The founder: To 1123

The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: Volume 1. Originally published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1921.

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E A Webb, 'The founder: To 1123', The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: Volume 1, (Oxford, 1921), pp. 37-55. British History Online [accessed 17 June 2024].

E A Webb. "The founder: To 1123", in The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: Volume 1, (Oxford, 1921) 37-55. British History Online, accessed June 17, 2024,

Webb, E A. "The founder: To 1123", The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: Volume 1, (Oxford, 1921). 37-55. British History Online. Web. 17 June 2024,

In this section



That Rahere was the founder of the Priory of St. Bartholomew, Smithfield, there can be no doubt. The Book of the Foundation, already referred to and here quoted at length, proves it. King John, in his charter of the year 1204, (fn. 1) speaks of 'Rahere the first prior of the aforesaid church who founded it'; and King Henry III in his charter of the year 1227 repeats the statement.

Various legends exist as to Rahere having been the king's jester and a great musician, but we have no documentary evidence whatever of these statements. His name is not even mentioned by any of the contemporary historians, such as Herry of Huntingdon or William of Malmesbury.

A Raherius or Ragerius is mentioned by Dugdale, (fn. 2) Le Neve, (fn. 3) and Newcourt, (fn. 4) as holding the prebend of Chamberlain Wood at St. Paul's, and it is a fair assumption that this is the same man as our founder, because to Ralph Gundrum, the prebendary mentioned immediately before him in the list by these authors, is assigned the dates 1104 and 1115; and the holder immediately following Raherius, Geoffrey 'Constabularius', though no date of his appointment is given, was witness to a grant in the year 1145. As Rahere died A.D. 1143, the chronology is in favour of the assumption that he held the prebend from about 1115 to 1143. Unfortunately none of the above authors give their authority for saying that the prebend was held by 'Raherius', though for Ralph Gundrum and Geoffrey 'Constabularius' they refer to the register of the Dean and Chapter. If this Raherius is our Rahere, and if he held the prebend before his 'conversion', which must have taken place about the year 1120, then he would have been brought up as a clerk in holy orders, which is what we should be led to suppose by his subsequent life. His biographer in the Book of the Foundation is silent on the point, but the fact of his frequenting the gay court of Henry I is no argument against the supposition that he was a cleric, though a gay one. (fn. 5)

His biographer in the Book of the Foundation (fn. 6) gives us the following account of the life he led before his conversion :

'This man, sprung of humble lineage, when he reached the flower of youth began to haunt the household of nobles and the palaces of princes. "Sewing pillows upon all elbows," (fn. 7) he drew to friendship with himself those whom he had soothed with jokes and flatterings. And, not content with this, he approached the king's palace with some frequency and resorted to the tumults of that tumultuous court, and with jocular flattery desired to attract to himself with ease the hearts of many. There he made it his business all day long to attend spectacles, banquets, jests and the rest of the trifles of the court; and, with shameless face, betaking himself to the suite, now of the king, now of the nobles, he assiduously employed a complaisance that should please them and obtained with greater ease anything that it pleased him to seek. By these means he was well known to, intimate with, and a comrade of the king and of the great men of the court.'

Sir Norman Moore tells us that the name 'Rahere' is probably Frankish; that it certainly occurs in early French charters in France, and that the word 'Rayer', used in the middle English translation in the Book of the Foundation, is not so correct as Rahere, because the Latin of Rayer would be Raierus and the founder describes himself as Raherus in his own charter of 1137 (pl. VI b, p. 78), and the same word is also employed in the royal charters; for this reason the Latin word Raherus is translated Rahere in the new translation here used. The name appears variously spelt in the twelfth century : thus we have Johannes Raher in the 'Chronicles of the reign of King Stephen' (fn. 8) and Thomas Raiher in the Charter Rolls. (fn. 9) The name Rayer of Holcombe still occurs in Burke's Landed Gentry.

We cannot agree, as suggested by W. Chappell, (fn. 10) that the UUluricus (or Ulric) Rahere in the Peterborough MS. of Hereward the Wake is our founder. That outlaw plundered Peterborough in 1070 and on his return was joined by four doughty followers, of whom Ulric Rahere was one. Rahere was a nickname and meant, says the MS., the 'Heron id est Ardea'. The nickname was acquired when some Normans, who were taking four brothers to the gallows at Wrokesham Bridge, mocked this Ulric, calling him a heron, whereupon he seems to have killed several of the executioners and liberated their prisoners. Our founder, whether a cleric or not, was certainly a courtier from his youth and we cannot conceive him to have been a wild Anglo Saxon outlaw. The dates also are against this theory, for the event at Peterborough must have happened in 1070 or 1071, which would have made our founder between 90 and 100 years of age at the time of his death in 1143; but his biographer makes no mention of extreme old age, as he does of Rahere's successor Thomas.

