Category Archives: The Medieval Church

Medieval Lent

Saxon Rood

Since we’ve just entered Lent, I thought we’d have a look at what happened during this period in the Middle Ages. When we think about Lent as it was experienced seven hundred years ago, we tend to focus on the fasting aspect. Meat, milk (cream and butter), and eggs were banned, which, as I’ve said in other posts, probably wasn’t much of a change for most people who struggled to get meat much of the time. What we rarely think about is what Lent meant to a medieval person. Today many people think that Lent is just about giving up chocolate or television or something else that’s reasonably important to them, but people in the Middle Ages knew that giving up things was to help them to reflect on the meaning of Lent.

So, what was, and is, Lent? It’s the forty days before Easter and is a very sombre time in the church calendar. It leads to the despair of the Crucifixion and, ultimately, to the joy of Easter Day. Like Easter, it doesn’t have fixed dates. It takes as its model the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness and is a time of sacrifice and deprivation. It lasts from Ash Wednesday until the end of Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.

Before Ash Wednesday, there is Shrove Tuesday. In the Middle Ages this wasn’t a single day but a longer period known as Shrovetide, when people confessed their sins so that they could begin the Lenten fast having repented, received absolution and done penance. This is the meaning of the word ‘shrive’ from which ‘shrove’ is derived. Even in a small village it would probably have taken the priest longer than one day to hear everyone’s confession. Shrove Tuesday was the last day on which meat, milk and eggs could be consumed and in some countries it turned into a bit of a party – Carnival. That’s not the case in England, where it was a fairly serious day until the Reformation. That’s when the tradition of making pancakes to use the last of the eggs and the butter began.

The other thing they were supposed to abstain from during Lent was sex. Who knows now how strictly that particular injunction was observed? Since most people, even married couples, had no privacy, I suspect that it was … for the most part. No one could get married in Lent and it’s still something that many churches aren’t keen on. These days, though, it’s more for practical reasons than spiritual ones. Lent is an austere time and churches can’t be decorated as some couples might wish.

This many centuries later, it’s really hard to know what people thought about Lent, but they wouldn’t have thought it was just about what they couldn’t eat, or couldn’t do. The church was the centre of everyone’s life and everyone grew up going to church on Sundays and feast days. The parish priest was always there and there was probably a monastery or convent not far away. Mendicant friars might have visited the parish and preached. Parishioners heard sermons and, even if their priest didn’t have access to a Bible, they learned enough about the cycle of the church year to understand the meaning of Lent. They would have understood that it was a time of reflection and preparation. Fasting was only something that would aid this; it was not the most important aspect of Lent.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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The Friar of Carcassonne by Stephen O’Shea – A Review

Published: 2011
Pages: 280

Although most of the events related in The Friar of Carcassonne take place in the fourteenth century, their roots stretch back into the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with the explosion of heresies in the Languedoc, an area of southern France. Stephen O’Shea has written about the origins of Catharism in the region in a separate book, The Perfect Heresy, and The Friar of Carcassonne is the story of a Franciscan who played an important role during its end.

Brother Bernard Délicieux, a Franciscan, took on the inquisition (very definitely lower case at that time) when no one else dared. There had been obvious abuses by the Dominican inquisitors in Carcassonne, a town in Languedoc, at the end of the thirteenth century. Some of the inquisitors, it turned out later, received financial benefits from identifying certain wealthy people as supporters of the heretics. Very little ‘evidence’ was required to condemn someone and many men spent decades incarcerated in terrible conditions, eventually dying in prison for supporting people they’d never heard of. This was the main incentive for Bernard to take on the inquisition.

O’Shea goes back in time at the beginning of the book in order to set the scene. By the end of the thirteenth century Catharism had begun to die out, but there was renewed persecution in the last two decades of the century. This resulted in unrest in a region that had only recently become part of the kingdom of France. Eventually what was going on there caused concern both to the pope and to the king of France.

Brother Bernard is presented as charismatic, intelligent and persuasive. O’Shea shows how he managed to gain the support of both highly-placed churchmen and counsellors of Philippe IV, king of France. He also shows how easily Bernard made enemies in equally high places, including kings and popes. Bernard, it turns out, could also be a bit of a rabble-rouser when he wanted and he wasn’t above lying to further his cause or to save his life.

