The stripping of the altars



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In each case, these votive Masses and Mass devotions represent the point of maximum influence of the laity over the Church's liturgy. it is of the nature of a votive Mass that it is celebrated on a particular occasion, for a specified need, and normally at the instigation of lay clients. Popular and official piety here join hands. The cult of the Five Wounds, had the Reformation not intervened, might well have passed from the status of a popular but voluntary devotion, to that of a feast, whose observance was binding on the whole of the English Church, as the closely related cult of the Holy Name did in the 1480s. The pious legends attached to these Masses were emphatically expressions of a popular religion often operat­ing at or outside the boundaries of formal orthodoxy, and they certainly originated in private usage. A late fifteenth-century version of the York missal owned by the Fitzwilliam family con­tained, attached to the Mass of St Anthony, a set of promises which do not seem to have become general, and which were decidedly more extravagant than any that found their way into print. The rubric guaranteed to all who said or heard the Mass, and fasted on bread and water, immunity that year from ill fortune, fuuine, dropsy, cancer, the spasm, leprosy, asthma, and unclean spirits, as well as the more usual guarantees of protection against misfortune by fire, water, tempest, and pestilence, and the prosperity of their goods." Stich promises bear all the marks of the quest for healing and victory over evil, deliverance from sudden and unprovided death, and the longing for assurance of salvation, so widely felt and



R. W. Pfaff, "The English Devotion of St Gregory's Trental", Speculum XLIX, 1974, pp. 75-90. On the Trental, sec below pp. 370-5.

" Dives and Pauper, cd. P. H. Barnum, SETS, 1976, II pp. 186-92, and sec below, chapter 10, "The Pains of Purgatory".

" York Missale, II pp. 233-4.

CHARMS, PARDONS, AND PROMISES 295

so clearly reflected in the Horae devotions we have been consider­ing. Since the Mass was the most powerful of all prayers and the source of all blessings, it is not surprising to find such longings attaching themselves to its celebration. The boundaries between private devotion and official religion were fluid, and the fact that legendary material so closely tailored to lay religious aspirations but so loosely grounded in orthodox theological teaching could find a lodging, and even some official countenance, in the missal itself is eloquent testimony to the freedom of movement between official and popular piety. Unlike the Horae, the missal was the Church's own book; the presence of such material there is the clearest demonstration one could have of the interpenetration of popu­lar and official piety at the end of the Middle Ages, and of the unwisdom of any attempt to drive a wedge between them.

And what is true for the mixture of official and unofficial religion is equally so of any attempted distinction between devout, reflec­tive, interior piety on one hand, and the cruder, materialistic, and wonder-seeking piety reflected in some of the legends and rubrics prefixed to the prayers of the Horae and private collections. In this area too, hard and fast distinctions are impossible to draw, a difficulty made clear in the history of the Passion devotion known as the "Revelation of the Hundred Paternosters".

This survives in a manuscript devotional book of the fifteenth century now in the British Library. The contents of this collection, a mixture of Latin and English, are absolutely standard and include many of the prayers we have been discussing, such as the "Adoro "i'e" and the prayer of St Bede. It also includes the usual crop of indulgences and supernatural promises attached to these devotions. The manuscript evidently originated from the sort of dévot circle associated with Syon, Sheen, and the Lady Margaret Beaufort. There is a slightly higher than average proportion of vernacular material in it, and it includes the Jesu Psalter, the long prayer of invocation of the iloly Name associated with Syon and found also in the prayer-book conunissioned by Lady Margaret for Thomas Stanley." The "Revelation of the Hundred Paternosters" itself is a Passion devotion in the form of an extended meditation on the seven blood-sheddings of Christ, from his Circumcision to the piercing of his side after his death by Longinus. The devotion divides the meditation into seven, for the days of the week and against the seven deadly sins. The devotee was to meditate each day on the appropriate scene of Christ's suffering, described in

F. Wormald, "The Revelation of the Hundred Paternosters: a Fifteenth-Century Meditation", Laudate, XV, 1936, pp. 165-82.

296 PRAYERS AND SPELLS CHARMS, PARDONS, AND PROMISES 297


prose which draws very directly on classic meditational sources, particularly Richard Rolle's Meditations on the Passion. He was then to recite a short prayer against one of the deadly sins, and say a hundred Paternosters.

This devotion is a very characteristic late medieval mixture of intense affective piety and mechanical repetition, but there can be no doubt of its essentially meditative character. The text emphasizes the need for recollection, charging the user "afore or thou begynne thys prayer gadre thy mynde & thy wyttes from all outeward thinges and besynnes as thou maist and thynk most on the sane thyng to the which thou shalt praye." The devotion originated among, or at least was taken up by, the English Carthusians, who played a crucial role in propagating serious inward religion in late medieval England. They were also key figures ila the transmission of both continental and earlier English devotional and spiritual writing. The élite and devotional credentials of the Hundred Paternosters are therefore impeccable. Yet the discussion of the benefits of the devotion which concludes the text once again con-fronts us with the disconcerting combination of spiritual and brutal materialist priorities which characterizes so much in the Horae devotions. The document describes how "in late dayes" not only one or two but "many persones" have used the devotion, and thereby proved for themselves "and felt hit by experience" that "In the love of god & all thinges to the belongiyng shall the bettre folowe & succede bodily & gostely.'''