Rahere is described by Stow and others as the king's minstrel or jester, for which there is no other authority than the above passage from the Book of the Foundation; but it has been pointed out that minstrels were also reciters of poems, story-tellers, and sometimes jugglers and buffoons, as well as performers on musical instruments, (fn. 11) so that Stow may not be far wide of the truth. Rahere's renown as a minstrel had, long before Stow's time, grown to a fabulous extent, as is shown by the following passage from Thomas of Reading: (fn. 12)

'At that time there lived in London a musician of great reputation named Reior who kept his servants in such costly garments that they might seem to come before any prince. Their coats were all of one color, and it is said that afterwards the nobilities of the land, noting it for seemly sight, used in like manner to keep their men all in one livery. This Reior was the most skilfullest musician that lived at that time, whose wealth was very great, so that all the instruments whereon his servants plaid, were richly garnished with studs of silver, and some were gold. The bowes belonging to their violins were all likewise of pure silver. He was also for his wisdom called to great office in the city, who also builded at his own cost the Priory and Hospital of St. Bartholomew in Smithfield. His servants being the best consorts in the city were by Tom Done appointed to play before the young princes.'

Rahere's chronicler, in the Book of the Foundation, (fn. 13) thus speaks of his conversion :

'This kind of life he had chosen at first and thus he had spent his youth. But God, who beholds and pities all men, who cast out seven devils from Mary Magdalene, who gave the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to a fisherman, mercifully converted this man also from the error of his ways and added to him when converted many gifts of virtue : "since God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the strong".' (fn. 14)

What was the immediate cause of Rahere's conversion we shall never know, as his biographer is silent on the point. It may have been the example of the Queen Matilda, who was herself always intent on good works. She had been educated at the abbeys of Wilton and Romsey, and in the year 1108 had founded the Augustinian monastery of Holy Trinity, Aldgate. Her husband spent long intervals, several years at a time, in Normandy, when the queen managed the affairs of the court. 'Yet lowliness in thee tempered thy great majesty,' says Henry of Huntingdon. She died in the year 1118.

The example of Rahere's good bishop Richard de Belmeis or Beauvais (fn. 15) may have influenced our founder, for he had founded the Augustinian Abbey of St. Osyth in Essex in the year 1120.

But Sir Norman Moore suggests that the conversion may have more likely been due to the great catastrophe of the week of the White Ship, the Blanche Nef, which occured on the 25th November, 1120. In that great disater the heir to the throne was drowned, in company with a brother, a half-brother and sister, and the flower of the young nobility. The king had only sailed a few hours in advance of the fated ship, but when the news was told him, three days later, he fell in a swoon and so remained for several hours. Such an event was well calculated to cause our founder to take a more serious view of life.

Newton (fn. 16) relates a story, which he says was once current, to the effect that when Rahere was on the Continent a great friend of his died and at funeral the dead man was caused to rise and tell Rahere of the inexpressible torments he was suffering in purgatory for not having performed sufficient works of benevolence. Rahere was so affected that he resolved to devote his future life and means to benevolence. This story seems too good to be true!

But for whatever cause, repentace did come to Rahere, and his biographer related how: (fn. 17)

'This man, therefore, by God's grace in time repenting of his faults and proposing to halve his days that he might obtain full, plenary and perfect pardon of all his sins, determined to go to the holy Roman court, desiring in so laborious a journey to do fruits meet for repentance. And in no way with slothful spirit putting off for time and years this frame of mind inspired from heaven, but constanly carrying out the good work conceived with pious longing, he set off upon his journey and, God directing his steps, arrived safely whither he purposed.'

Previous to Rahere's visit there had been trouble in the church at Rome. In the year 1117 Henry V of Germany marched into the city and Pachal, the pope, retired. In 1118 Paschal died and his successor Gelasius II had also to fly from Rome when Burdinus, Archbishop of Braga, was set up as anti-pope by Henry V under the name of Gregory VIII. Gelasius died in France in January 1119. A Frenchman, Guido, a distant relation of Henry V, succeeded as Calixtus II; he made a progress through France and when at Gisors on 20th November, 1119, he gave an interview to our King Henry. After that interview and after his long sojourn in France, Henry returned to England a few hours in advance of the White Ship, as already described, and the pope entered Rome and the anti-pope was suppressed. Thus, if Rahere started his pilgrimage after the loss of the heir to the throne, he would have found Rome once more at peace. The historian continues: (fn. 18)

'And there at the places of the martyrdoms of the most blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, deploring his misdeeds and recalling to memory the sins and ignorances of his youth, he prayed that remission of them should be granted him by the Lord, promising that he would do nothing of like nature in the future, but having renounced these would devoutly obey His will; those two brilliant luminaries of heaven, two men of mercy, he set as mediators between himself and the governor of the whole earth, that he would avoid his past follies and pay assiduous attention to his promises.'

The place of the martyrdom of St. Peter, now occupied by the church of S. Pietro in Montorio, is on the slope of the Janiculum in Rome; the place of the martyrdom of St. Paul in the Campania is now occupied by the church of S. Paolo alle Tre Fontane. It is nearly three miles south from the Porta S. Paolo and is renowned for being a malarious spot; we may therefore reasonably assume that the illness contracted by Rahere, as described in the following passage, was the malaria, known as Roman fever. His biographer writes: (fn. 19)

