The stripping of the altars



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God the Father and the Holy Ghost "coming out of Heaven into the Sepulchre".55 But in many churches it was a permanent archi­tectural and sculptured feature. This might take the form of a canopied niche set in the north wall of the chancel or a table-tomb on the north side of the high altar with its east end against the east wall of the chancel. Either way, lay financial resources were lavished on the elaboration of the sepulchre. There was an estab­lished iconography — the sleeping soldiers, Christ rising or risen, the three Maries or St Mary Magdalene, adoring angels. Magnificent and elaborately carved examples survive in Lincoln Cathedral, at Heckington in Lincolnshire (Pl. 7), at Northwold in Norfolk, and at Hawton, Arnold, and Sibthorpe in Nottinghamshire.56

Sepulchres of this sort represented major pieces of patronage, but the desire to associate oneself with the parish's annual worship of Christ in the Easter mysteries extended right across the social spectrum and took many forms. For the very wealthy there was the opportunity to build a tomb for oneself which was also the tomb of Christ, and to adorn it with Resurrection imagery which spoke of personal hopes as well as beliefs about Christ. Scores of such burials survive, like John Hopton's tomb at Blythburgh or the Clopton tomb in Long Melford (Pl. 8), with the donor's family painted round the arch of the sepulchre and the risen Christ in its vaulting. A fascinating and distinctive group of Easter sepulchre monuments, all of them probably dating from after the break with Rome, survives in the Chichester area. The sepulchre erected by William Ernley at West Wittering, possibly as late as 1540, has a sculpted Christ vigorously striding out of his box-tomb while the soldiers slump around it. On Agatha George's proprietorial sepulchre at Selsey the donor and her husband kneel, flanked by St Agatha and St George, the patrons who encode her name. Paradoxically, the central figure of the risen Christ has been chiselled away by iconoclasts. On the Sackville monument at Westhampnett (Pl. 9) the donors kneel on either side of a Corpus Christi image of the dead Christ, supported by the other members of the Trinity.S7

These lavish tombs were designed to replace the temporary framework which formed the sepulchre in most churches, and thereby to create a permanent association between the memory of the donor and the parish's most solemn act of worship. Sometimes donors did not aspire to incorporate their dust quite so inescapably within the liturgy: mere proximity to the sepulchre might be

ss A. Hcales, "Easter Sepulchres", p. 301; for an equally elaborate sepulchre at St Stephen's, Coleman St., in London see Feasey, Holy Week, pp. 166—7.

5' J. C. Cox and A. Harvey, English Church Furniture, 2nd ed. 1908, pp. 74—8. 57 N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Sussex, 1965, pp. 320, 373, 377.

enough. Richard Clerke of Lincoln requested in 1528 to be buried "in the quere nere to the place where the sepulchre usyth to stande, yf so conveniently soo may". Thomas Mering of Newark in 1500 sought burial "by twix the two pillars next the altar, as at the tyme of Esturr itt is used to sett the sepulcur of Jhesu Criste". And somewhere between these two types of patronage, the donor might request burial in a tomb which formed a base for the sepulchre frame, like John Pympe of Nettlestead in Kent who asked in 1496 for burial "in the place where as the sepulture of oure lorde is wounte to stonde at the Fest of Ester and to be leyde there in a tomb of stone, made under such fourme as the blessid sacremente and the holy crosse may be leide vpon the stone of the saide tombe in the maner of sepulture at the Feast abovesaide".5s

The association of one's own burial with that of the Host at Easter was a compelling, eloquent, and above all a permanent gesture. But for the merely moderately prosperous with less pur-chasing power there were other possibilities. Thomas Hunt of Cransley in Northamptonshire left ten ewes for making a sepulchre in 1516, and this could only have procured a much more modest structure than any so far discussed — presumably a movable wooden frame, the normal form taken by the sepulchre. Or one might seek an even humbler, though still apt association of one's own long sleep in death with the Lord's resting-place, by leaving embroidered bed-hangings to drape the sepulchre frame, like Cecily Leppington of Beverley, who left "my best oversee bed called the Baptest as an ornament to the sepulchre of oure Saviour Criste Jhesu at the fest of Ester", or Henry Williams of Stanford on Avon who bequethed "my coverled to the use of the sepulcre".5`'

