on Palm Sunday at Long Melford, instead of the solitary clerk stipulated in the rubrics. It was precisely this entry into "owre cote" of Christ, ransomer and doomsman, in the form of the "comely corse" (Pl. 6), Corpus Christi, surrounded by "al the pepil", that the parish liturgy of Palm Sunday celebrated. As the Ludus Coventriae play of the entry has it, "Neyborys gret joye in our herte we may make that this hefly kyng wole vycyte this cyte. '

44

Palm Sunday was emphatically a celebration of the saving work of Christ: the cross and the miracle of the Mass which perpetuated the effects of the cross within the community lay at its centre. But the last days of Holy Week, from Maundy Thursday to Easter lay, formed a distinctive unit by themselves. They were packed with striking ceremonial and charged with intense religious emotion,



'' R. Beadle (cd.) The York Plays, 1982, p. 219.

°a Cf. Chester Mystery Cycle, p. 258; Ludus Coventriae, p. 240; Parker, History of Long Mel/ard, p. 72. It is notable that Roger Martin's account of the liturgical year at Long Melford focuses on processions and other communal forms of celebration, and moves straight from Palm Sunday to Corpus Christi. In The Book of Margery Kempe, p. 187, the communal language and emphasis on "the pepil" in Margery's account of the Holy Week liturgy is also striking.


28 LITURGY, LEARNING, ANI) '1 HE LAITY

SEASONS ANI) SIGNS 29
for the ceremonies and texts of these days gathered up and gave eloquent expression to all the major themes of late medieval piety. There can be no question of the importance of these ceremonies for lay people, an importance reflected in the extended Holy Week meditation which forms chapters 78—81 of The Book of Margery Kernpe.45 It is not perhaps surprising to find an aspirant to sanctity like Margery interested in these solemn ceremonies, but their wider appeal was grudgingly acknowledged by John Mirk, in his Festial. In addition to the model sermons for each of the major days of Holy Week, Mirk provided a compendium of ritual notes for unlearned clergy unable to make "a graythe answer" to the eager questions put to them by parishioners anxious to make sense of the unusually rich ceremonial of the season. Mirk, writing at a time of anxiety about the spread of Lollardy, chose to interpret such questioning as springing from a desire to expose the ignorance of the clergy, but there was no denying the phenomenon. "Lewde men," he complained, "wheche buthe of many wordys and proude in hor wit" will insist on asking priests questions "of thynges that towchen to servyce of holy chyrche, and namly of thys tynle".4t'

The Easter Triduum began with Maundy Thursday, when Mass was celebrated with extra solemnity, the priest consecrating three Hosts, one for his communion at the Mass, one for his communion at the Good Friday liturgy, and the third to be used in the sepulchre ceremonies. After Mass the altars of the church were ritually stripped of all their coverings and ornaments, while a series of responsories from the Passion narratives and the prophets were sung. As each altar was stripped the priest intoned a collect of the saint to whom it was dedicated. Each of the altars then had water and wine poured on it and was washed, using a broom of sharp twigs.47 Every detail of this vivid ceremony was allegorized in popular preaching — the stripping of the altars was the stripping of Jesus for death, the water and wine were the water and blood from his side, the broom of twigs the scourges or the crown of thorns.' In cathedrals, religious houses, and great churches this ceremony was followed immediately by the Maundy, or solemn washing of feet, in imitation of Christ in the account of the last supper in St John's Gospel. To judge by the silence on this subject of surviving Holy Week parish serinons explaining the ritual, this foot-washing was omitted in many parish churches. In Mirk's compendium of information on the ceremonies of Holy Week the scriptural foot 



n Book of Margery Kempe, pp. 184-97.

Festial, pp. 124-9.

^' Missale, cols 308-11. 4ri Festial, pp. 125-7.

washing is mentioned, but he is more directly concerned to explain a feature of the ceremonies of the day which would have impinged directly on lay liturgy, the absence of the pax from the Maundy Mass, "for Iudas betrayd Crist thys nyght wyth a cosse".4'

Good Friday in the late Middle Ages was a day of deepest mourning. No Mass was celebrated, and the main liturgical cel­ebration of the day was a solemn and penitential commemoration of the Passion. The whole of the narrative from St John's Gospel was read, with a small dramatic embellishment: at the words "They parted my garments among them" the clerks parted and removed two linen cloths which had been specially placed for the purpose on the otherwise bare altar. After the Gospel there was a series of solemn prayers for the world and the Church. A veiled Crucifix was then brought into the church, while the "Improperia" or "Reproaches" were sung, a series of scriptural verses contrasting the goodness of God and the ingratitude of his people. The cross was then unveiled in three stages, the priest singing, each time on a higher tone, "Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the saviour of the world. Come, let us worship."

Clergy and people then crept barefoot and on their knees to kiss the foot of the cross, held by two ministers. After the adoration of the cross, a Host consecrated at the previous day's Mass was brought, and the priest, having recited the Lord's Prayer, com­municated as if at Mass. The service concluded with the recitation of vespers without any music.'"

