The Bede Roll for the Church of St. Mary in Sandwich

by Martha Rust

Thanks to an abundant variety of medieval sources, we have a clear view of late-medieval English church-goers from the perspective of the pulpit: that is, from the point of view of those who were charged with inducing lay people to come to church and with ordering their behavior once they were there. From this point of view, we see the laity as an abstract, undifferentiated crowd in need of shushing and containment. Talkative church goers, a treatise on how to behave in church warns, may find that their words are being copied down by devils, devils who were on hand in churches precisely to record such talking out of turn.[1] For controlling bodies as well as lips, the rood screen–that defining architectural feature of the medieval parish church–clearly conveys the pulpit’s view of the laity as a motley bunch that must necessarily be barred from the space of priestly ritual.[2]

Another, more rarely surviving kind of medieval source brings individual members of the laity into focus, albeit after their deaths. This form of documentation consists of a parish’s “bede roll”–or prayer roll–which listed deceased members of the parish who had donated to the institution in some way.[3] When the bede roll was brought out–customarily at least once a year–members of the congregation prayed for each individual listed therein as his or her name was read, thereby shortening the time each of these departed brethren would be required to remain in purgatory.[4] Some bede rolls included donors’ names only while others detailed donors’ gifts as well.[5] A bede roll of the latter variety survives from the church of St. Mary in Sandwich (Archives of Canterbury Cathedral, U3-173/6/5). Compiled around the year 1447, this roll lists fifty-some parishioners together with their gifts, which range in scale from a chapel and three windows given by Thomas Loueryk and his wife to all manner of vestments and altar goods, such as the silver stand for the cross given by John Bysschop, Thomas Grene and his wife Joone. In addition to whatever benefits it may have had for the dearly departed of St. Mary’s of Sandwich, a reading of this bede roll would certainly have inspired the living to give to their church, assuring that one day they too would be remembered by name and by gift in the community’s prayers.

Approaching this list of names and gifts from the point of view of the study of lists–from the point of view of listology–we can see that the list form itself would also have been influential in inspiring its auditors’ generosity. Since at least in its most basic form, a list has an unlimited capacity, the parishioners of St Mary’s would know that there would always be room for more names on the bede roll, especially given its material form as a roll, to which additional sheets of parchment could be added ad infinitum.[6] Moreover, the linking of name to gift in the bede roll of St Mary’s activates the potential of a list to signify in a visual as well as verbal mode. Increasingly as one generation passed to the next, the names on the roll would cease to bring faces to the minds of the living members of the congregation, but the gifts the departed had given to the church would still be visible, perhaps even as the bede roll was being read. In this way, Stephyn Gerard and his wife Margery could have been visualized in the form of the “masse boke” the priest was using the very day of the reading of the bede roll while John Skynner could have been visualized in the vestment of “sylke powderyd with dayse flowris” that the priest might then and there have been wearing. Finally, the inclusion in this bede roll of donations of cash in support of various projects as well as references to the monetary value of some of the gifts–for instance, the “staf of laton … the whyche cost xxvli” given by John Colwyn and his wife–associates this list with broader practices of accounting, in which the list form was and still is an essential tool.[7] References on this list to the monetary value of various donations to St. Mary’s of Sandwich may have prompted some parishioners to weigh the value of the wealth and possessions of this world against the riches of heaven and thus may have been moved to part with some of their worldly goods in order to join the ranks of the church’s “good-doers” on the bede roll.

 

The list [8]

Thys ys the specyall copy of the bederoll, rehersyng of all the namys of thoo sawlys of the goode doarys of oure lady chyrche wyth yn the town of Sandewyche and yn specyall for them that havyn bene grete helparys and releuarys therto, as hyt aperyth here yn rehersyng as folowyth; that ys for to say:

For the sawlys of John Condy and Wyllyem Condy, the whyche weryn the fyrst begynneris of the fundacion of this chauntery, and for all othyr that havyn gevyn there to more of ther goodys where thorouth that hyt may be the better rnayntenyd.

Also for the sawlys of Thomas Loweryk and of hys wyff, the whyche foundid the chapell of oure lady at the hede of this chyrche, and of iij wyndowys of the north syde of this chyrche.

Also for the sawle of Harry Loveryk, the whyche gaf the monstrant of sylwyr and gylt, for to bere ther yn the sacrament on corpus Christi day.

Also for the sawlys of Thomas Elys and Margrete hys wyff and for ser Thomas Rollyng sometyne vicary of this chyrche and for hys fadrys and modrys sowlys, of whoos goodys was made wyth the west wyndow of this chyrche and gaf unto the reparacions of the sayd wyndow a yerely rent of xiij s. iiii d. perpetually to be payn and ressevid; also made the vicriage of thys parissche more than hyt was un to the honour of them that schullen be vicary after hym, so that the sayd vicariis schuld gevyn yerely un to the wardeyns of the sayd chyrche, for to do ther with an obite for hym and for all hys parysschoners yerely ther of xl d. and the sayd vicary than being schall haue of the sayd xl d. for the said obite so yerely done xii d. and euery prist with yn the sayd chyrche iiij d. and the parysche clerke ij d. and the sexteyn ij d.