'In the meantime, while he sojourned there, he began to be vexed with a grievous sickness and, his pains gradually increasing, he was brought to extremity. And he, fearing that he had not yet given satisfaction to God for his misdeeds, and wondering whether therefore to avenge his crimes the final hour of his death was upon him among outlandish people, poured out his heart like water in the sight of God and all breaking out into tears he vowed a vow that if, having obtained health, it should be allowed him to return to his own country he would erect a hospital for the restoration of poor men and, as far as he could, would administer to the necessities of the poor gathered together in that place. And not long after the benign and merciful Lord who saw the tears of Hezekiah, (fn. 20) who rewarded the importunity of the woman of Canaan (fn. 21) with the benefit of his pity, mercifully looked upon him also as he wept and approved his vow by granting him the health that he desired. And he gaining strength after his weakness, and having become whole, prepared to return to his own, ready to perform the vow he had made.' (fn. 22)

On his way home he had a vision which the writer, continuing, thus describes: (fn. 23)

'Whilst he was accomplishing his journey, on a certain night he saw a vision, full at once of terror and sweetness. For, when after sweats by day he was refreshing his limbs with rest, it seemed to him that he was borne on high by a certain beast having four feet and two wings and that he was set by it in a very high place. And when from such a height he bent down the glance of his eyes to the depths, he discovered a horrible pit to be beneath him, the terrible vision of which struck the beholder with both fear and horror at once, for its depth baffled all human view. He, therefore, conscious in himself of his sins, thinking that he would forthwith fall into so vast a precipice, as it seemed to him, shuddered, and began to give forth lusty cries from his mouth. And, as he was thus fearful and crying aloud with fear, one was beside him, bearing royal majesty in his countenance, of wonderful beauty and imperial authority, and with his look fixed upon him spake good words—words of consolation, bringing a good message, as if he spoke in these words (fn. 24) —"Oh! man," says he, "what and how much allegiance would you pay to him who should help you in such a mortal crisis," and when he replied thereto that he would most diligently repay whatever heart, whatever strength were his for the thanking of his deliverer, he continued—"I am Bartholomew, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, who have come to help thee in thy straits and to unlock for thee the secrets of the heavenly mystery; for thou shalt know that I, by the will and command of all the High Trinity, and with the common favour and counsel of the court of heaven, have chosen a spot in a suburb of London at Smedfeld where in my name thou shalt found a church, and there shall be the house of God, the tabernacle of the Lamb, the temple of the Holy Ghost. This spiritual house the Almighty Lord shall inhabit, sanctify, glorify and preserve unspotted for ever and ever. And his eyes shall be open (fn. 25) and his ears directed toward that house night and day that he who asketh may receive, (fn. 26) he who seeketh may find, and he who knocketh may enter. For every one who, being converted and penitent, shall pray in this place, shall be heard in heaven, or seeking with a perfect heart help from any tribulation without doubt shall obtain it; to those who knock with pious longing at the door of the spouse attendant angels shall open the gates of heaven, receiving and offering to God the prayers and vows of a faithful people. Therefore let thy hands be strengthened, and having faith in the Lord act manfully. Nor doubt at all with anxious mind concerning the expenses of this building; merely apply diligence, mine it shall be to provide the costs necessary for directing and completing the fabric of this work and to proclaim the place itself acceptable to God and myself with very manifest signs and tokens, and to protect thee incessantly beneath the shadow of my wings. Of this work know that thou art the minister and I the master. Do thou employ diligent service; I will perform the office of master and patron." At these words the vision disappeared.'

As to why the vision should have been in the form of St. Bartholomew nothing is said by the chronicler, so we can only conjecture. Now before this time the bones (or the supposed bones) of St. Bartholomew had been brought from Beneventum to Rome and placed in the ancient porphyry sarcophagus which forms the present high altar of the church of S. Bartolommeo. This church is on the Isola Tiberina, a small island which lies between the Ponte Garibaldi and the Ponte Emilio. Close by, on the right bank of the river, is Trastevere, reaching up the side of the Janiculum to the church of S. Pietro in Montorio: it was the portion of the city which in ancient times and in the middle ages was the Jewish quarter and where St. Paul was lodged. Rahere, as a pilgrim, would also have been lodged there and it would be reasonable to assume that he visited more than once so interesting an object as the shrine of the apostle in his immediate neighbourhood. As this church of S. Bartolommeo, founded by Otho III about the year 1000, succeeded a temple of Aesculapius, the god of medicine, on the same spot, it would be interesting if it could be proved that there was this connexion between St. Bartholomew's on the Tiber and St. Bartholomew's in Smithfield.

A German historian, (fn. 27) on the authority of Leo of Ostia, asserts that the bones of the apostle are not in the church at all, as the body of St. Paulinus de Nola was by a pious fraud given to the emperor Otho in place of that of St. Bartholomew. The church authorities claim to have both bodies, the one in the high altar and the other in the north chapel altar; and there is some corroboration of this in the fact that both St. Paulinus and St. Bartholomew are depicted in the great well head which stands on the chancel steps and which is evidently coeval with the church itself.

The narrator then tells us (fn. 28) that when Rahere awoke he was in much perplexity whether to take the vision as an ordinary illusion, such as comes in dreams, or as a heavenly oracle, of which he felt he was not worthy; but he eventually decided in favour of the latter and to perform the command of the apostle. The writer then gives instances from scripture where dreams were heaven-sent messages, and also expounds his view of the meaning of the vision. (fn. 29) He then continues: (fn. 30)

'Therefore, the remainder of his journey being accomplished, he came to London, and was received with much joy by his acquaintances and friends. With whom and with some barons (fn. 31) of London in intimate converse about these things which were revolving in his mind, he narrated what things were done concerning him by the way, and took counsel as to what would be meet to be done thereon. And from them he received the answer that nothing of what he desired could be effected by him without consulting the king; especially because the place divinely shewn to him was contained within the king's market, on which it was lawful neither for the princes themselves nor for the wardens of their own authority to encroach to any extent whatever, much less to allot it to a religious purpose of this kind.'