Creeping to the cross was one of the most frequent targets of Protestant reformers from the I 530s onwards, and there can be no doubt of the place it held in lay piety: well into the Elizabethan period Bishop Grindal would complain that on Good Friday "some certeyn persons go barefooted and barelegged to the churche, to creepe to the crosse."51 But the most imaginatively compelling of the Good Friday ceremonies, though associated with the cross, came after the solemn liturgy had ended. This was the custom of the "burial" of Christ in the Easter sepulchre, an observance which left a deep mark not only in the minds of medieval English men and women but in the very structure of many parish churches. At the end of the liturgy of Good Friday, the priest put off his Mass vestments and, barefoot and wearing his surplice, brought the third Host consecrated the day before, in a pyx. The pyx and the Cross which had been kissed by the people during the liturgy were

s'' Festial, p. 126.

5o Missale, cols 316-33.

si Brand, Antiquities, I. p. 86.


30 LITURGY, LEARNING, AND THE LAITY SEASONS AND SIGNS 31
wrapped in linen cloths and taken to the north side of the chancel, where a sepulchre had been prepared for them. This was normally a timber frame, probably the shape and size of the "hearse" which, covered with a pall, formed the focus of the normal obituary ceremonies at funerals and month's minds. Like those hearses, the sepulchre was covered with a rich cloth, often stained or embroidered with scenes from the Passion and a picture of the Resurrection, and candles burned before it. The Host and Crucifix were laid within it while the priest intoned the Psalm verse "I am counted as one of them that go down to the pit," and the sepulchre was censed. A watch was then kept before it continually till Easter. Since large numbers of candles needed tending during this period, and since the pyx in which the Sacrament was "buried" was usually extremely valuable, payments to parishioners or parochial officers like the sexton or clerk for maintaining this watch, and for "brede, ale and fyre" to see them through the chilly night hours are common in pre-Reformation churchwardens' accounts. Early on Easter Morning, before Mass was rung, the clergy assembled, all the lights in the church were lit, and a procession formed to the sepulchre, which was censed. The Host was removed without ceremonial to its normal position in the hanging pyx above the high altar. The Crucifix was then solemnly "raised" from the sepulchre and carried triumphantly round the church while all the bells were rung and the choir sang the anthem "Christus Resurgens".

Christ, rising again from the dead, dieth now no more. Death shall no more have dominion over him. For in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Now let the Jews declare how the soldiers who guarded the sepulchre lost the king when the stone was placed, wherefore they kept not the rock of righteousness. Let them either produce him buried, or adore him rising, saying with us, Alleluia, Alleluia.

The cross was placed on an altar on the north side of the church, and was once more venerated by people creeping towards it. In many places, especially cathedrals and the great town churches, growing devotion to the Host led to ritual development: the image used in this ceremony was often not a simple Crucifix, but an image of Christ which had a hollow space in the breast covered with a crystal in order to form a monstrance for the Host. The ceremony of creeping to the cross thereby became an act of solemn eucharistic worship. Matins and Mass were then sung, with a more than usually elaborate procession. Throughout the week the empty sepulchre remained a focus of devotion – candles burned before it during service time and it was solemnly censed at vespers each

evening, before being finally removed before Mass on the Friday in Easter week.52

The Easter sepulchre and its accompanying ceremonial constitute something of an interpretative crux for any proper understanding of late medieval English religion. The sepulchre was emphatically a central part of the official liturgy of Holy Week, designed to inculcate and give dramatic expression to orthodox teaching, not merely on the saving power of Christ's cross and Passion but on the doctrine of the Eucharist. With its abundance of lights and night watches it constituted an especially solemn form of public worship of the Host, in many communities far more elaborate even than the Corpus Christi procession. At the same time it had become by the fifteenth century an intense and genuinely popular focus for lay piety and devotional initiative. The complexity of the cluster of ideas and observances which gathered around the sepulchre in popular understanding and practice also suggests that we should not too hastily accept the widely held view of the theological imbalance of late medieval Christianity, where it sometimes seems that "piety is becoming fevered, and that Christ's humanitas has become synonymous with his passibility".5; Expressing to the full as it did the late medieval sense of the pathos of the Passion, the sepulchre and its ceremonies were also the principal vehicle for the Easter proclamation of Resurrection.

It is not difficult to establish the ubiquity of lay awareness of and interest in the Easter sepulchre. Since every church was obliged to provide one for the Holy Week and Easter ceremonies, expenses for the making, maintenance, lighting, and watching of the sepulchre feature in most surviving churchwardens' accounts.54 In most places it was a movable wooden frame, which was adorned with drapery and carved or painted panels. Such structures could be immensely elaborate. In the 1470s St Mary Radcliffe in Bristol acquired "a new sepulcre well gilt with golde", which had an image of the risen Christ, a model of Hell complete with thirteen devils, four sleeping soldiers armed with spears and axes, four painted angels with detachable timber wings, as well as representations of



s' Fcascy, Holy Week, pp. 168—9; E. K. Chambers, 'late Medieval State, 1903, II pp. 19—24; A. Heales, "Easter Spulchres: their Object, Nature and History", Archaeologia, XLI, 1869, pp. 263—308; V. Sekules, "The Tomb of Christ at Lincoln and the Development of the Sacrament Shrine: Easter Sepulchres Reconsidered" in British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions, VIII, 1982, pp. 118—31; P. Sheingorn, "The Sepulchrum Domini, a Study in art and Liturgy", Studies in Iconography, IV, 1978, pp. 37—61. Sekules considers that some of these sepulchres were used as Sacrament shrines for reservation all the year through.

53 J. A. W. Bennett, The Poetry of the Passion, 1982, p. 59; Bennett was characterizing a view he did not himself hold.



54 Cox, Churchwardens' Accounts, pp. 259—60; Feasey, Holy Week, pp. 158—63.


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