Unusually for something that happened in a remote corner of the world to someone who wasn’t terribly important beyond that corner, the events are well-documented. The reasons for this become very clear as the tale progresses. O’Shea makes good use of these records in his presentation of the friar and his activities.

I enjoyed the book, but found it quite disjointed. Of necessity, O’Shea has to explain a lot of background before he can write about what Bernard did in a particular situation and why it was significant, and that breaks up the narrative, since it’s necessary in almost every chapter. There are also copious notes at the end of the book, citing sources for those who want to find out more. If you’re interested in the heresies that erupted in the twelfth century, you will probably want to read this book.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Geoffroi de Charny and the Turin Shroud

These week we’re continuing with our look at aspects of the life of Geoffroi de Charny. Like most of his contemporaries, de Charny was very pious. In the 1340s he started planning the building of a church on his estate at Lirey. He wanted to have five clerics in the chapel who would pray and say masses for himself, his family, the king and the royal family. It was in relation to this church that the Shroud of Turin was first mentioned and De Charny was probably its first owner, if not the person the commissioned its creation. He’s certainly the first verifiable owner.

The first mention of it being in his possession was in a papal letter written not long after his death, when de Charny’s son had inherited the shroud. De Charny junior gave exhibitions of it to the public to no little scandal, since he gained financially from it. It’s possible that de Charny himself exhibited it around 1355 to 1356. The exhibitions were subject to an episcopal investigation at the time, led by Henri de Poitiers, the bishop of Troyes. It seems that the church was worried that the shroud was being passed off as a relic of Christ. Following the episcopal investigation, the family were told that they had to announce that the shroud was not a relic whenever they exhibited it. This doesn’t mean that it was created with the intention of deceiving people, but that people can convince themselves that something is a relic, even when it clearly isn’t.

A pilgrim badge has been found showing the shroud with the arms of de Charny and his second wife. They might, of course, be the arms of de Charny’s son, but the badge certainly shows that there were sufficient pilgrims wanting to see the shroud around the middle of the fourteenth century that it was worthwhile to have lead badges manufactured to sell to them as souvenirs.

This sounds trite, but in the days before photography, a badge was proof that someone had arrived at and returned from a recognised site of pilgrimage. This might be particularly useful if the pilgrimage was being carried out as an act of penance. It was also a way of recognising another pilgrim.

It’s possible that de Charny purchased the shroud while he was on crusade in 1345 to 1346, although unlikely due to the way in which the linen thread was spun. It’s more likely that it was made and painted at his or his wife’s request by an artist local to Lirey for an Easter service, in which a linen sheet representing Christ’s shroud was carried to the altar and laid on it ready for mass. This was a recorded part of the Easter liturgy in some places. Most scientific tests have dated the shroud to between 1260 and 1390. The width of the cloth is certainly standard for the fourteenth century loom. It would have been created as an icon, an aid to devotion, rather than a false relic, something deserving reverence of itself. It was only later that it was considered to be a relic.

Sources:
The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny by Richard W. Kaeuper and Elspeth Kennedy
The Origins of the Shroud of Turing by Charles Freeman, History Today November 2014

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Advent

Mattana, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent does not, as I’ve read in more than one place, begin on the last Sunday in November. Mostly it does, but occasionally it begins on the first Sunday in December. The crucial thing is that Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. Unlike Lent, the other great fasting period of the Middle Ages, it isn’t a set period. It varies in length from year to year.

For the people of the Middle Ages, Advent was a time of preparation for Christmas. It wasn’t Christmas itself, as many of my neighbours think, since Christmas trees and Christmas decorations are already appearing in these parts. Advent was, and is, the beginning of the church year and it was a serious time. It was such a serious time that people had to fast. Fasting meant abstaining from meat, not abstaining from food altogether. This showed them that this time was different from the rest of the year. It was a time for reflecting on the past and thinking about the future.

Doom Painting

Advent wasn’t just about preparing for the baby in the manger; it was also about preparing for the second coming of Christ. Everyone in the Middle Ages was aware that Christ was coming again and would judge mankind. Most parish churches had a doom painting somewhere on their walls. Doom paintings showed what we would call the Last Judgement, when Christ judges everyone, living and dead, sending them to Heaven or Hell.

