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Latin in Medieval Britain$

Richard Ashdowne and Carolinne White

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266083

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266083.001.0001

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Latin in Ecclesiastical Contexts

Latin in Ecclesiastical Contexts

(p.169) 8 Latin in Ecclesiastical Contexts
Latin in Medieval Britain

Carolinne White

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

The murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 and its aftermath provide the starting point for a brief survey of various genres of Latin writing associated with the church and its administration in Britain over subsequent centuries. These genres include letters, biographical works, chronicles, miracle accounts, sermons, verse, charters, wills, accounts, registers, customaries, and liturgy. These serve to demonstrate many varieties of style and developments in vocabulary and syntax, including examples where Latin was affected by contact with the vernaculars. They not only provide insights into life on different social levels, both within and outside the church, but also provide evidence that church Latin was able to adapt to new developments while working within a rich tradition.

Keywords:   accounts, charters, chronicles, church, customaries, letters, miracles, Thomas Becket, Wills

THE SHOCKING MURDER OF ARCHBISHOP THOMAS BECKET (1120–70) in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170 set in motion a series of events sending ripples down the centuries, as well as sparking an array of writings of different genres, in Britain and in other parts of Europe: as Herbert of Bosham writes in his homily on Becket, vivum Thomam sola Anglia habebat, occisum vero nunc omnes gentes (H. BOS. Hom. 1412, ‘while Thomas was alive he belonged only to England but now that he is dead he belongs to all nations’). By providing a sample of British writings in the context of the aftermath of Becket’s murder and the ecclesiastical set-up at Canterbury, this chapter is intended not only to throw light on lives in many sectors of society, whether monks or clergy, religious or secular, high-ranking or low, all of whom were touched by the church, but also to illustrate some of the important genres of writing used by the church, thereby offering a glimpse of the richness of the Latin language and literature associated with the catholic church and its history in Britain in the Middle Ages. The vast amount of British ecclesiastical writing in Latin that survives inevitably means that such a survey can in no way be exhaustive, but by focusing on material associated in some way with Becket, as one of the most celebrated figures in medieval history, a man of secular and religious significance, who raised important issues of a political and spiritual nature, and on material associated with Canterbury, as the primary archdiocese in Britain since its foundation by Augustine in 597, it will be possible to pick a path through various genres including letters, hagiography, biography and autobiography, miracle accounts, verse, historiography, charters and episcopal acta and registers, sermons, liturgy, financial accounts and wills, to show a few of the directions along which future research might be taken.

A look at British Medieval Latin as it is used in a variety of genres may allow us to appreciate different styles and vocabulary, determined by genre, by authorial choice and audience, but also to notice synchronic and diachronic consistency across time and genre. In a letter dated 21 May 1939, Charles Johnson, joint editor of the Medieval Latin Word-List from British and Irish Sources and retired assistant keeper of the Public Record Office, noted to a (p.170) would-be slip-taker for the DMLBS that ‘a large part of the medieval vocabulary is patristic Latin’. Whether or not one concurs with this claim—and this chapter will consider its validity—it does hint at a chronological linguistic uniformity that stands alongside the geographical uniformity through this period right up to the Reformation. Certainly the very nature of the history of the catholic church in medieval Europe, with its international character and centralised features, makes it prima facie unlikely that we will discover in the Latin vocabulary of the period between the withdrawal of the Romans and the Reformation many linguistic idiosyncrasies peculiar to Britain. Even those terms we might closely associate with the fabric of English life over the centuries, English terms deriving from Latin forms, such as ‘vicar’ from vicarius and ‘parson’ from persona, are common in the Latin of other European nations.

However, such a degree of international and chronological homogeneity is balanced by occasional examples of specifically local, and medieval, flavour in what may be termed the ecclesiastical writings of Britain, as in the following entries recorded in the monastic Annals of Dunstable for 1220, the year of St Thomas’ translation, regarding Bishop Hugh of Lincoln’s church taxation measures:

vicaria ecclesiae de Chaugrave valet quinque marcas et dimidiam; totalis ecclesia, quindecim. Dicta … vicaria consistit in toto altaragio, et manso presbiteri cum GARDINO, et majori crofta ex parte occidentis, quae est quattuor acrarum.

Ann. Dunstable 59

the living of Chalgrave is worth five and a half marks; the whole church, fifteen. The said living consists of all the revenue derived from the offerings at the altar and the priest’s dwelling together with a garden and the larger croft on the western side which measures four acres.

