Introduction: Of services, etc.

Pages xlviii-liii

The Medieval Records of A London City Church St Mary At Hill, 1420-1559. Originally published by Trübner, London, 1905.

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The Services in the Church.—The services sung by the parish officials of St. Mary's church cannot, with one exception, be clearly defined. But those which were carried on in the building by the various chantry priests can be set down with considerable certainty.

Early in the morning the doors of the church would be unlocked. The church would not be open all night, as may be gathered from the statement in 1502–3, that two men were employed to watch 'whilys the chirche stoed opyn' six nights, p. 247. Entering the church on any weekday we should find the morrow-mass priest singing his mass so early, that in winter he would require candles, p. 317. Later on, the six or seven chantry priests would be singing their matins, hours and masses, some at one altar, some at another, pp. 11, 17; the chantry priest of John Bedham sang at St. Katherine's altar immediately after the morrow-mass. Later on, the chantry priests would be singing their evensong and compline; and probably at very varying times, Placebo and Dirige, Commendations, the Seven Penitential Psalms and Litany. At p. 1 we find instructions given for 'an honest Preest to syng dyvyne seruice euery day.'

To what extent the parish services would follow the plan of the chantry services it is difficult to say. But if some parts were omitted others would be added, such as weddings, churchings, and funerals, and also Obits, or memorial services.

A particularly interesting fact respecting the services of St. Mary's is afforded by the two following statements. From these we see that a little service, or part of one, took place in the nave of St. Mary's every afternoon:—

"ij tapers brennyng before the Aungelles Salutacion of the ymage of our lady in the body of the said Chirch every evenyng at the tyme of syngyng of Salue Regina," p. 6.

Our second extract is not only corroborative, but tells us of the burial of William Olneye, a fishmonger, by the foot of this figure. He desired in his Will—

"to be buried before the Salutation of the Blessed Virgin Mary where Salve is daily sung in the church of S. Mary atte Hull."—Sharpe's Husting Wills, 2. 174.

Burials.—The Memorandum on p. 319, dated 1523, gives very exactly the costs of burial fees due to the church and to the Clerk:—

For a grave in either of the chapels of St. Stephen or St. Katherine, 13s. 4d. was to be paid to the church, and to the Clerk 3s. 4d. For burial outside these chapels, 10s. was due to the church and 2s. 6d. to the Clerk. For a grave in the nave of the church, 6s. 8d. was due to the church and 1s. 8d. to the Clerk.

The ordinance for 1498–9, p. 231, rules that the Clerk's fee for a grave in the church shall be 2s., and for burial in either of the churchyards the Clerk shall be entitled to 8d. or 4d. for a man or child respectively.

We have seen that there were two churchyards. The 'pardon' churchyard appears to have been the more frequently used for interments during the period of our Records: the church received two shillings for each interment there, and generally eightpence or fourpence for burial in the great churchyard.

Two children were buried in one grave in 1502–3.

Knells were rung sometimes on the great bell, sometimes on the middle bell, sometimes on the little bell; the ringing lasting sometimes half-a-day, sometimes for an hour.

The Memorandum of 1498, p. 231, ordains that for the knell with the great bell, the church and Clerk shall each receive 6s. 8d. Also that the Clerk shall receive for a knell rung on the second bell 12d. if rung for an hour, and 40d. if rung for half-a-day. For a knell rung on the little bell—if for a man, the Clerk shall receive 8d., and if for a child, 4d.

Sir John Plommer's bell was used for the poorer people, and a penny only was charged for its use (p. 246).

Torches were at times hired of the church, and kept burning at funerals—' for the hire of ij torches at the burial of William Hus,' p. 293; three torches, p. 307; 'for bearing of iiij torches to bury the "portyngaler,"' p. 100; and for no less than six at the 'dyrige and masse at þe buryall' of Mrs. Powre, p. 283.

The palls used are mentioned in one of the Inventories (p. 53): one was of gold and black velvet, another, for children, had a crucifix in the midst. About 1550 a charge appears to have been made for the use of the church palls at funerals, p. 391.

A special feature of the Middle Ages was the payment by the well-to-do for the burial of the very poor. In these accounts the receipt of money by the wardens for such a purpose is by no means very rare. An instance may be given:—

'Item, Resseyued of Margarete Bull for þe buriall of a straunge childe,' p. 129.

In only one instance is the age of a parishioner buried recorded, that of 'a chyld of vj yere old, dyed at harmams,' p. 241.

Parishioners were buried in every part of the church and its chapels, even in the vestry, p. 161.

The grave is commonly termed 'pyt,' p. 366.

An armyte or hermit was buried in 1510–11, p. 276.

Collections.—Our Records do not often refer to the collection of money in the church, but a note on p. 284 tells us that certain alms gathered in the church shall be 'reserved towards burials of poor people and other deeds of charity.' At p. 299 is an entry to the effect that—

"Iohn stookes, pewterer, doith awght vnto ye church, anno 1518, for money gayderd ffor the powr peple";

and on p. 261 we have the entry:—

'R. of stevyn sawndyrson of hys gadyryng in þe church, xxxvj s iij d ob.'

At p. 259 we have a reference to the collection of elevenpence halfpenny by Mrs. Althorpe; and at p. 128 the collection of eleven shillings and fivepence at the communion at Easter in 1487. At p. 318 we find a note of coals purchased with alms-money and given to the poor. It is significant that our text contains several entries of the finding of money in the church, probably after the dispersal of the congregations, pp. 94, 196, 212; it is not unreasonable to suppose that the coins were dropped when the owners were making their offerings.

Churching and Wedding and Christening.—Two very remarkable payments are recorded under the Casual Receipts for 1524–5. The first is the receipt of sixpence at a marriage, the second the receipt of twopence at a churching.