Doom paintings, such as the illustrations to this post, are quite frightening. They show the two different fates awaiting everyone, living or dead. Usually, those judged righteous are assisted to Heaven by angels, while demons with sharp teeth, claws and instruments of torture carry the unrighteous to Hell. I should think that seeing one of those every time you went to church, which would have been more than once a week, would have had a very salutary effect on your behaviour.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Music

In the last post we saw that people are taking to medieval style music in a big way at the moment. That made me reflect a little on the kind of music that was around in the Middle Ages.

Music was very much a part of medieval life. Then, as now (well, not right now, but usually), there was music in church and music for dancing. Performances of mystery plays were accompanied by music. Pilgrims often sang as they walked.

It’s difficult to know now what medieval music sounded like, or even what some of the instruments used in the Middle Ages were. Much of what is known about medieval instruments comes from pictures and sculptures, which don’t say anything about what the instruments were made of or how they were made. They don’t even provide much information about how they were played. Sculptors and artists weren’t necessarily accurate in the way they depicted musicians and their instruments. If they weren’t musicians themselves, their representations of the instruments and how they were held and played could be flawed. There were some treatises written about music, though, which help.

Fortunately, there are those who have done the work to try to replicate what medieval musicians might have played. They reproduce the instruments and work out what the musical notation means. Musicians research performance practice and the music is performed.

The examples below are fairly short and come mostly from the twelfth century. The first two are from the Carmina Burana. This was a collection of poems by various authors mostly written in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Most are in Medieval Latin, but some are in Middle High German. Many of them are very bawdy, so you’ll have to go elsewhere to find the lyrics. Carl Orff set some of the poems to music in the 1930s, so the name and some of the poems might be familiar to you. He wasn’t the first, though. Many of them are accompanied by music in the original manuscript.

In taberna quando sumus means ‘when we are in the tavern’. Need I say more?

Tempus est Iocundum (The time is pleasing) is a celebration of new love.

This next piece is the sort of thing that pilgrims sang on their way to Compostela to the shrine of St James. Dum Pater Familias tells the story of St. James and ends as a prayer to him.

Finally, here’s a piece by Hildegard von Bingen, an extraordinary woman who was a nun in the twelfth century. Ave generosa (Hail thee, noble one) is a song of praise to the Virgin Mary. I’m sorry about the picture that goes with it, but you could listen with your eyes closed.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Things I’ve Learned From The Canterbury Tales Part One

Canterbury Tales

When I started reading The Canterbury Tales I guessed that I would come across a few things I didn’t already know about the fourteenth century. This has proven to be the case,  even within the first few pages, but some of the things I’ve learned aren’t really enough to sustain a whole post. I thought, therefore, that I would do a series of ‘pick and mix’ posts as things arise. There is nothing to link the things I’m writing about, other than that I came across them in The Canterbury Tales and found them interesting

One of the pilgrims going to Canterbury is a friar. In his description in the General Prologue, Chaucer tells us that the friar keeps knives and pins in his long sleeves to give to women. This came as a bit of a shock to me. Aside from sounding rather dangerous, why was the friar giving things to women? The notes came to my aid here and it turns out that friars, who travelled from place to place preaching and begging for alms, were ideally placed to be pedlars. The friar carried his wares in his sleeves and was always ready to make a sale. Chaucer tells his readers that he made a fair amount of money in this trade. He gives the impression that he doesn’t think this is a good thing.

The friar also participated in ‘love days’. They’re not what you’re thinking. Instead, they were meetings between the parties to a dispute who wanted to reach a settlement out of court. Sometimes this was with the aim of avoiding going to court at all, and sometimes the love day took place after those involved had appeared in court but before a judgement had been made. The friar was an arbiter, putting him in a position where he could receive bribes if he wished, and we assume that he did so wish. Chaucer doesn’t have a very high opinion of his friar. Perhaps he had suffered at the hands of friars at love days. Chaucer made a bit of a habit of being in debt in later life and there are records of cases against him seeking repayment. Some of those cases would have been settled at a love day and not always in his favour.