We thus see that the site chosen for the priory was the king's market. In Roman times Smithfield is known to have been the site of one of the extensive cemeteries outside the walls of London. This is corroborated by the fact that in the year 1877 two stone Roman sarcophagi were found (fn. 32) on the site of the present library of the hospital.

The Anglo-Saxons gave the place the descriptive name of Smœdfeld (Smeð), signifying the Smooth field. It would have been seized by the Conqueror as part of the ancient demesne of Edward the Confessor. There are frequent references in the charters to the king's 'demesne chapel', (fn. 33) his 'demesne canons', his 'demesne possessions' (fn. 34) when referring to the priory.

FitzStephen, (fn. 35) writing about the year 1174, describes the weekly horse market held there on Fridays and gives a very graphic description of the horse racing held at the same time. Shakespeare refers to it as a horse market, (fn. 36) when a page tells Falstaff that Bardolph has 'gone into Smithfield to buy your worship a horse'. And the vestry minute books of 1774 tell us that the horse market was still being held and on Fridays. That Smithfield was in a very bad condition in the twelfth century and later is evident by the fact that Pope Celestinus III, in the year 1191, (fn. 37) made the condition of it a reason for claiming for the hospital a cemetery separate from that of the priory, for, says he, 'the labour of conducting funerals is very great through the muddy streets and horse market.' Also, in the year 1320, in reply to the complaint of the brethren of the hospital and of the community living round Smithfield, the mayor and sheriffs were ordered to see that no wells or ditches were dug therein to the annoyance of passengers and inhabitants without the king's licence. (fn. 38)

Before continuing the writer's narrative, it will be well to mention here the traditions he refers to in the next chapter regarding the site, where he says: (fn. 39)

'By the relation of our elders we find this place divinely shewn as a place of prayer . . . to the glorious King Edward the Confessor . . . when, as the book of his deeds says, he was conspicuous as a religious . . . and being illumined by the Holy Spirit he looked with the eyes of his mind upon things remote as being present and future things as existing. On a certain night, while his eyes were taking sleep, but his heart awake to God, he was forewarned of this place by a divine oracle given to him that God had chosen to place His Name there and to shew it renowned and venerable to Christian people. Whereupon this most holy king, rising in the morning, came to the place which God had shewn him, and to those standing by explained the vision made to him at night, and foretold that that place should be great before God and all people.'

Again he writes: (fn. 40)

'It was said also that three men from Greece, sprung of noble lineage, having gone forth from their country and kindred and having entered for the Lord's sake upon the labour of a holy pilgrimage, when with devout souls they had often besought the protection of saints in many places in the world as they travelled round . . . coming to London approached this place and there, prostrate on the ground, worshipped God, and in the face of those who were present and who were regarding them as simple and ignorant folk, began to prophesy wonderful things of this place, saying—"Wonder not ye that we here worship God where the Supreme Creator of all things will build a temple most pleasing to Himself, and its fame shall reach from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof".' (fn. 41)

Returning to the account of how the site was obtained, the writer says: (fn. 42)

'And, using the counsel of his friends, he betook himself to the king at an opportune time, and in the presence of Bishop Richard, whom he had won over to himself as a supporter, he effectually explained his business and humbly besought to be allowed to bring his purpose to performance. Forthwith He, in whose hand he was, inclined the king's heart to his desire, for prayers could not be ineffective whose author was the apostle and whose hearer was God. So that saying was pleasing in the eyes of the king and, considering the man's wish to be very good, and as he was of a prudent heart and mind, he bestowed his royal favour upon his petitioner and graciously gave him authority to carry out his proposals.'

It is difficult to suggest a date for this audience granted by the king, for in the spring of 1121 he went to the Continent again to bring over his newly betrothed bride, Adelicia of Louvaine. He was married in January 1122, and a few weeks after he had to leave home again to suppress the outbreak of the Welsh, and in April 1123 he sailed for Normandy to quell the revolt of the baronage. But it is interesting to see the ready access to the king possible in those days, and also to see the presence of the bishop, whose consent to the founding of the church was a necessity.

The writer then expressly states that Rahere obtained from the king the title of the possession he desired—a regia maiestate titulum optatae possessionis nactus. (fn. 43)

In what form the title was given we do not know: it may have been by deed of feoffment (deed of grant) and livery of seisin (delivery of possession) or by livery of seisin without a deed. If the former method, we should have expected to find, if not a copy, at any rate a reference to it or a confirmation of it in subsequent charters; instead of which, although many refer to the grant none refers to a deed of grant. Thus, some time before the year 1170, Thomas of Canterbury, in his charter, states that 'Henry I granted the site in frankalmoign and by his charter confirmed it'; Henry II, in his charter of 1173, says that his grandfather 'granted in right of his crown the place in Smethefeld'; Richard I in his charter of 1190 confirms 'the gift of King Henry, our great grandsire, the place of Smethefeld in which their church was founded and the hospital house of the same church'; and in his charter of 1253 Henry III says that Henry I 'gave the place in Smethefelde'. Henry I, in his own charter of 1133, moreover, confirmed to the church all the lands pertaining to it, but he does not confirm any previous deed of grant. He does, however, later on make provision for any grant made other than by deed, for briefly he says: 'whatsoever shall be remembered to have been justly granted by writing or by testimony of good men (fn. 44) let no person presume to take.'