All these were the benefactions of the rich, for in religion as in everything else the rich dominated the communities in which they lived. But the sepulchre was the possession of the parish, and the middling and the poor too sought to associate themselves with this aspect of the Easter liturgy. The sepulchre and its ornaments formed a complex collection of devotional paraphernalia, any one of which might be the object of individual or cooperative endow-ment. The specification of the sepulchre at St Mary Redcliffe or the

sx Lincoln Wills, ed. C. W. Foster, 1914—30, II p. 89; L. L. Duncan, "The Parish Churches of West Kent, Their Dedications, Altars, Images and Lights", "Transactions of the St Paul's Ecclesiolotliail Society, III, 1895, p. 248; Feasey, Holy Week, pp. 139—41).

se Cox and Hervey, English Church Furniture, pp. 74—8; G. H. Cook, The English Medieval Parish Church, 1970, pp. 17(1—3; 7'estarnenta Ehoracensia, ed. J. Raine and J. W. Clay, Surtees Society, 1836—1902, IV p. 179, V pp. 224—5; R. M. Serjeantson and H. (sham Longden (eds) "The Parish churches and Religious Houses of Northamptonshire: their Dedications, Altars, Images and Lights", Journal of the British Archaeological Association, LXX, 1913 (hereafter = Northants Wills II) p. 407.


34 LITURGY, LEARNING, AND THE LAI I Y SEASONS AND SIGNS 35
one at St Stephen's, Coleman Street, London illustrate the range of objects associated with its veneration:
Item one sepulchre over gilded with a frame to be set on with 4 posts and crests thereto.

Item four great angels to be set on the sepulchre with divers small angels.

Item 2 stained clothes with the Apostles and Prophets beaten with gold with the Creed.

Item 8 bears beaten with gold to be set about the sepulchre with divers small pennons.'"


Just as individuals and gilds contributed single panels or sections of larger structures like Rood-screens, so individuals and gilds associated themselves with the provision, maintenance, and adorn-ment of the sepulchre, like the gild at Chesterton, which provided a new frame for use in the liturgy at the cost of ,x,11. '1 Though wealthy lay people frequently left bequests of hangings to adorn these frames, the commonest form of individual benefaction to the sepulchre for rich and poor alike was the endowment of one or more lights to burn around it during the watch period from Friday to Sunday morning. There was ample scope here: at St Edmund's, Salisbury, over a hundred candles blazed on prickets before the sepulchre, and all over England bequests of wax to the sepulchre lights are among the commonest of all mortuary provisions.`''` And for those whose resources did not extend even so far, there was the possibility of joining a Resurrection gild, whose central function was the maintenance of the sepulchre, or a Corpus Christi gild, many of whom maintained sepulchres as well as elevation or Corpus Christi lights.`3 Membership of such a gild offered the middling and the respectable poor some of the symbolic benefits the rich could secure by building tombs which were also Easter sepulchres, for Resurrection gilds often burned the great sepulchre lights they maintained at the funerals of their dead brethren. There can be little doubt that the "thirteen square wax lights in stands", and the "four angels and four banners of the passion" which stood round the hearses of deceased members of the Lincoln Resurrection

O1 Feasey, Holy Week, pp. 166–7: Hcales, "Easter Sepulchres" passim.

Westlake, Parish Gilds, p. 141.



62 From thousands of possible examples, see the following at random – Lincoln Wills, I pp. 70–3, II pp. 148–9, 183: Northants Wills, II pp. 282, 345, 348, 405: Somerset Medieval Wills, ed. F. W. Weaver, Somerset Record Society, I pp. 209–10: Transcripts of Sussex Wills, ed. R. Garraway Rice and W. H. Godfrey, Sussex Record Society, 1935–41, III p. 52: Feasey, Holy Week, pp. 158–63.