TThe story told to illustrate this point gives a fascinating insight into the network by which such devotions spread among the laity. It describes how the instructions for the devotion were sent from the London Charterhouse to Mount Grace in Yorkshire. One of the monks there sent it in turn to a devout country parish priest. This priest copied out the devotion, and distributed it to various friends, "of whom ther was a good husband naon liarde of the grete vartu and grace of the farsaid prayers he used hit dayly as deuoutly as the coude". Shortly after this, a farm labourer beat one of the husbandman's oxen so severely that the beast lay on the ground, unable to rise or eat, over a whole weekend. All attempts at medica­tion failed, and the husbandman was at his wits end "for he was but a pore man". In desperation, he turned to the devotion of the Hundred Paternosters, "and used forthe the prayer aforsaid as deuoutly as he coude". The beast was duly discovered heartily eating and entirely well, and the grateful husbandman knew that "god had sauyd his oxe by the grace and vartu of the foresaid holy

"Revelation", pp. 1811-2.

prayers." And so, "withyn ii dayes after he cam to oure hous of Mountgrace & told me of all hys fortune in his mater and desired Right tenderly to have a copy in writing ... which copy I wrotte for hym and he caused others to do the same. "c' This is a fascinat­ing story for a whole range of reasons, not least because it allows us to see how an elaborate form of affective meditation on the Passion could pass from the monastic stillness of the Charterhouses, through the zeal of a devout parish priest associating himself with Carthusian piety, to a range of pious lay people, including the literate but poverty-stricken husbandman who is the central figure in the anecdote. The multiplication and distribution of copies of the devotion is initially a monastic initiative, but once the devotion begins to make its way among the laity, its partisans, like the grateful husbandman, seize the initiative and themselves procure and distribute copies. These are the processes behind the circulation of the multitude of prayers and devotions which fill so many late medieval manuscript collections, and which ultimately found their way into the Horae.

But in the present context, the particular interest of the story lies in the extraordinary mixture of high and low, spiritual and materialistic motivation underlying the use of the prayer. It is emphatically a form of affective, interior recollection, and is so used even by the husbandman at first. But in the face of calamity, he unhesitatingly turns to the devotion for a power which can heal his ox as readily as it edified his spirit. So much might be allowed to a simple man, "ignorant of symplesse". But his clerical mentors, even in the exalted atmosphere of the Charterhouse, see nothing amiss. Instead, the miracle is eagerly seized on as demonstration of what many had already experienced for themselves, that the prayer brought with it blessings, by virtue of which "all thynges to the belongyng shall the bettre succede bodily & gostily."

There is no clear divide between popular and élite piety here. We are firmly in the world in which prayers of the depth and quality of the "Fifteen ()es" can go unblushingly side-by-side with exotic promises and barefaced fantasy, a world in which the pragmatic instincts of even the devout led them to grope for financial and material equivalents for the things of the spirit. In the merchant community of King's Lynn, even a "worschepful clerk . . . a doctoure of divinite" might set a price on his devotional aspira­tions, telling Margery Kempe that he "had levyr than xx pound" have such a sorrow for the Passion as Margery Kempe had. In the same way, when a wife whose husband was ailing tried to persuade
67 The Book of Margery Kempe, pp. 164, 202.

298 PRAYERS AN1) SPELLS

Margery to stay and pray by his bedside, the conversation took on the character of marketplace haggling, the wife declaring that she would not "for xl s" that her husband died while Margery was away, and Margery replying that she would not stay at home even if "ye wolde yeve me an hundryd pownde"."



This is the world reflected in these Horae prayers and devotions, in which religion was a single but multifaceted and resonant sym­bolic house, within which rich and poor, simple and sophisticate could kneel side by side, using the same prayers and sharing the same hopes. That the Lady Margaret in her chapel, John Fisher at her elbow to guide and exhort her, had a fuller and more balanced grasp of Christian fundamentals than Robert Reynes, conjuring angels on his daughter's thumbnail in rural Norfolk, we need not doubt. But they did not have a different religion. Lady Margaret and her like did not live perpetually in the heights of a spiritualized and other-worldly Christianity, and the rural husbandman, seeking divine intervention in the face of the ruinous sickness of a beast, was not locked out from the comforts of interior affective devotion. Late medieval Catholicism was a broad Church.

' Book of Margery Ketape, pp. 164, 202.
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