Also for the sawlys of John Gyllyng and of his wyvys, the whyche made the north wyndow of this chyrche be hys lyff daiis; and also gaf unto the reparacion of this chyrche xxli. and x s. yerely for ever.

Also for the sawle of Harry Cambrig heremyte, the whyche gaf a chalys of xvi ounces syluer.

Also for the sawlys of Symon Barle and hys wyff, the whyche gavyn yn her daiis a vestment for a priest of grene veluet, and ij payntyd tabelys, that stode some tyme on seynt Laurence auter an afore the auter.

Also for the sawlys of John Goddard and hys wyf, of whos goods was gevyn ij whyte damaske coopis with gold.

Also for the sawle of ser John Skynner priest; of hys goodys was gevyn a hole vestiment for a priest of cloth of sylke powderyd with dayse flowris,

Also for the sawlys of Alexander Norman and of ij wywys, the whyche be hys lyff daiis made the south wyndow and the south porche of this chyrche.

Also for the sowle of Robard Crystmesse, of whos goodys was gevyn unto the chaunge of these bellys xlli.

Also for the sawlys of Thomas Chyn and Thomas Barbor and ther wyvys, of whos goodys was made the procession porche and the best masse boke.

Also for the sawlys of John Goddard of this parssche, of whos goodys was gevyn ij bokys, a grayell and a martologe.

Also for the sawlys of Harry Derey and Alys his wyff, of whos goodys was made vi copelys of the south roff of this chyrche.

Also for the sawlys of Symon Chapman and Julyen his wif, of whos goodys was gevyn a hole vestyment for a priest of cloth of gold of Luke lynyd with grene tartary, and a chalys syluyr and gylt.

Also for the sawlys of Stephyn Gerard and Margery hys wyff of whoos goodys was gevyn a good newe masse boke.

Also for the sawlys of Raff Archere and hys wyf, the whyche gaf be hys lyf daiis a crysmatory of syluyr, and the kuueryng of the fonte, and the ymage of seynt Jamys withyn seynt Jamys chapell.

Also for the sawlys of John Smyth vyntener and Joone hys wyff, the whiche gave a hole vestment, and a cope of imperiall and a grayell.

Item for the sawlys of John Colwyn and of hys wyff, the whyche gaf be ther lyf daiis the best crosse of syluer and gylt with a staf of laton ther to, the whyche cost xxvli.

Also for the sawlys of Thomas Grene, Joone hys wyf, and John Bysschop, the whyche gaf the fote of syluer for that crosse to stand ther on the hygh auter.

Also for the sawlys of Thomas Burges, othyrwyse callyd garter kyng of herawdys and of Anneys hys wyff, the whyche gavyn the best chalys with ij cruettis of syluer, a purpyll coope with the orfraiis of blak tyssew, and a hole vestiment for a priest of the cloth of gold of the kyngys armys.

Also for the sawlys of John Cheseman and hys wyff, of whos goods was gevyn unto the sute of rede baudekyns of gold the sum of xvjli. xiij s. also a hole newe legende the whyche cost xli. vj s. viij d.

Also for the sawle of ser Thomas Mowton vicary, the whyche gaf be hys lyf daiis un to ij new sensers and ij candylstyks, and to a boke ycalyd an antiphoner and unto other necessariis the sum of xxjli. vi s. viii d.

Also for the sawlys of John Wellys clerk of this chyrche, the wyche gaf a hole vestimente for a prieste, and a bason of laton for the lamp to hang.

Also for the sawlys of Wyllyem Clowtyng and Peyne hys wyff, of whoos goods the vestery was newe repayryd unto valow of vjli.

U3-173-6-5r
The Bede Roll for the Church of Saint Mary in Sandwich (recto side). Reproduced with the permission of the Archives of Canterbury Cathedral

 

[1] See Thomas Frederick Simmons, The Lay Folks Mass Book. Early English Text Society Original Series 71 (London: Trübner, 1879), 136.

[2] Find a description of rood screens at “Rood screen,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 10 Jan. 2011.

[3] “Bede” was a Middle English word for “prayer.”

[4] For a detailed introduction to bede rolls, see Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 334-37.

[5] Daniel Rock, The Church of Our Fathers (London: J. Hodges, 1903-4), 303.

[6] For an introduction to the roll format and its uses during the Middle Ages, see Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), 250-58.

[7] “Laton” refers to an “alloy of copper, tin, and other metals” according to the Middle English Dictionary, s.v. “latoun.”

[8] Transcribed from Daniel Rock, The Church of Our Fathers (London: J. Hodges, 1903-4), 303-305.

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