Here the words in bold are derived from English, that in capitals from French, and the underlined words are Medieval Latin creations based on Classical Latin words (and in the case of altaragium incorporating the Medieval Latin suffix -agium, derived from French -age from CL -aticum, indicating a payment or tax), while ecclesia and presbyter are late Latin ecclesiastical terms derived from Greek.

1. Letters

Letters are an important and plentiful source for our knowledge of ecclesiastical politics and controversies throughout the medieval period, often on an international level—one thinks, for example, of those of Pope Gregory the Great concerning Augustine’s mission to the Anglo-Saxons, recorded in (p.171) Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, or those written by Boniface and Alcuin to addressees in Britain and on the Continent. Becket’s own letter collection, though often referred to as inferior in its Latinity to that of his perhaps overrated friend John of Salisbury, provides an excellent example of the variety of letters written in Latin, including at one end of the spectrum intimate letters between friends, and formal statements of policy at the other. In the later period letters might be written by the same author in Latin and in the vernacular, as by Archbishop Peckham, most of whose many letters are in Latin, though some addressed to King Edward I, for example, are written in French. In the immediate aftermath of Becket’s murder there was inevitably a flurry of letters back and forth between those associated with Becket and involved, as he had been, in the ecclesiastical politics of the time, between heads of state, of churches, and of monasteries. John of Salisbury, for example, writes the earliest extant eye-witness account of the murder shortly after the event in a letter to the bishop of Poitiers, noting jam fere per orbem Latinum ex relatione plurimorum sit nota et vulgata materia (J. SAL. Ep. 305, ‘the news is already known and has spread throughout nearly the whole Latin-speaking world now that so many people are talking about it’). At much the same moment William Bishop of Sens wrote to the Pope on hearing the news, unsure how to convey it but certain that Alexander, situated as he is in specula mundi (‘on the world’s look-out post’), will already have heard the cries from all around him. With a familiar play on Anglus and angelus he reports how nominatissimus ille, non rex Anglorum, sed angelorum potius et Christi inimicus, proxime sit malignatus in sancto (Becket Mat. vii Ep. 735, ‘That most renowned man, not the king of the English but rather the enemy of the angels and of Christ, recently acted wickedly against the saintly man’).

Indeed, a legate from England reported that when the Pope heard the news, ita … perturbatus est dominus papa, quod nec etiam sui fere per octo dies cum eo potuerunt habere colloquium (‘the lord Pope was so shattered that not even his closest companions could speak with him for a week’; Becket Mat. vii Ep. 751) and he flatly refused to see anyone from England.

In this context (and the number of extant texts relating to the reception of the news of this murder makes the Becket example particularly apt in providing insight into methods of communication at the period), letters in Latin were used as one means to report dramatic news, especially of course between members of the clergy or those in the monastic life and, because of Latin’s status as a lingua franca, across national boundaries. Undeniably news (designated by words such as novitas and rumor—which can mean news as well as common talk—and fama) also travelled by word of mouth, whether officially in the oral reports entrusted to messengers, or by means of common talk and gossip, no doubt mostly in the vernacular. As Benedict of Peterborough elegantly notes, longa terrarum spatia spatio temporis breviori transcurrens … (p.172) rumor (BEN. PET. Mir. Thom. I 9, ‘news travels great distances in a short time’). Stephen of Meaux, writing shortly after the event, expects that the Pope will have heard the news both ex multorum relatione (Becket Mat. vii Ep. 743, ‘from many people’s accounts’) and ex scriptis magnorum virorum quamplurium ad vos missis (ibid., ‘from the writings of very many great men sent to you’). The style of the Latin letters reporting or reacting to the news from different angles (as if the Pope were taking different newspapers with leader columns written by editors of varying viewpoints) varies considerably, depending on the individual author’s choice: some are quite lengthy and literary while others are brief and urgent. A notable example of the latter is a letter written on hearing the news, from William de Trahinac, the prior of Grandmont, to King Henry II himself, in which the short sentences and numerous sharp questions give a great immediacy, as if William had picked up the phone to Henry to ask him directly whether he was complicit in the murder (quid est quod audio de vobis?, ‘What is this I hear about you?’): the moment he heard the news he had suspended the rebuilding of the church at Grandmont which Henry was funding, as William refuses to work with him if he is guilty (Becket Mat. vii Ep. 745).