63 Westlake, Parish Gilds, nos 13, 67, 92, 135, 136, 139.

gild were part of the ornaments of the Easter sepulchre which the gild existed to maintain.Ei4

These sorts of devotional gesture imply a great deal about lay religious sophistication. Such symbolic equations of one's own death and hopes of resurrection with those of Christ argue a wide-spread comprehension and internalization of the central message of the Easter liturgy. And the imaginative force of the ceremonial and imagery surrounding the sepulchre at the end of the Middle Ages is testified to by a poem preserved in the commonplace book of a devout London tradesman, Richard Hill, the so-called "Corpus Christi Carol". The meaning of this mysterious and moving poem has been much discussed and debated: though often associated with the Grail legend, in its present form it cannot long predate the Henrician Reformation and it is even possible that, like the West Sussex sepulchres I have already discussed, it is a product of the 1530s. It has been argued that it might even be a conservative Catholic lament for the divorce of Catherine of Aragon and Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn, whose heraldic emblem was a falcon. However that may be, there can be no question whatever that one of the major sources of the poem's haunting power lies in the strange cluster of images which derive directly from the cult of the Easter sepulchre, with its Crucifix, Host, and embroidered hangings, and the watchers kneeling around it day and night.

Lully, lelley, lolly, lulley,

The fawcon hath born my niak away. He bare him up, he hare him down, He hare him into an orchard brown. In that orchard ther was an hall,

That was hanged with purpill and pall. And in that hall there was a bed: It was hangid with gold so red. And in that bed ther lythe a knight, His woundes bleding day and night. By that belles side ther kneleth a may, And she wepeth both night and day.

And by that belles side ther stondeth a ston, "Corpus Christi" wreten theron.t'3

There was in late medieval England an established iconography of the Corpus Christi, the Eucharistic body of Christ portrayed as

Toulmin-Smith, English Gilds, pp. 175–7.

R. Davies, Medieval English Lyrics, 1963, p. 272 cf. pp. 363–4; R. L. Greene, "The Meaning of the Corpus Christi Carol", Medium Aevum, XXIX, 1960, pp. 10–21.


36 LITURGY, LEARNING, AND THE LAITY SEASONS AND SIGNS 37


the dead Jesus, held in the arms of the Father and hovered over by the Spirit, displaying "His woundes bleding day and night" (Pl. 10). A number of painted windows in York associated with the Corpus Christi gild there contain this striking image (Pl. 11), and the Sackville monument at Westhampnett links it directly with the Holy Week veneration of the Corpus Christi in the sepulchre.['[' This image of Corpus Christi resembles that of Our Lady of Pity (Pl. 12), in which Mary rather than the Father displays the wounds of her Son. The images, despite their points of similarity, differ in intent. In those in which the Father appears the point is Trinitarian: the sufferings of Christ are revealed not to evoke pity or com­punction for sins but as a theological statement, the sacrament of the love of the Trinity for humanity, a pledge, perpetuated daily in the Eucharist, of God's will to redeem and renew. In the image of Our Lady of Pity, in which Mary supports the dead Christ, the message is affective not theological, an appeal for repentance and compassion with the suffering of Christ — "Who cannot weep, come learn of me." The image of Our Lady of Pity is emphatically a Good Friday one, just as the "Corpus Christi Carol" is certainly a Good Friday poem: the Christ portrayed here is bleeding, and the watcher by the Host is a weeping maiden who inevitably recalls Mary. It is part of the theological complexity of the sepulchre that it stood at one and the same time for the affectivity of such piety and for a wider and profounder theological affirmation. The sepulchre was the place of lamentation for the havoc sin had wrought: the parishioners kneeling around it on Good Friday evening were encouraged by preachers to lament their sins, to experience the desolation of the burial of injured Innocence.

Yonder it !yes, yonder is hys bodye, in yonder tombe, in yonder sepulchre. Lett us goo thidre, lett us wept with these Maryes, lett us turne and wynde thys bodye of Christo, lett us turne it thys wayes and that wayes, to and froo, and pytussely beholde hit. And what shall we fyndc. We shall fynde a bloody bodye, a body full of plages and woundes. Not that hit nowe is full of woundes and plages, or nowe deede: but ylcit thowe oughtest nowe as the tyme of the yere falleth, with the churche to remembere this body. Howe it was for the broken, howe it was for the rente and torn, howe bloody it was, howe full of plages, and howe it was wounded. And in recollection and remembrance thereof, wepe and lament, for it was doon for the.`'