The reference to the two marriages at p. 398 is perhaps even more remarkable. At p. 222 is the solitary reference to a christening.

By whom the Sacred Elements were Provided most Uncertain.—Our text does not show us by whom the Bread and Wine for the services were provided in the Middle Ages. The Records refer to Singing Bread and the Wine for the subordinate Masses, but not for the main services of the church. After the death of Henry VIII, as is well known, the elements were provided at the cost of the congregation. It is, however, significant that once or twice money was expended on obb[l]ees for Palm Sunday, pp. 313, 327.

By whom the Incense was Provided.—The incense, as our text shows, was provided at the cost of the parishioners; but it is a curious fact that the amount paid for can in no way have been sufficient to supply the needs of the church. Possibly much of it was given by individuals.

Division of the Sexes in Church.—Our text shows us clearly that it was not the custom for men and women to sit together during service time in the Middle Ages. Under Pews, Chap. V, we see that there were pews for men and pews for women, and that the husband's pew is not that of the wife. In the accounts of St. Stephen Walbrook the evidence that man and wife sat separately is even more clearly given.

"Master dodmeres pewe & his wiffes pewe," Chap. VII.

Obits.—The obits were annual memorial services for various people by whom money was left to pay for such services:—
"my seid Obett or Annuersary, yerely for euermore, þe same day of the moneth my sowle shall depart from þe body," p. 21.

The service is explained on the same page as consisting of the Dirige office in the evening and Mass the next morning.

An obit might be endowed to last for a certain specified time or for ever, pp. 21, 182, 197, 213.

A full list of those for the year 1517–18, showing the money expended at each obit for refreshments, fee to parson, churchwardens, bell-ringers, payments for candles, etc., will be found at p. 295.

Perhaps the most striking of these services was that annually performed on the 18th or 19th of August for the soul of William Cambridge, on which occasion, by his Will, the mayor, two sheriffs, and sword-bearer attended at the church, and were remunerated accordingly. In 1478–9 the sheriffs had 'nothyng payd, for they came not,' p. 90. The medieval description of an Obit will be found in that for Margaret Noneley on p. 288.

The Bede-roll.—The bede-roll was the list of those to be mentioned by name in the pulpit that they might be expressly remembered in the prayers of the parishioners:—

"Item, ffor wrytyng off the Bedrow, iiij d," p. 238.

"to Mr Iohn Redy ffor rehersyng of the bederoll, viij d," p. 149.

A partial explanation of the Bede-roll is afforded in our text on p. 80:—
"To the parissh preste, to Remembre in the pulpite the sowle of [Richard] Bliot, whiche gave to the Churche workis vj s viij d—ij d."

Apparently the parish priest commonly read the bede-roll, and received a small honorarium for so doing, pp. 149, 260. In 1507–8 the payment was remitted as a gift to the church by those holding the office, p. 263. The list of names was apparently written on a parchment fixed to a board, pp. 132, 326.

Festivals mentioned.—The 'pryncipall ffestes' are apparently intended to be enumerated on p. 163:

Christmas Day.

Twelfth Day.

Palm Sunday.

Holy Thursday.

Corpus Christi.

St. Barnabas.

The Assumption.

On these occasions refreshments for the priests and clerks were provided.

'Loo sondaye' is referred to at p. 399; 'Candilmas day' at p. 148; 'palmesan eve,' p. 198; 'Relyke sonday,' p. 264; 'trinyte sonday,' p. 277; 'Shoftyd' and 'lammas,' p. 232; 'ester daye,' p. 148; 'alhalowne day,' p. 238; 'Wytson yeuyn,' p. 266; 'Whytsontyd,' p. 242; 'fest of transfiguracion,' p. 274; 'lent,' p. 343; 'shrofthursday,' p. 301; 'Mawndy thursday,' p. 314; the 'puryficacion,' p. 325; 'Estyr eve,' p. 247; 'ascencion day,' p. 382; 'god frydaye,' p. 247; 'lady day,' p. 237; 'our Ladis even,' p. 399; and 'double feest, prycipall feest & solempne feest' at p. 13.

Dr. Wickham-Legg points out that the 'ijo childern goyng on processyon on holye thursdaye,' p. 131, were probably the boys whipped at the boundaries of the parish.

At Midsummer the church was decorated with boughs of birch; the entry of the cost occurs regularly each year:—
"payd for byrche at mydsomer, iiij d," p. 198.

On St. Barnabas's Day, June 11th, garlands were often purchased:—
"for Roose garlondys on sentt barnaby ys day, xx d," p. 186.

Garlands were also often purchased for the great Corpus Christi festival:—
"for garlondys on Corpus Christi day, iij d," p. 198.

The garlands, sometimes of Roses and of Lavender, were carried by probably many people, no less than four and even five dozen garlands being sometimes purchased, and probably carried by the rector, parish priest, choristers, and borne on the processional crosses, pp. 309, 316.

Holly and ivy were purchased regularly for Christmas decorations:—
"payd for holme & ive on crystmas even, ij d," p. 172.

Box, palm, and flowers were procured for Palm Sunday:—
"Item, for bovx and flowrys on palme sonday, v d."
"Item, for palme the same day, iij d," p. 173.

Easter Ceremonies.— Very few entries refer to the Easter ceremonies, and naturally, because very little additional expense was incurred. We have—
"paid for ij quarter of Colis for hallowing of the font at estur," pp. 296, 343.

and the constant mention of the watching of the Easter Sepulchre, p. 197.

Hallowing or Consecrating.—At p. 199 we see that the parson sometimes hallowed the articles for the use of the church. Sometimes the ceremony was performed by the parish priest, p. 240. The 'halloyng of the cherche' is mentioned at p. 250.