Sources:
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer edited by Jill Mann
The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer by Derek Pearsall

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Embroiderers

Butlerbowden_cope

Butterbowden Cope By The original uploader was VAwebteam at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by NotFromUtrecht using CommonsHelper., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8939525

Embroidery was something that every woman brought up in a wealthy household could do.  They sewed purses for their husbands, or table linen or cushions for the household. If they were really accomplished, they might make something for the local church. I think all the women in my novels do embroidery at some point.

Nuns also embroidered. Some of them could get so carried away with it that they were told to return to their books and the singing of psalms.

Embroidery was not just a domestic skill, however, it was also a profession. In the domestic setting, embroidery was done by women. Professionally, it was mainly done by women, but some men were also involved. It looks as if all the designing was done by men.

For 200 years, from around 1150 to about 1350, England led Europe in embroidery skills and designs.  This was the peak of the opus anglicanum ((English work)) style of embroidery and it was in great demand, both in England and abroad. This changed until, around 1400, the quality had disappeared and Flemish and Italian designers and embroiders were pre-eminent.

There are no records of guilds of embroiders at this time, but they, or something like them, must have existed in order to maintain the quality of the work. Whether or not they did exist, there were still some rules that the professionals had to follow. Like the fletchers and bowyers we met a couple of weeks ago, they were not allowed to work by candlelight.

Leading embroiderers worked directly for kings, nobles, bishops and abbots, embroidering clothing, vestments and decorative pieces. Embroidery was not something that could be rushed, not if you were to produce something of quality. During the reign of Edward I, it took four women three and three-quarter years to make the altar frontal for the main altar in Westminster Abbey.

Large objects, such as copes, chasubles, altar-cloths, mantles, and bed and wall hangings were made in workshops by a team of embroiders. Smaller ones, such as bands, mitres, cushions and purses could be made by an embroideress in her own home.

The best embroideries were done with silk thread, and silver and gold thread, the making of which was a skill in itself. Those who could make it were paid more than embroiders. They spun narrow strips of gold or silver around a silk thread. The thread was extremely expensive, so it was attached to the cloth by couching, allowing all of it to be on display. Couching was a technique in which the gold thread was placed on the fabric in the desired shape and held in place by small stitches in silk thread along its length. This is a technique I’ve tried and it’s not easy.

The other main type of stitch used was the split stitch. It’s exactly what you think it is: the needle splits the thread as it comes from the back to the front of the fabric. I’ve only ever done this by accident.

After the Reformation, many church vestments were destroyed so that the precious metals and jewels could be recovered. Very little medieval embroidery has survived and even the Bayeux Tapestry was almost ripped up on several occasions.

Here is a very short video showing the process used in the Middle Ages to create a piece of embroidery.

Sources:

Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers by Kay Staniland

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Priests

20161003_110140

Some time ago I started an occasional series on the various roles in fourteenth-century society. It was so occasional that I didn’t finish it. I don’t promise to finish it now, but I will get to some of the things that I left out.

We’ve spent a lot of time with monks recently, but the medieval church was more than monks. There were many clerics who lived and ministered in various capacities in the secular world and some of them were more secular than others. Today I want to look at priests.

Anyone other than a serf was eligible for the priesthood. Once ordained there was nothing, in theory, to stop them becoming bishops. William of Wykeham was a good example of this in the fourteenth century. His father was a freeman, but he went to school and started work as a secretary, becoming supervisor of Edward III’s building works. When he was almost 40, he was ordained. Four years later, he was made Bishop of Winchester. It is true, however, that few men of humble origins rose so far. They were far more likely to become the priest of a parish not far from where they were born.

There were about 9,000 parishes in England at the beginning of the fourteenth century and each one needed at least one priest. The lord of the manor appointed the rector, who was responsible for the parish, but the rector didn’t always live there. He could hire a deputy, a vicar, to manage the parish in his place. The rector received the revenues from the glebe and the parishioners’ tithes. From these he paid the vicar a stipend.

The glebe was land that was used to provide a living for the rector.  A glebe would, on average, be about 100 acres in size. Like everyone else in the parish, unless it was in a town, the priest would grow crops to eat on some of the land and grow crops to sell on the rest of it. Most rectors paid men to work on the glebe.  Parishioners gave a tenth of what they produced each year to the priest. This might be in the form of money, crops, eggs, milk or animals. This was the tithe. For most parish priests the tithes provided more than the glebe and they were able to sell some of the crops they grew themselves.