For these reasons we incline to the opinion that the feoffment was not by deed and livery of seisin, but by livery of seisin only, and this in spite of the fact that feoffments by deed were already being made in the reign of the first Henry. 'Feoffment by livery of seisin' only was made by the feoffer to the feoffee (the grantor to the grantee) in person, in presence of witnesses, the feoffer taking a clod of earth or a twig of a tree, or something on the land to be conveyed, and handing it to the feoffee, using, usually, a form of words of conveyance. That the king really was the grantor of the land both for the priory and for the hospital, is, as the biographer states, abundantly proved by the above charters. He writes: (fn. 45)

'And he, having obtained of the king's majesty the title of the possession he desired, and omitting no care or diligence, very gladly began to carry out his double work of piety: one for the vow which he had made; the other as had been appointed him by precept. When, therefore, matters succeeded prosperously and all things that were necessary flowed to his hand, according to the apostle's word, he forthwith began to build the church with suitable stone blocks in courses and the hospital house a little further removed from the church.'

The above makes it quite clear that the priory and the hospital were commenced at one and the same time.

He goes on: (fn. 46)

'Now the church was founded, as we have received of our elders, in the month of March, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in memory of the most blessed apostle Bartholomew, in the one thousand one hundred and twenty-third year from the Incarnation of the same Lord our Saviour, while the most holy Pope Calixtus the Second (fn. 47) ruled the holy see of Rome; William, Archbishop of Canterbury, (fn. 48) presided over the Church of England; and Richard (fn. 49) was bishop of London, who of due right hallowed that place on the east side of the said field, and dedicated with episcopal authority what was at that time quite a small cemetery (breve tunc admodum cemeterium) in the reign of the younger son of William Nothi (the Bastard) (fn. 50) first king of the English in the north, Henry the first, in the thirtieth and about a third year of his reign, (fn. 51) to the praise and glory of the Most High and Undivided Trinity, to Whom be blessing and thanksgiving, honour and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.'

This passage, important as regards dates, is unfortunately obscure towards the end.

After a founder had made his application to the bishop of the diocese, the bishop set up a cross and set out the ground where the church was to be built, and then the founder might proceed with the building: when finished the bishop was to consecrate it, before which the sacraments were not to be administered therein. (fn. 52) This setting up of the cross around which the building was to rise was the ceremony of founding, and still is so in the Roman church, where the cross is afterwards kept as a memorial of the occasion.

The Emperor Justinian, in his form for this ceremony of founding, prescribed that 'none shall presume to erect a church until the bishop of the diocese hath been first acquainted therewith, and shall come and lift up his hands to heaven, and consecrate the place to God by prayer and erect the symbol of our salvation, the venerable and truly precious rood', (fn. 53) so that the words 'who of due right hallowed that place on the east side of the said field and dedicated with episcopal authority' describes the ceremony as having been carried out in the correct form. The next four words, breve tunc admodum cemeterium, present some difficulty, but the obvious meaning is that a portion of the site was consecrated as a small cemetery.

The date of the founding is given very precisely as in the month of March milesimo centesimo vigesimo tertio—so clearly that one wonders why of all the chroniclers only Matthew Paris and Matthew of Westminster should give the date correctly, and why J. H. Parker in his lecture in 1863 should have suggested that 1123 was the date of completion and not of the founding of the church.

The dates of Pope Calixtus, of the Archbishop of Canterbury and of the Bishop of London all agree with the above date, but the way the regnal year of the king is stated: Regnante . . . Henrico primo Anno XXX et circiter tercium regni eius is impossible and shows the text to be corrupt. The 'thirtieth and about a third' of King Henry's reign would be December 1129, with which the other dates would not agree. The most plausible explanation is that the scribe when making the transcript in the fourteenth century wrote XXX instead of XX and certiter (or tirtiter) tertium in an effort to extend an original tertio: errors of this nature (termed dittography) occur in all transcripts, and this is a fourteenth-century transcript of a twelfth-century original. The year would then read the 23rd of Henry I, which was 1123, the date given for the founding.

It is unfortunate that the consecration of the church when built is not recorded in the Book of the Foundation, because it must have taken place. The consecration was a solemnity celebrated with the greatest pomp, especially in the Church of England, (fn. 54) and the king in his charter, when granting freedom from all earthly service, especially excepted 'episcopal customs as consecration of the church'.

The same applies to the dedication of the church: this, too, was a great ceremony, on the eve of which the relics of saints were brought to the church and watched throughout the night, with a blaze of lighted candles and hymn singing, and on the day of dedication they would have been laid with due honour in their proper places. (fn. 55) The dedication mentioned in the MS. evidently referred to the site of the church only and to the small cemetery.

It would seem, therefore:

That the church was founded in the year 1123.