We have noted that Latin could be used also for word-of-mouth report, as we learn for example from the end of Ep. 735, where William of Sens writes to the Pope that the bearers of this letter will in confidence tell him things in aure revelanda which William does not want to entrust to litterarum garrulis apicibus (‘blabbing letters’)—unusually it is letters, not tongues that are here described as indiscreet. Another means whereby the church spread the news by word of mouth was through church services. Benedict of Peterborough (Mir. Thom. I 10) tells how a woman goes off to church leaving her sick husband at home and comes back excited by the news, presumably announced by the priest, perhaps augmented by gossip, of Becket’s murder, six days after the event; the husband immediately vows to make a pilgrimage to Canterbury if Thomas will cure him, which he does by the following morning.

Already in his first news report (Ep. 305), which characteristically combines urgent narrative with biblical allusions and a quotation from Seneca’s letters, appositely applying Seneca’s description of the ideal philosopher to the austere Becket, John of Salisbury asks his correspondent whether in celebrating the mass he can include Thomas among the catalogue of martyrs, though it is clear from other sources that not everyone was immediately convinced that the murdered man deserved such treatment (e.g. CAESARIUS OF HEISTERBACH Dial. VIII 69). Meanwhile at Canterbury the cathedral had been closed after the murder and was to remain so for almost a year: Gervase of Canterbury, a monk of the cathedral priory, describes the situation in his Chronica:

(p.173) per totum fere annum usque ad festum sancti Thome apostoli ecclesia Christi ab officiis cessavit et monachi nocturnas horas et diurnas in capitulo suo sine modulationibus musitabant. cruces ecclesie, sicut in passione Domini fuerunt velate et altaria denudata mater ecclesiarum Anglicanarum parricidium lugebat

GERV. CANT. Chr. i. 229

for almost a whole year until the feast day of St Thomas the Apostle, the church of Christ held no services and the monks murmured the canonical hours, during the night and day, in their chapter-house without any chanting. The crosses in the church were veiled and the altars stripped as at Passiontide. The mother of the English churches grieved at the murder.

Permission was then granted for the building to be ‘reconciled’ using the basic ceremony, as instructed by Pope Alexander in a letter to his cardinals:

mandamus vobis quatenus ecclesiam Cantuarie faciatis reconciliari, ita tamen ut sacramentum pristine dedicationis non debeat iterari, sed… tantum aqua benedicta aspersatur

Becket Mat. vii Ep. 787

we order you to arrange for the church at Canterbury to be rededicated, without having to repeat the sacrament of the original dedication but just with a sprinkling of holy water.

Here should be noted the ecclesiastical sense of the classically attested word reconciliare to mean ‘to rededicate a church or churchyard after bloodshed’, for which the earliest attested use of the verb in British Medieval Latin is found in Anselm (ANSELM Misc. 322), while the noun reconciliatio in the related sense is found already in the Pontificale of the 8th century attributed to Egbert (EGB. Pont. 58).

2. Biography, Hagiography, and Miracle Stories

There was, however, activity of a different kind going on during the period following the murder, as accounts were written not only of Becket’s colourful life and his dramatic death but also of the miracles that began to occur very soon after the murder. The Vitae by those who knew him well,1 some of whom were even present, and in the case of Edward Grim, wounded, at his murder, (p.174) include brilliant passages such as Grim’s description of the murder itself (GRIM Thom. 82) and William Fitzstephen’s lively depiction of the London of Becket’s childhood (W. FITZST. Thom. prol.), with its 13 conventual and 126 parish churches, its international commerce, Saturday horse market at Smithfield, sports played on the frozen Thames, and its takeaway outlet (publica coquina) on the river bank for those who could not be bothered to shop and cook, offering us glimpses into daily life at the time. The popularity of these and other accounts of Becket’s life is confirmed by the fact that versions were soon being compiled not only in Latin but also in various vernaculars, such as Old French, Anglo-Norman, and Old Norse.2