J. A. Knowles, Essays in the History of the York School of Glass-Painting, 1936, pp. 169—77.

67 John Longland, A Sermond made he fore the kynge 1535, RSTC 16795.5, sig. R4.

Longland's phrase "pytussely beholde" is significant, for it is the technical term for meditation on the Passion used in the indulgence rubrics which accompanied the devotional woodcuts of the wounded Christ surrounded by the Arms of the Passion which were in wide circulation as devotional aids in late medieval England: the liturgy is being used here as a trigger for penitential meditation. But the liturgy of the sepulchre moved the devotee on from the desolation and pathos of Good Friday to the affirmations of Easter. The sacramental presence hidden in the tomb till then became the housel received in a solemn act of communal reconciliation and solidarity, while the Easter morning creeping to the cross which immediately followed the raising of the image and the Host from the sepulchre was an act not of penitence, but of celebration of the healing and redeeming power of the cross triumphant. Langland caught this dimension of the sepulchre liturgy of Easter morning perfectly.

Men rongen to the resurexion — and right with that I wakede And called Kytte my wife and Calote my daughter Ariseth and reverenceth Goddes resurexion

And crepeth to the Gros on knees, and kisseth it for a jewel For Goddes blissede body it bar for our boote

And it fereth the fend — for swich is the myghte

May no grisly goost glide there it shadweth."


Sacred Place, Sacred Time
Sometime during the reign of Elizabeth the Suffolk recusant, Roger Martin, decided to write down what he could remember of the furnishings and pre-Reformation religious observances of his parish church of I Ioly Trinity, Long Melford. Martin, who was born in the early I 520s, had been a churchwarden under Mary. At the reintroduction of Protestantism he had rescued and hidden those Catholic ornaments of the church in which his family had pro­prietary rights. His detailed account of the parish before the iconoclastic storms of Edward's reign does, as one might expect, allude in passing to the anxious years of the Marian reaction and the work of restoration which had gone on in the church then, but its main aim was to evoke the richness and beauty of the immemorial observances of late medieval piety before the deluge of reform and iconoclasm, in one of the most prosperous and, if externals are anything to go by, one of the most pious of the Suffolk wool villages.`'`9
"' William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman, B text, ed. C. Schmidt, 1978, Passus XVIII lines 428—34 (p. 234).

" Parker, History of Long Melford, pp. 70-3.



IIVII II11: LAII I

Martin's account of Long Melford seems at first sight to fall into two quite distinct parts. In the first he is concerned with the images and furnishings of the church, especially the chancel and the south aisle, the Jesus aisle, where his own family had their burial place. He describes the Rood-screen with its images, its organs, and its paintings of the Apostles, the sepulchre frame set up each year within John Clopton's great Easter sepulchre-cum-tomb on the north side of the chancel. Behind the high altar was the enormous retable of Calvary, "made of one great Tree" and "carved very artificially with the story of Christ's passion", crowded, in typically late medieval style, with incident and minor characters. On either side of the high altar were elaborate carved tabernacles, that on the north side having the church's patronal image of the Trinity, that on the south (though he does not tell us so) with the image of the Virgin. In "my Ile called `Jesus Ile' ", the Martin family burial chapel, was another altar retable of the Crucifixion. Here too there were flanking tabernacles containing, to the north, the image of Jesus as Salvator Mundi "holdinge a round bawle in his hand, signifying I think that he containeth the whole round world", and to the south an image of Our Lady, "having the afflicted body of her dear Son, as he was taken down off the Cross lying along on her lap, the tears as it were running down pitifully upon her beautiful cheeks, as it seemed bedewing the sweet body of her Son,

and therefore named the /InaEle of Our Lady of Pity" 7"

In the second part of his account Martin turns from furnishings and iconography, and a piety which scenes rooted in stillness and looking, to ritual activity and a piety which seems geared tomove­ment and elaborate communal celebration. In the process the account itself moves from the inside of the church and the privacies of chancel, chantry, vestry, and proprietary aisle to the public processional ways round the churchyard and out into the parish at large. As it does so, it also begins to take account of time. He describes in some detail the Palm Sunday liturgy with the Host carried under "a fair canopy borne by 4 yeomen", a description already used in our treatment of the Holy Week ceremonies. Martin also describes the other major processions of the year: Corpus Christi when "they went likewise with the blessed Sacrament in procession about the Church green in Copes"; St Mark's day and the Rogation days, when the litanies were sung and the parish processed with handbells and banners "about the bounds of the



7" Ilistnry of Long Mel/Ord, be. cit. Martin's account, with a good deal of relevant additional documentation, has been re-edited by I). Dymond and C. Paine, The Spoil of Me ford Church: the Re/ortnatiou in a Si f i lk Parish, 1989.