If the rector was a local man, he tended to live in the parish and do the work himself. In this instance he was usually the son of a freeman or a craftsman. Absentee rectors were more usually members of the nobility who lived on the income from one or more parishes. It wasn’t uncommon for rectors to have several parishes. As you would expect, some took care to make sure that the work was being carried out properly, while others did not.

IMG_20190510_151831

Fourteenth Century Priest’s House, Muchelney

Parish priests were very much part of the community they lived in, even though they were distinct from it. They joined in all the village celebrations and activities, and they worked their land like their neighbours. They were different in that they could absolve sins and, as they saw it, ‘make God’ in the mass. They were also supposed to be celibate.

It took a long time for the first Lateran Council’s ruling on celibacy in the first half of the twelfth century to be imposed, but by the fourteenth century it was generally accepted in England that priests weren’t supposed to have wives. Some priests kept concubines, however. It wasn’t until the Counter-Reformation in the sixteenth century that celibacy was finally enforced.

Another distinction was that members of the clergy were tried in church courts, which tended to be more lenient than other courts. Although priests, like monks, were supposed to be tonsured, most weren’t. There wasn’t really any way to differentiate between a priest and anyone else by the way they were dressed, so priests who were accused of a crime could find themselves in the position of having to demonstrate that they had the right to be tried by a church court. The test was whether or not they could read a passage from the Bible. This wasn’t the easy test that it sounds, as the Bible was in Latin and the majority of priests received little formal education.

The lack of educated priests was tackled by the fourth Lateran Council in 1215. It took a few decades for its effects to be felt across England, but bishops began to require that their parish priests should know and understand the Ten Commandments, the seven deadly sins, the seven sacraments and the creeds. They were supposed to preach about these to their parishioners, teaching them how to approach the sacraments. Other duties were catechising children and guiding the morals of their parishioners. Since priests had to look after the glebe, there was always the fear that they would spend most of their time growing food rather than looking after the spiritual needs of their parishioners.

Despite the growing use of instruction manuals for priests since the thirteenth century, there were many complaints at the end of the fourteenth century that parish priests were so ignorant they were leading their parishioners to hell.

Sources:
A Social History of England 1200-1500 ed. Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod
Life in a Medieval Village by Frances and Joseph Gies

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Abducting Nuns

Saxon rood (3)

Romsey Abbey

Content warning – this post refers to sexual assault

Last week I was chatting with Portia from The Gift of Time and she said that I should write a post about how convents were different from monasteries. I said they were the same, except that nuns who were heiresses were often abducted from convents. She said, “Ah”, so I went away and did some reading. It wasn’t long before I realised that there were some other ways in which convents and monasteries were different. A bit more research showed that abductions from convents were not as common as I’d thought they were, although abductions of wealthy unmarried women in general were far from unknown.

There were nowhere near as many nuns as there were monks in England. This was partly because nuns usually came from aristocratic families, whilst monks came from all kinds of backgrounds. Another difference between monks and nuns is that nuns were not expected to do the physical labour that monks were. That meant that there were more servants proportionally in a convent. It also meant that nuns might find themselves with time on their hands.

Women went into convents for various reasons. Some of them went of their own accord, because they had a vocation for the life of a religious or because it was a place where they could live quietly after an active life. It might have seemed an attractive option for a wealthy woman who had had two or three husbands. It was also a place where daughters who were unlikely to marry could be sent.

Another difference between convents and monasteries is that few convents were really wealthy. The nearest convent to me, Romsey Abbey, was one of those, but most attracted few gifts of money or land. When the harvests were bad, there could be real suffering in the poorer convents. In order not to have the nuns starve, some bishops gave them gifts to tide them over, or allowed them to leave the convent in order to beg.

So, what about the abductions? I couldn’t find many. Since they took a vow of chastity, nuns were not supposed to marry. Marriage was usually the purpose of an abduction, although gaining a hostage or rescuing a woman from a violent husband were other motives. Circumstances might change after a woman had become a nun, making her an heiress and more worth marrying than she had been. Abduction sounds fairly harmless, but it wasn’t. More often than not, the victim was raped in order to bring about the marriage.