Similar insights can be found among the miracle stories associated with Becket as news of his death spread by letter, but even more by word of mouth via social and ecclesiastical networks. Miracle collections belong to an important genre of later Medieval Latin writings—and no doubt a popular one, given their mix of the lurid and poignant finished off with a happy ending. Miracles had been an integral part of saints’ lives from the earliest examples, but from the 12th century they claimed a genre of their own, namely the collections of miracle accounts assembled with a view to persuading the authorities of a person’s qualification for sainthood, or to act as a form of advertising to promote a particular saint’s shrine.3 The earliest miracle, taking place on the very night of the murder, is recorded in the Vita by William Fitzstephen (Thom. 154) mentioned above, but most of the early miracles are recorded by Benedict of Peterborough and William of Canterbury in two large collections: the former was appointed in 1171 to welcome sick visitors to the tomb, to test the validity of any healings and to write down any miracles occurring there or elsewhere which were considered genuine, while the latter was appointed to assist (W. CANT. Mir. Thom. I prol.) and then to take over from Benedict. William uses a more literary style, partly characterised by the use of Greek words he adopts into Latin, primarily medical terms as befits the subject, but also unusual words such as cimeliarcha (W. CANT. Mir. Thom. II 33), from the Greek κ‎ε‎ι‎μ‎η‎λ‎ι‎ά‎ρ‎χ‎η‎ς‎, which had occurred in Justinian’s Novellae many centuries earlier, as well as in patristic Greek to apply to a church treasurer (this term did not seem to catch on as it is otherwise unattested). Such occasional use of Greek terms, in certain authors and in certain periods, is certainly a feature of British Medieval Latin.

(p.175) Now it is true that these collections, being written in Latin, predictably had a limited, if international, audience or readership of monks and clergy.4 And yet these accounts record incidents in the lives of people of whom the majority did not know Latin, incidents no doubt reported largely in the vernacular. They thereby offer a genre of Medieval Latin writing that is not an instance of Latin acting as a language of power or diffusing the ideas of the upper levels of society downwards, which is often claimed, with distaste, to be its role in medieval society, as pointed out by Morris in his inaugural lecture (1972: 4). Benedict was a typical registrar at a shrine, in that he was appointed to listen as well as to write, and his written material derived from the orally transmitted personal accounts of those who had experienced or witnessed each miracle; it is a genre created foremost by the people, if then put into its final form by those able to mediate between vernacular and Latin. Even the monks who interrogate the witnesses seem to get caught up in the excitement of the latest miracle news reports, keen to hear quid novitatis populus afferret (W. CANT. Mir. Thom. V 30, ‘what news the people would bring’). Frequently Benedict and William provide a verbatim account (albeit translated into Latin) given by a woman standing before them, telling them how she or her child had been healed, and perhaps urging them to make a note of her miracle (matricula inscribi) quickly as she has a long journey home before her (e.g. W. CANT. Mir. Thom. V 30, BEN. PET. Mir. Thom. II 54). Benedict, in particular, includes many stories which may be less than over-whelming as miracles, but are nonetheless memorable, touching, and even humorous, allowing us a view of the everyday lives of women and children who are less visible in other Latin writings of the period, apart from in the less optimistic genres of post-mortem inquisitions and coroners’ rolls, and in brief mentions in charters and accounts. An example is the case of little Beatrice, whose mother had been given a cheese (BEN. PET. Mir. Thom. III 51). The girl was told to put it in a safe place but, as is typical of small children, she was more intent on the game she was playing and when a few days later she was asked where she had put it, she could not remember. Fearing punishment from her mother, she asked her little brother if he had seen it but he did not know either. Their desperate search is described vividly thus:

iterum iterumque scrutantur loca singularia. evertunt domum; quaerunt caseum, nec inveniunt

(p.176) again and again they looked carefully in every single place; they turned the house upside down; they searched for the cheese but could not find it.

At last her brother has the bright idea that they should pray to Thomas to tell them where the cheese is, and indeed Thomas appears to each of them in a dream, revealing that the cheese is in an old container, where the girl had put it. When their mother found out what had happened, she told the local priest and in accordance with the correct procedure, presbyter iterum seorsum puerum et seorsum puellam conveniens, unum et idem absque omni varietatis scrupulo ab utroque vidit (‘the priest met with the boy and the girl separately and realised that they were both telling the same story without the slightest hint of a suspicious discrepancy’); after checking the story’s veracity in this way he goes to Canterbury, where omnes fere quibus haec narravit, egit in risum (‘he made almost everyone to whom he told the story burst out laughing’). Here we see how the core of the story, with the saint at its centre, is reported using third-person narrative, direct speech, and succinct but not simplistic language. It passes naturally from one person to another in oral form and then from one language to another, from child to mother to priest and finally to the monks and others at Canterbury, before it is recorded for posterity in Latin. It is interesting that the humorous element of the miracle is by no means suppressed in the official Latin version.5