JLflJUIV J 111N1) JIl1IV J ~Y

town", each day's march culminating in communal drinking. In addition to these processions Martin includes four bonfires in his picture of the ritual year at Long Melford, one associated with the chapel of St James near his house and held on St James's day (25 July) after an elaborate sung Mass. The other bonfires took place on Midsummer eve, on the eve of St Peter's and Paul's day four days later (28/29 June), and then one week further on, on the eve of the summer festival of St Thomas of Canterbury (6/7 July). These three bonfires and feasts, at which the poor were entertained at the expense of Martin's grandfather, were evidently all assimilated to the "St John's fires", since on these occasions watch-candles were maintained throughout the night before an image of St John the Baptist. They were by no means peculiar to Melford or to eastern England, and similar communal religious fires and feasts occurred on these days all over England.''

It is tempting to see in the two parts of Martin's account two distinct aspects of late medieval religion, the inner and the outer. His nostalgic evocation of the imagery of the church, the various carvings of the Passion, Jesus altar, and statue of Our Lady of Pity, seems a clear manifestation of the inward-looking, meditative, and affective dimension of the piety of the period, with its emphasis on sweetness, on the pathos of the cross, on Mary's tears and the response of the individual heart to those tears. Neither season nor distance seem relevant within this type of religious world. By contrast his picture of the year's liturgical round is full of the clangour of handbells and the leather-lunged chanting of the litany, the rattle of processional paraphernalia, censer and holy-water bucket and cross, of yeomen sweating under the burden of the Eucharistic canopy, children scrambling for cakes and flowers, and the poor jostling for the beer and mutton and peascod pies laid out on boards on the green before Martin's grandfather's door at the other end of the village from the church, or at the parsonage on procession or bonfire days.

In fact any such distinction would he artificial: what is striking about Martin's account is the convergence between inner and outer, private and public, the timeless and meditative on one hand, the seasonal and external on the other. The carvings behind the altars or in the tabernacles were there to move piety, to signify to the observer the creating and saving power of Jesus or the pathos of his Passion, and Martin's comments on them, with his use of words like "afflicted" or his evocation of Mary's tears "as it were running

'' C. Phythian-Adams, "Ceremony and the Citizen", in P. Clark (ed.) The Early Modern Town, 1976, pp. 112-13.

40 LITURGY, LEARNING, AND THE LAITY

down pitifully upon her beautiful cheeks", indicates his own affective response to them. But this iconography was also geared to the liturgy and the public cycle of celebration and penance which made up the Christian year. The Rood-screen was not merely the chief image in the church of the Crucifixion of Jesus and of the intercessory power of Mary, John, and the other saints depicted on it: it was also a ritual prop which served as the culminating focus of the Palm Sunday liturgy which Martin so lovingly described. The less prominent carving of Calvary behind the high altar was similarly integrated into the seasonal variations of the church's year, for it was fitted with painted doors which were normally kept shut, concealing the carving, but which "were opened upon high and solemn Feast Days, which then was a very beautiful show".

Even so apparently private and individualistic a thing as a chantry chapel, dedicated to a ceaseless round of intercession on behalf of one man and decorated, as the Clopton chantry at Melford was, with devotional verses by Lydgate, could be drawn into this pattern of public seasonal observance. The Clopton chapel was built for the benefit of John Clopton and his family, but it served also as part of the stage for the liturgical drama of Holy Week: as the processions skirted it on Palm Sunday its turret roof was the platform from which was sung the antiphon "Behold, your king comes". Clopton himself directed that his tomb, set in the wall between the chantry and the north side of the chancel, should serve as an Easter sepulchre, and he left rich hangings, probably from his own bed and chamber, to dress it worthily for the parish's solemn public veneration of the Sacrament, and of Christ's cross, in Holy Week.'