That when the building was completed to a point sufficient for consecration the convent assembled, but in what year (fn. 56) there is no reliable record; probably about 1126, or 1127.

That the sedition, to be described presently, began to foment in the year 1130 or 1131; and

That the resulting conspiracy to take Rahere's life led to the granting by the king of an important charter of privileges in 1133.

The passage quoted above relating to the founding refers to the fact that the church was finished 'in memory of the most blessed apostle Bartholomew', and, seeing that the church was built by the precept of that apostle, as shown in the vision, it is natural to attribute the dedication to that event. But St. Bartholomew had long been held in esteem in England: in the time of King Cnut, the Bishop of Benevento brought the bones of one arm of the saint to England, which were purchased by Emma, Cnut's Queen, (fn. 57) and presented to the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, by the king by charter, together with the king's great pall, the golden crown of his head and the port of Sandwich, (fn. 58) thereby showing in what great veneration this relic was held. It is not, therefore, surprising to find, in the adjoining diocese of Rochester, a hospital of St. Bartholomew, founded before that of Rahere, by Gundulph, Bishop of Rochester, (fn. 59) about the end of the eleventh century, for the use of lepers. It lies partly in Rochester and partly in Chatham; it escaped the general suppression by Henry VIII, and still survives. There is also a hospital of St. Bartholomew at Sandwich, founded in the year 1190, (fn. 60) which now supports sixteen brethren and sisters.

St. Bartholomew was always considered the patron not only of the priory but also of the hospital and of the fair, and he is constantly referred to as such by our chronicler. All the cases of healing at the church are attributed to the patron; when Rahere had his antiphonar stolen it was St. Bartholomew who directed him how to find it; when men were saved from shipwreck (and there are six such cases recorded) it was through the intervention of the patron. When sailors were thus saved they would bring their offerings to St. Bartholomew's church, in money or in kind; (fn. 61) on one occasion it took the form of a model in silver of the ship that was saved. (fn. 62) No doubt the offerings of seamen considerably swelled the oblations of the altar of the church. The legend on the priory seal of the fourteenth century shows the position the apostle held in the minds of Rahere's successors—'Credimus ante Deum proveni per Bartholomeum' (we believe we are brought into the presence of God by Bartholomew).

The orientation of the church would probably have been arranged at the time of the founding ceremony, or preparatory thereto. On what day in March this took place is not mentioned, but assuming it to have been on Lady Day, the sun, we are told, would have risen on that day (old style) in London, in the year 1123, at 6.6° north of east (83.4° E. of N.). But it has been shown by observations, especially taken for this book, that the angle of orientation of the church is 37.76° north of east (52.24° E. of N.—true north, not magnetic north), (fn. 63) so that either the orientation of the church was governed by some other consideration than the point at which the sun rose on the day of the founding, or else the orientation was not arranged in the month of March, but at some time in the summer when the point of the sun's rising would have more nearly coincided with the angle of orientation; that is to say, about May 27th or July 4th, at either of which times, we are told, (fn. 64) the sun would have risen in London, in the year 1123, 37.76° east of north.

Turning again to the Book of the Foundation, the writer tells us of the cleansing of the site. (fn. 65)

'Now that place, however, before its cleansing, holding forth no hope of offering anything good, was very foul and, like a marsh, at almost all times abounded with filth and muddy water. And the part which was above the water was allotted to the hanging of thieves and the punishment of others who had been condemned by judicial authority.'

Stow and other historians speak of the ground being moorish and fenny, but the soil is really a deep layer of fine river gravel on which, as a matter of fact, Rahere built without any other foundation: the condition described above would be applicable to any undrained market-place. It is to be noted that the gallows originally stood on the site of the present church, a fact which does not seem to be generally known.

From this site the gallows were removed to the Elms on the other side of Smithfield by the then Horse-pool, due west from St. Bartholomew's; a site now covered by the western portion of the main block of buildings of the Central Meat Market.

The writer continues:

'When, however, Rahere had devoted his energies to the purging of the place and had decided to put his hand to the sacred building, not being ignorant of the wiles of Satan, he made himself a fool because he was constrained to do so (quia coactus) and outwardly putting on the appearance of a simpleton he began for a time to hide the secret of his soul, and to do his work more wisely, the more he did it secretly. At length, with wonderful skill in games, he won to himself bands of children and servants, and by their help he easily began to collect together stones and other things which should be profitable for his building. And he himself played with them and became in his own eyes even more vile from day to day, in order only that he might so much please the apostle of Christ, to whom he approved himself. And helped by his grace, when those things that seemed necessary had been prepared, he raised up an immense fabric; and now he began openly to be and to be called not foolish as was being thought but truly wise as was being concealed.'

