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‘An Afterlife in Memory’: Commemoration and its Effects in a Late Medieval Parish*

  • Clive Burgess (a1)
Extract

Investigations of the more routine expressions of pre-Reformation spirituality inevitably tend to dwell on the conventions employed by individuals to ease the progress of the soul. The pious attestations and exhortations that some men and women recorded may merit the closest attention for the insight they afford into beliefs and aspiration; but hardly less instructive, and much more common, are the services and good works that individuals commissioned both to express repentance and expedite deliverance. Focusing in this way on individuals poses problems, however. While a few had the means to establish a ‘freestanding’ institution – such as an almshouse the great majority channeled penitential activity into the arena, and to the benefit, of their parish. Individuals ordinarily acted as parishioners, contributing towards and depending upon the services of a well-defined, broader community, within which they did their best to enhance collective memory and experience to their own advantage by securing the benefit of others. If anything, ensuring the benefit of others was reckoned the essential, practical prerequisite for personal advantage. As a result, if we accept that the desire to be saved – and as expeditiously as possible – spurred on most contemporary Christians, the doctrinal emphases in the centuries before the Reformation predicated a series of distinctive consequences, two of which are of particular significance here. First, many parishioners assured themselves of long remembrance, amounting to an afterlife in the world and in the consciousness of those that came after.

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*

This paper strays close to ground that I have covered elsewhere, particularly in my ‘“Longing to be Prayed for”: Death and Commemoration in an English Parish in the Later Middle Ages’, in B. Gordon and P. Marshall, eds, The Place of the Dead: Death and Remembrance in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2000), 44–65. It is offered, however, as a convenient gathering of a number of ideas that afford a fruitful approach to understanding some, at least, of the purposes underpinning late medieval pious practice and achievement. Notes are kept to a minimum.

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1 For a rough, but instructive, impression of the institutional richness of the pre-Reformation Church, it is worthwhile contemplating the bulk of Knowles, D. and Hadcock, R. N., Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales, 2nd edn (London, 1971).

2 I have argued this point in more detail elsewhere; see my An Institution for all Seasons: The Late Medieval English College’, in Burgess, C. and Heale, M., eds, The Late Medieval English College and its Context (Woodbridge, 2008), 327.

3 On the role of bishops, see McHardy, A. K., ‘Liturgy and Propaganda in the Diocese of Lincoln during the Hundred Years War’, in Mews, S., ed., Religion and National Identity, SCH 18 (Oxford, 1982), 21527 ; eadem, , ‘Some Reflections on Edward III’s Use of Propaganda’, in Bothwell, J. S., ed., The Age of Edward III (Woodbridge, 2001), 17192.

4 The ‘houselling populations’ for Bristol’s parishes are taken from the mid sixteenth-century Chantry Certificates – most easily accessible in Maclean, J., ed., ‘Chantry Certificates, Gloucestershire’, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society [hereafter: TBGAS] 8 (1883-84), 229308.

5 I am indebted to Dr James Lee for advice on this point.

6 Orme, N., ‘The Guild of Kalendars, Bristol’, TBGAS 96 (1978), 3252 , is essential reading on this fraternity and its fortunes in the fifteenth century.

7 Full transcriptions of the great majority of the All Saints’ archive are now available in three volumes of the Bristol Record Society: Clive Burgess, ed., The Pre-Reformation Records of All Saints’, Bristol: Parts 1, 2 and 3, Bristol Record Society’s Publications 46, 53, 56 (1995, 2000 and 2004) [hereafter: ASB 1, ASB 2 and ASB 3].

8 These are all printed in the first section of ASB 3.

9 Printed in ASB 1.

10 Printed in ASB 2.

11 The Halleway chantry materials and All Saints’ deeds respectively constitute the second and third sections of ASB 3.

12 Powicke, F. M. and Cheney, C. R., eds, Councils and Synods with other Documents relating to the English Church II, AD 1205–1313 (Oxford, 1964), 1: 128, 367; 2: 1006, 112223 . C. Drew, Early Parochial Organisation in England. The Origins of the Office of Churchwarden, St Anthony’s Hall Publications 7 (York, 1954) provides useful discussion on the impact of such obligations.

13 For convenient discussion of this doctrine and its impact, see Duffy, E., The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400–1580, 2nd edn (New Haven, CT, and London, 2005), ch. 10; also my A Fond Thing Vainly Invented’, in Wright, S.J., ed., Parish, Church and People: Local Studies in Lay Religion, 1350–1750 (London, 1988), 5684.