This integration of personal devotional gestures into the seasonal pattern of the liturgy was a universal feature of late medieval religion. Gifts of ornaments in wills often specified their use "at every pryncipill feste"." Such bequests, designed to evoke prayers for the donor at the high points of the parish's devotional intensity, also contributed to the fostering of that intensity by ensuring a seasonal and festal variety in the ornaments of worship, alerting fellow-parishioners to the passage of sacred time, just as the provision of extra music on special days or the ringing of curfews and other bells "in pryncipall fests and oder dobull festes" might do.74 Even the bequest to the parish of so personal an object as one's own rosary might be geared to the liturgical year in this way. Beatrice Kirkemer in 1509 left beads to be hung on the images in



72 For Clopton's will sec Visitation of Suffolk, I pp. 34—40; and see Gail McMurray Gibson, The Theater of Devotion, 1989, pp. 84—96.

73 Louth CWA, p. 94; Leverton CWA, p. 355.

Louth CWA, p. 13; St Michael Cornhill CWA, p. 1.

SEASONS AND SIGNS 41

her parish church "on good dayes", and Alice Carre in 1523 left her small beads to adorn the image of St Anne in the north aisle through the year, but her best coral beads to hang on the image on the feast of St Anne itself."

It is not difficult to understand the importance of the liturgical calendar for late medieval people. There was, in the first place, no alternative, secular reckoning of time: legal deeds, anniversaries, birthdays were reckoned by the religious festivals on which they occurred, rents and leases fell in at Lady Day, Lammas, or Michaelmas. The seasonal observances of the liturgical calendar affected everyone. No one could marry during the four weeks of Advent or the six weeks of Lent. Everyone must fast during the forty days of Lent, abstaining not merely from meat but from other animal products, "whitemeats" such as eggs and cheese. In addition to Lent, fasting was obligatory on the ember days, that is, the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays after the feast of St Lucy (13 December), Ash Wednesday, Whit Sunday, and Holy Cross Day (14 September). There was also an obligation to fast on the vigils of the feasts of the twelve Apostles (excepting those of Sts Philip and James and St John), the vigils of Christmas Day, Whit Sunday, the Assumption of Our Lady (15 August), the Nativity of St John the Baptist (24 June), the feast of St Laurence (10 August), and the feast of All Saints (1 November). Though not obligatory everywhere, it was also customary to fast on some at least of the days of Rogationtide.

There were therefore almost seventy days in the year when adults were obliged to fast, the hulk of them in spring for the great fast of Lent, but the rest spread more or less evenly through the rest of the year. The Ember-tide fasts in particular, originally occurring three times in the year, were made up to four groups of three days, one in each of the four seasons. Their seasonal occurrence was emphasized in commentaries and sermons, related to the four humours, the cardinal virtues, and the seasons of human life.' In addition, late medieval devotional custom made penitential fasting on bread and water a conventional and common way of honouring saints to whom one had a particular devotion (Pl. 13)." A custom like the Lady fast, in which the devotee noted which day of the week Lady I)ay in Lent (the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March) fell on, and observed that day throughout the year as a fast in honour of the Virgin, was established by 1410, much to the disgust

" F. Rlomeficld and C. Parkin, An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, 1805—10, IV pp. 153—4.

Golden Legend, I p. 66; Festial, pp. 253—4.

Festial, p. 199.

42 LITURGY, LEARNING, AND THE LAITY

of the author of Dives and Pauper, since "the mede of fastynge ne the vertu of fastynge is nought assyngnyd ne lymyt be the letterys of the kalender ne folwyn pout the cours of the kalender ne changyn nout from o day to another day.''" The laity quite clearly thought otherwise, and the Lady fast was elaborated even further. In the parish church at Yaxley there survives a "sexton's wheel", a bizarre roulette-like device with six spokes, each assigned to one of the major feasts of the Virgin. Coloured strings were attached to each spoke and the wheel was spun: the devotee seized a string and observed the weekday on which the relevant feast fell as a fast in honour of the Virgin throughout the ensuing year (Pl. 14).79