In the mid-thirteenth century a nun from Shaftesbury Abbey was abducted whilst visiting her parents. Nuns were not supposed to leave their convents, but some were permitted to visit relatives. One of the more notorious examples of this was Mary of Woodstock, a daughter of Edward I, who went on pilgrimages and frequently spent time at court with her parents. Even more scandalously, she was known as gambler. Mary had entered the convent at Amesbury (another wealthy abbey)  at the age of 6 at the instigation of her grandmother, Eleanor of Provence. The widow of Henry III also persuaded another granddaughter to go into the convent when she retired to it a few years later. Edward I was able to take the unusual step for a monarch of giving up one of his daughters to the convent, because he had others who could make political marriages.

Not everything that was passed off as an abduction was an abduction. Sometimes it was an elopement. Mary de Blois, the daughter of King Stephen, was abbess of Romsey when she was abducted by (or eloped with) Matthew, Count of Boulogne in 1160. Unsurprisingly, their marriage caused a great scandal and the pope put the County of Boulogne under interdict so that the sacraments of baptism and the last rites couldn’t be given. Later, after she had given birth to two daughters, Mary repented and returned to the convent. I can’t help thinking that she might not have returned had she had a son or two.

My novel, The Winter Love, opens with Henry abducting Eleanor from her convent. His motives, I’m glad to say, are honourable, but it takes Eleanor a while to trust him.

Sources:
Medieval Nunneries by Mike Salter
Daughters of Chivalry by Kelcey Wilson-Lee

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anatomy of a Monastery – The Gatehouse

The gatehouse, Roche Abbey (2)

The Gatehouse, Roche Abbey

This is our final visit to the monastery and we’re leaving, as is proper, via the gatehouse. Like castles, monasteries were surrounded by a wall. In some parts of the country monasteries were subject to raids at various times, so some kind of fortification was important. Since monks had no means of defending themselves, the wall and the gate had to be as strong as possible. 

Gatehouses were staffed by porters, whose job it was to question those who wanted to enter, or leave, the monastery. The purpose of their questions was to find out whether that person had the right to come in or go out. Once he had made sure of the visitor’s identity and their reason for coming to the monastery, the porter directed them to the relevant obedientiary.

The porter could either be a monk or a lay employee and he was usually given accommodation in or near the gatehouse.

Gatehouses didn’t just allow entry to people, but also to carts. Supplies arrived from the abbey’s granges in carts or on the backs of horses, and guests would arrive with carts containing some of their belongings. My favourite gatehouse is this one where you can see the separate entrances for both carts and for people on foot. In many monasteries there was a single entrance for both.

Visitors were only allowed into what was effectively an outer courtyard. They were not allowed into the inner courtyard: the cloister. Like an outer bailey of a castle, this outer courtyard, known as the precinct, could be very large. It was here that any stores, barns, workshops, cattle-sheds, mills, smithies, stables and cemeteries were located.

The gates were closed at Compline, the last office before the monks went to bed. The porter could, however, open them for guests who had been delayed on their way or even pilgrims arriving after dark.

Large gatehouses like the one at Easby Abbey below, had rooms upstairs that could be used as offices or accommodation for the porter. Stores of items to be given as alms to the poor could be stored there so that they could be dispensed without the poor needing to enter the monastery. Alms were given out from a covered porch on the other side of the gate.

Easby Abbey gatehouse (2)

Gatehouse, Easby Abbey

Another use for the space on the upper floor was as a prison. Prisons were used to punish disobedient monks. We saw some weeks ago how they were sentenced in the chapter house and imprisonment was one of the most severe forms of punishment.

The gatehouse at Roche Abbey was built in the fourteenth century. Most of the slabs underfoot are original. Considering its purpose, it’s very elegant. It has beautiful vaulted ceilings with carved heads scattered about. When it was built it had an upper story, but that hasn’t survived.

Corbel, gatehouse, Roche Abbey

Carved head, Gatehouse, Roche Abbey

Medieval pavement, gatehouse, Roche Abbey

Medieval Pavement, Gatehouse, Roche Abbey

Sources:
The Companion to Cathedrals and Abbeys by Stephen Friar
Roche Abbey by Stuart Harrison
Richmond Castle and Easy Abbey by John Goodall

 

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Filed under Medieval Buildings, Medieval Monks, Monastery, The Medieval Church