14 Respectively, the series of epitomes of successive pairs of churchwardens and the tidied version of old accounts, to be found in ASB 1, 45–49 and 49–135.

15 The Masters of the parish receive more attention in my Pre-Reformation Church-wardens’ Accounts and Parish Government: Lessons from London and Bristol’, EHR 117 (2002), 30632.

16 ASB 1, 15.

17 Ibid. 21–22.

18 Ibid. 13.

19 Ibid. 17. As the subsequent exhortation makes clear, the initials are those of her late husband, Henry, and herself.

20 Ibid.

21 ASB 3, will 16, clause 5. Clement Wilteshire died suddenly while serving as mayor of Bristol in 1492, probably at Christmastide. The will that survives for him was evidently made, following common precautionary practice, some years before his decease; those granted the opportunity recast their wishes in the days or hours before death.

22 Ibid., will 18, clause 4.

23 Ibid., will 3, clause 11.

24 He may, unusually, have bothered to specify this since he was not a parishioner of All Saints’ when he died, although it had clearly been his parents’ parish and he would probably have grown up there. He obviously felt obliged to be precise as to the location of this observance.

25 In the unbound churchwardens’ accounts for 1478–79, for instance, there is a payment for bedes being hung up in the church, and later taken down and folded up (ASB 2, 93), which may possibly suggest some overlap between tables of memory and bede rolls.

26 Parishes in Bristol each appear to have had different days for their General Mind, as mentioned in my ‘Longing to be prayed for’, 54.

27 ASB 1,4.

28 Ibid. 9; but my forthcoming monograph on All Saints’ includes a much fuller discussion of Haddon’s generosity and of the vicissitudes visited on his legacy.

29 Sir Thomas Marshall, vicar of the church in the 1430s and 1440s, had paid for glazing two windows in the Cross aisle (ibid. 8), and Thomas Halleway had, at some unspecified date, given the sum of £20 to the Cross aisle (ibid. 14).

30 Ibid. 16–17.

31 Ibid. 17–18.

32 All the material relating to the Halleways’ foundation (and including a general introduction) is printed in the second section of ASB 3. It should also be noted that Richard Haddon’s attempt to establish a perpetual chantry in All Saints’ (also in the 1440s and 1450s) foundered in the early 1470s.

33 I discuss the form and number of late medieval Bristol’s anniversaries in A Service for the Dead: The Form and Function of the Anniversary in Late Medieval Bristol’, TBGAS 105 (1987), 183211.

34 I scrutinize similar developments in London in my London, the Church and the Kingdom’, in Davies, M. and Prescott, A., eds, London and the Kingdom: Essays in Honour of Barron, Caroline M. (Donington, 2008), 98117.

35 The acquisition of properties devised ostensibly for anniversaries may be traced in detail in the All Saints’ deeds, printed in the third part of ASB 3; the subsequent increase in parish income, which can be deduced from surveying the parish accounts, is discussed in more detail in ASB 2, 15–16.

36 See above, n. 28; the reacquisition is discussed in more detail in my Pre-Reformation Churchwardens’Accounts’, 32628.

37 This much is plain from the rules set down ‘for the clerk’s finding’ (ASB 1, 2), and from the ‘top-up’ payments to clerks that churchwardens commonly allowed for in the parish accounts.

38 For instance, the Church Book of St Ewen’s, , Bristol, , names those who gave ‘to the making of a cross of silver and over gilt’ in 1454: printed in Masters, B. R. and Ralph, E., eds, The Church Book of St Ewen’s Bristol, 1434–1584, Publications of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Records Section 6 (1967), 2729, 33.

39 ASB 1,47.

40 Respectively, ibid. 14 and 8.

41 Ibid. 41.

* This paper strays close to ground that I have covered elsewhere, particularly in my ‘“Longing to be Prayed for”: Death and Commemoration in an English Parish in the Later Middle Ages’, in B. Gordon and P. Marshall, eds, The Place of the Dead: Death and Remembrance in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2000), 44–65. It is offered, however, as a convenient gathering of a number of ideas that afford a fruitful approach to understanding some, at least, of the purposes underpinning late medieval pious practice and achievement. Notes are kept to a minimum.

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Studies in Church History
  • ISSN: 0424-2084
  • EISSN: 2059-0644
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