As important as fast days were feast days, in particular the _Testa ferianda, on which total or partial abstention from servile work was required and the laity were expected to observe the Sunday pattern of attendance at matins, Mass, and evensong, fasting on the preceding eve. There were between forty and fifty such days, with variations in the precise list from region to region. The number of f sta ferianda, as well as the degree of rigour in their observance, was in a continuous state of evolution throughout the fifteenth century, both because of the widespread divergence in local customs and observance and as a result of the introduction in the southern and northern provinces of nova f'sta such as the Transfiguration or the Holy Name in the 1480s and 1490s. The observance and the status of holy days were much contested issues, since holy days were also holidays. Workers sought to secure days free from secular toil, landowners and employers sought to extract the maximum work from their tenants or employees, and a particular bone of contention was the question of whether servants or lords should bear the expense of the loss of a day's work involved in each feast. Hence considerable variation was the rule ill the degree of solemnity of particular days, some requiring the cessation of all work (except activities such as milking cows, feeding livestock, or the saving of crops in harvest), other days requiring only women to abstain from work. Both secular and ecclesiastical authorities throughout the Middle Ages showed considerable sensitivity to these sorts of questions, and a tendency to seek to limit the number of holidays. This trend achieved its starkest and most drastic expression after the break with Rome, when in 1536 the Crown abolished most of the local and national testa ferianda occurring in the Westminster law terms and in the busy summer months, on the grounds that the excessive numbers of holidays were impoverishing



'H Dives and Pauper, 1 pp. 173—4.

'`' W. H. Sewell, "The Sexton's Wheel and the Lady Fast", Norfolk Archaeology, IX, 1884, pp. 201—14; Gibson, Theater of Devotion, p. 152.

SEASONS AND SIGNS 43

the people by hindering agriculture. Widespread resentment of this action was a contributory factor in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and subsequent anti-reform feeling.S0

Naturally, degrees of awareness of the niceties of the liturgical calendar varied. Ignorance was not necessarily the monopoly of the laity. The early Tudor jest-book, A Hundred Merry Tales, has a story of a country curate "which was not very learned" who sent to a neighbouring cleric on Easter eve to know what Mass to celebrate. His boy is told the Mass of the Resurrection, but forgets the word on his way home, and can recall only that it begins with R. "By God" quoth the priest, "I trow thou sayest truth, for now I remember well it must be `requiem eternam', for God almighty died as on yesterday, and now we must say mass for his soul. "81 But this was a story for the well-informed laity to laugh at, and it depends in part for its point on the assumption that the correct performance of the appropriate liturgy was a matter of some general concern. Indeed, as the custom of devotional fasting suggests, the late medieval laity were intensely conscious of the liturgical calendar, and often displayed a startlingly detailed knowl­edge of it. Undoubtedly the most distinctive and striking manifes­tation of this lay liturgical awareness is the Pope Trental and related observances, in which lay people specified as part of their mortuary provision the singing of specific Masses, "Diriges", and fasts in a pattern closely geared to the major feasts of the liturgical year. The provisions of such testators often reveal a detailed knowledge of the prayers of the missal and breviary, and an awareness of the com­plexities of the calendar which must certainly reflect clerical instruc­tion, but equally clearly a conviction on the part of the laity that such things mattered greatly.'2

Despite the desire of those in authority, for economic and other reasons, to limit the number of festivals, in practice the calendar continued to grow during the late Middle Ages right up to the break with Rome. The most spectacular addition was Corpus Christi, kept on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Observed in England from 1318 and seized on by the authorities as an occasion for the promotion of both charity and Christian catechesis, the feast



NO On l sta Ferianda see Barbara Harvey, "Work and Festa Ferianda in the Middle Ages", Journal of Ecclesiastical History, XXIll, 1972, pp. 289—308; C. R. Cheney "Rules for the observance of feast days in Medieval England", Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, XXXIV, 1961, pp. 117ff: E. C. Rodgers, Discussion of Holidays in the Later Middle Ages, 1940; on the 1536 abolition see below, chapter 11, "The Attack on Traditional Religion I" pp. 394—8.

A Hundred Merry Tales and Other English Jest Books of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries, cd. P. M. Zall, 1963, p. 135.

82 See below, pp. 370—5.

TT LI1 V INV1 1, L1:A1\IV 11Vll, AIN

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