As the stone with which the church was built came from a long distance, we assume that these serving men and boys merely helped in unloading the various building materials and carrying them to the place required, as was done in Normandy, where the people harnessed themselves to the carts laden with building materials and provisions for the workmen. (fn. 66)

The narrative continues:

'From this time all men were greatly astonished both at the novelty of the rising fabric and at the founder of this new work. For who would believe that that place could be purged with so sudden a cleansing and the tokens of the adorable cross be raised there [probably alluding to the cross or rood erected at the founding ceremony] where a short time ago were standing the horrible gibbets of thieves? Who would not be astonished that a remarkable building of piety should there be built to be a safe sanctuary to those that fled thereto, where of old was fixed the common place (fn. 67) of the condemned and where the general punishment of the wretched had been inflicted? Who would not marvel that there should be vaunted there the mystery of the Lord's Body and Holy Blood, where formerly was poured the blood of guilty men? Whose heart would easily admit that a man of such kind, neither remarkable by gentility of proud blood, nor sufficiently endowed with knowledge of letters human or divine, should undertake so prudently, so excellent and magnificent a work, and having undertaken it, should carry it on from day to day with such happy progress? This is the change of the hand of the Highest. These are Thy works, O Christ! . . . who madest Golgotha—a place of public abomination—a sanctuary of prayer, and a solemn token of devotion.'

Those who rebuilt the founder's tomb at the end of the fourteenth century, when they caused the book to be translated, must have been reminded by the above of the passages from Isaiah which they inscribed in Latin on the open Bibles in the hands of the two Augustinian canons kneeling at Rahere's feet: (fn. 68) 'For the Lord shall comfort Zion: He will comfort all her waste places: and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody', and (fn. 69) 'The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose'.

It was probably about this time, before the building was finished, that Rahere obtained the assistance of Alfune, as recorded in the following passage from the twenty-second chapter: (fn. 70)

'When the plantation which the heavenly Father had planted, to wit the aforesaid church, rose higher, and the fame of the virtue of the apostle rose higher, Rahere joined to himself a certain old man, Alfune by name, in whom there seemed to be seriousness with age, and, with seriousness, the wisdom of age. The same old man, not long before [about the year 1090], (fn. 71) had built the church of St. Giles at the gate of the city which is called in the English tongue Crepallsgate but in Latin Porta Contractorum, and had brought that good work to a happy conclusion. Thinking that this man would be useful to him, he appointed him his colleague, and with his counsel and help arranged and perfected what was to be done. It was the custom of the said Alfune to go about the city and neighbourhood of the church with an officer of the church, and busily to seek necessaries for the relief of the poor who lay in the hospital, and of those who were hired for the sake of building the church.'

If Alfune was, say, forty years of age when he finished St. Giles's church, he would have been between seventy-five and eighty when he came to help Rahere.

Returning to Chapter XI the biographer continues: (fn. 72)

'So, as time went on, the clerks who were to live under regular rule were shortly brought together in that place, Rahere holding the office of prior and abundantly ministering to them necessaries, not indeed from fixed revenues but from the offerings of the faithful. And not long after, lo, the fear he feared befel him, and what he dreaded happened to him: to some he became the savour of life unto life, to others the savour of death unto death. (fn. 73) For some said "he is a deceiver", because in the net of the great fisherman evil fish are mixed with good until the hour of the last judgment; those of his household became his foes and there arose against him wicked men: but their wickedness deceived themselves. Therefore, stimulated by envy, some secretly, many even openly, ceased not to rage against the man of God, and to disparage the place itself and the prelate thereof, to bring calumnious charges, to terrify with threats, to take away what goods they could, to oppress with baseness, to weary with wrong, to provoke with abuse and to beset with feigned friendship. Some of them broke out into such bold madness and mad boldness that they entered into an alliance of wicked conspiracy among themselves as to on which set day and place they might deceive him with guile and subtlety and admit to their counsel the man of God, and when present might take him by stealth from the path of life and thus altogether destroy his memory from the earth. But there is no wisdom, no knowledge, no device (fn. 74) against the Lord on Whom he was casting his thought, and in Whom, with the help of his apostle, he put his strength. . . . So He, Who was his hope, became his Strength and for his sake overcame his foes. Meantime, while the day appointed for the destruction of the innocent is awaited, one of them who was a partaker in this great treason, and in his guilt shuddering at the unheard-of sin, before the hour of the impending danger, fully disclosed to the servant of God the substance of the whole plan. He thereupon gave thanks to God and to his patron that the secrets of his foes were not hid from him and, by help of his piety, he had escaped the death prepared for him.

'For these and similar reasons that came to light, again he approached the king and with lamentable complaint urged how with false reproaches he was disgraced, and how the outbreak of scorn tried him; and prayed that he would deign to protect his person and the place appointed him by royal bounty. He also suggested to the king that he could look for no reward of God who began a good work and did not bring what he had begun to its proper completion. Wherefore by the bowels of Christ's pity on which he trusted, by the might of his dignity, by the eminence of his power, let him open to the desolate his heart of pity, let him honour God in his servants, let him restrain the yelping madness of the faithless and thus, combining better issues with good beginnings, build for himself an eternal mansion in heaven, while he respected the house of God on earth.

'And so the king, marvelling at the man's prudence and constancy, answered that he granted his just and necessary petitions and pledged himself to be thenceforward the guardian and defender of him and his. Therefore he presented the church, and all things belonging thereto, with the same liberties with which his crown and the freest Church of England were possessed, and granted to it the customary rights; and he decreed that it should be free from all earthly service, jurisdiction and submission, and gave very sharp sentence against the conspirators. These and many other tokens of liberties he granted to the prior and to those serving under him and to the aforesaid church, and confirmed them by his charter under a seal, adjuring also all his heirs and successors in the name of the Holy Trinity that they should uphold and defend this place with their royal authority, and should grant and confirm the liberties granted by him.