John of Salisbury may have jumped the gun a bit in Ep. 305, but the Vitae and miracle accounts written during the first years after Becket’s death are evidence of a more widespread desire to gain authorisation for his inclusion in the catalogue of saints i.e. for his canonisation, the process which John was in fact to spearhead. There was of course a long history of the creation and cult of saints associated with the Church but it was during the 12th century that the process of canonisation gradually became standardised across Europe and centralised as papal power increased.6 In fact, it was Thomas Becket who was the first to be canonised by Pope Alexander III in accordance with the new papal decision, first expressed in 1171 or 1172 and later included among the Decretals, that no one could be venerated as a saint absque auctoritate Romanae ecclesiae (‘without the authority of the Roman church’), however many miracles had occurred (PL cc. 1259C). It is interesting to note that during the period before the official canonisation, a priest is said to have had a vision in which he attended a service in memory of Thomas and was told by (p.177) the monks to sing an antiphon to the saint but he says he cannot because Thomas is not yet ex apostolica auctoritate catalogo martyrum … ascriptus (‘inscribed in the catalogue of martyrs with papal approval’): but if a Latin antiphon is not authorised, he can at least sing one in English, and the text of the ten-line English antiphon in rhyming couplets Hali Thomas of hevenriche is given within the Latin text (W. CANT. Mir. Thom. I 11).

In fact it is in two letters to the monks at Canterbury and to the clergy and laity of England (Becket Mat. vii Epp. 784, 785) that the Pope announces Becket’s canonisation on Ash Wednesday in 1173 (known in Latin as caput jejunii as being the start of the Lenten fast):

praefatum archiepiscopum in capite jejunii, multitudine clericorum ac laicorum presente in ecclesia, deliberato cum fratribus nostris consilio, solemniter canonizavimus, et eum decrevimus sanctorum martyrum collegio annumerandum

Becket Mat. vii Ep. 784

we have solemnly canonised the said archbishop on Ash Wednesday, in the presence of a large number of clergy and lay people in the church, after a decision was made with our brothers, and we have decreed that he is to be counted among the company of the holy martyrs.

But if the archbishop’s journey to canonisation was unusually swift, the king’s path through penance to absolution was slower. There were many who believed that King Henry was guilty of ordering the murder: the papal postbox was full of letters not only reporting news but expressing strong opinions, such as that of Stephen, Bishop of Meaux who expressed a widespread feeling when he advises ut tyrannus ille talia non exerceat sine damnatione et novus martyr non fraudetur debita exaltatione (Becket Mat. vii Ep. 743, ‘that that tyrant should not get away with such actions without condemnation and the new martyr should not be defrauded of the glorification he deserves’). On the other hand an anonymous writer who arrived in Canterbury on the day of the murder and saw the corpse, wrote quod enim ex mandato ejus hoc facinorosum opus processerit, nefas est opinari (Becket Mat. vii Ep. 737, ‘it is impossible to believe that this criminal act was carried out on his [i.e., the king’s] orders’). Peter of Blois also denied Henry’s guilt in a letter (P. BLOIS Ep. 66) renowned for its detailed description of the king, and Henry himself denied his guilt in a letter to the Pope, putting blame on Thomas for returning to England bearing not peace but fire and a sword dum contra me de regno et corona proposuit questionem (‘when he opposed me in a discussion about the kingdom and the crown’) and for excommunicating Henry’s men ‘without cause’; however, Henry did admit that the anger he had long felt towards Thomas might have been a contributory factor (Becket Mat. vii Ep. 739; cf. W. CANT. V. Thom. I 29).

(p.178) So much for letters and biographical accounts: a more dramatic and tragic view of events is given in Herbert of Bosham’s Liber Melorum, an idiosyncratic work in which he draws an elaborate allegorical parallel between Christ and Becket using musical terminology. Here the great love between Henry and Becket (sic erat inter duos quasi regnum unum, quia cor unum et anima una, ‘there was as it were a single kingdom between them because there was one heart and one soul’), alluding to Acts iv 32, is described as being torn apart by the devil (inimico instigante, ‘at the enemy’s instigation’). Henry flares up in terrible anger in front of the murderous knights who interpret his outburst as an order to kill Becket. But when Henry hears of the horrific deed he is so shattered—Herbert describes Henry’s reaction euphoniously totis intimis concussus visceribus et excussus, se quasi dilacerans et dilanians (‘shocked and shaken to the core, as it were, tearing and ripping himself apart’)—that those around him fear that he will succumb to grief or madness (H. BOS. LM 1311BC).