'Fortified with such privileges he joyfully came out from before the face of the king; and coming to his own people he made known what he had obtained of the king's majesty, to some that they might rejoice with him, to others that they might be afeared.'


  • 1. Charter, 5 John, 1204, printed by T. Duffus Hardy, 115.
  • 2. Dugdale, Hist. of St. Paul's, 240.
  • 3. Le Neve, Fasti, ii, 374.
  • 4. Newcourt, Rep. i, 133.
  • 5. Book of Found., Lib. I, cap. ii.
  • 6. Book of Found., Lib. I, cap. ii.
  • 7. Ezek. xiii. 18 (revised version)
  • 8. Rolls Series, No. 82, p. 334.
  • 9. Printed, p. 63 a.
  • 10. See Parker, Lecture, 1863, p. 17, and Walcott, St. Barth. Church, 1864.
  • 11. Delamotte, Hosp. St. Barth., 38; Stow, 140
  • 12. Thom, Early Prose Romances, i, 16.
  • 13. Above, p. 386.
  • 14. 1 Cor. i. 27.
  • 15. So called in the inscription on his monument at St. Osyth's Newcourt, Rep. ii, 455.
  • 16. London in Olden Times, p. 83.
  • 17. Book of Found., Lib. I, cap. iii.
  • 18. Book of Found., Lib. I, cap. iii.
  • 19. Ib., Lib. I, cap. iii.
  • 20. Isa. xxxviii. 5.
  • 21. Mark vii. 25.
  • 22. Book of Found., Lib. I, cap. iii.
  • 23. Ib., Lib. I, cap. iv.
  • 24. quasi in hec verba loqueretur.
  • 25. 1 Kings viii. 29; 2 Chron. vi. 20, 40.
  • 26. Matt. vii. 7.
  • 27. Giesebrecht, Geschichte der deutschen Kaiserzeit, 4 Ed. i, 716, and Giesebrecht, Baltische Studien, XI, i, 12–13. I am indebted to Karl Baedeker of Leipzig for these references.
  • 28. Book of the Found., Lib. I, cap. v.
  • 29. Ib., Lib. I, cap. vi.
  • 30. Ib., Lib. I, cap. vii.
  • 31. At this time the aldermen and chief citizens were thus styled, and the obverse of the common seal of the City, c. 1225, still in use, has the legend sigillum baronum Londoniarum; see also Riley, Memorials, 37.
  • 32. Archaeological Journal, xxxiv, 197.
  • 33. Cart. Antiq. L, No. 6.
  • 34. Ib. L, No. 8. See Cal. Pat., Hen. V., ii, 239.
  • 35. Rolls Series, No. 67, p. 36 of transl.
  • 36. Henry IV, pt. 11, sc. 4.
  • 37. Hosp. Cart., f. 49.
  • 38. Parl. Roll i, 371 a, 14 Edw. II.
  • 39. Book of Found., Lib. I, cap. viii.
  • 40. Ib., Lib. I, cap. ix.
  • 41. Psalm l. I.
  • 42. Book of the Found., Lib. I, cap. vii.
  • 43. Ib., Lib. I, cap. vii.
  • 44. i.e., By livery of seisin, which was in the presence of witnesses.
  • 45. Book of Found., Lib. I, cap. vii.
  • 46. Ib., Lib. I, cap. vii.
  • 47. Calixtus II was pope 1119–1124.
  • 48. William de Corbuil, 4 Feb. 1123–1136.
  • 49. Richard de Beauvais, 1108–1127–8.
  • 50. William I.
  • 51. Henry Beauclerc, 5 Aug. 1100, 1 Dec. 1135.
  • 52. Burn, Eccles. Law, i, 322, 'Church'.
  • 53. Burn, Eccles. Law, i, 325, 'Church'.
  • 54. Archaeologia, xxv, 235.
  • 55. Rock, Church of our Fathers, iii, 348.
  • 56. At Norwich the founding was in 1096, the assembling in 1101: Dugdale, iv, 1.
  • 57. Sir Norman Moore, Past and Present of St. Bart. Hosp., p. 11.
  • 58. Hampson, Medii Aevi Kalendarium, 335, quoting from Text. Roffensis, c. 33, p. 37.
  • 59. Dugdale, Mon. Ang. v. 764, pt. ii.
  • 60. Arch. Cant. xv, 7.
  • 61. Book of Found., Lib. II, cap. xxviii.
  • 62. Ib., Lib. II, cap. iii.
  • 63. From calculations made by the late Mr. J. Franklin Adams.
  • 64. From calculations made by Dr. Crommelin of the Royal Observatory at the request of Mr. W. H. Wesley, Assistant Secretary of the R.A.S.
  • 65. Book of Found., Lib. I, cap. x.
  • 66. West, Gothic Architecture, 25.
  • 67. Officina.
  • 68. Isa. li. 3.
  • 69. Isa. xxxv. I.
  • 70. Book of Found., Lib. I, cap. xxii.
  • 71. Newcourt, Rep. i, 355. A MS. at St. Paul's says Aelmund the priest built St. Giles's Church.
  • 72. Book of Found., Lib. I, cap. xi.
  • 73. 2 Cor. ii. 16.
  • 74. Eccles. ix. 10.