It was no doubt the clash between these two powerful and complex men that contributed to the fascination felt by contemporaries, more so than in the case of murders of other medieval bishops of English origin, such as Ælfheah (Alphege), an earlier archbishop of Canterbury, murdered by the Vikings in 1012 and canonised in 1078, or the English priest Henry, consecrated bishop of Uppsala by Nicholas Brakspear (later the only English pope), murdered by an irate Finn in 1156 and later made patron saint of Finland, though never officially canonised.

3. Verse

It was not only in prose that these traumatic events and opposing viewpoints were passionately discussed: in both rhythmic and metric verse too, we find the protagonists treated in different ways in writers both in Britain and on the continent.7 Walter of Châtillon, for example, ranting as often in Goliardic quatrains against the contemporary contempt for justice, refers to Henry as illum Britannie reprobum rectorem (‘that depraved ruler of Britain’) and as rex qui perdit presulem in proditione, / re vera neronior est ipso Nerone (WALT. CHÂT. 212, ‘a king who treacherously slays his archbishop truly outneroes Nero’). In a poetic vision, also in Goliardic quatrains and probably dating from the end of 1174, an anonymous writer laments the archbishop’s death, expressing the stark contrast between his view of Becket and of Henry in the following verse (Schmidt 1974: 167):

  • (p.179) sola stella noctibus preerat Anglorum,
  • solus flos in finibus floruit eorum;
  • sed rex, pudor regibus, signifer malorum,
  • stelle dampnat radios, siccat florem florum.

He [Becket] ruled as the only star over the nights of the English, blossomed as the only flower in their lands; but the king, a source of shame to kings, the leader of the wicked, destroys the star’s rays and parches the flower of flowers.

In this context the vision is used to envisage a theological judgement scene in which the question of Henry’s guilt in Becket’s murder is discussed but unresolved.8 One of the two manuscripts in which this Visio cuiusdam de morte sancti Thome martiris appears (British Library, MS Harley 978) also contains a poem in the decasyllabic form, made up of trochees and dactyls, particularly popular from the 12th century, entitled Confessio regis Henrici secundi, apparently the work of a Cluniac monk who speaks prosopopeiacally as King Henry, recounting the events leading up to the murder and lamenting the angry words he uttered:

  • ve, ve michi! Nam per os regium
  • verbum fluxit ut leve folium
  • per quod sanctus contra spem omnium
  • inopinum sumpsit martirium.9

Alas, woe is me! For through the mouth of the king, a word fluttered like a light leaf, which caused the holy man, contrary to what everyone hoped, to suffer unexpected martyrdom.

Years of negotiation between the parties of church and state followed the murder and it was only in July 1174 that Henry set all other business aside to come over from France and enter Canterbury in penitential mode, in a rough tunic and walking barefoot through the muddy streets:

(p.180) tamquam de plebeis vilissimorum unus … et ita in suspiriis et gemitibus, tot gentibus et nationibus tremebundus, ipse timens et tremens, martyris adiit sepulturam

H. BOS. Lm 1316A10

like one of the poorest of the common people, and with sighs and groans, this man who caused peoples and nations to tremble with fear, walked to the martyr’s burial place, himself fearful and trembling.

4. Historical Chronicles and Annals

However, this was not the final scene in the drama of Canterbury Cathedral: only a few weeks later the cathedral, built during the time of Lanfranc and Anselm to replace the one, portrayed in detail by Eadmer, that had itself succumbed to flames in 1067, suffered a serious fire, as brilliantly described by the monk Gervase of Canterbury in his De combustione et reparatione Cantuariensis ecclesiae,11 the short work which opens his historical chronicles. These belong to a genre which, along with the similar Annales, is primarily a product of the monasteries, as Clanchy (1993: 100) makes clear. Sparks from three small buildings on fire outside the cathedral leapt up onto the church roof and entered per juncturas plumbi (‘through the leaden joints’) into the half-rotten (the only extant use of the Latin word semiputridus) wooden beams, without anyone down below noticing until the fire had taken hold. Then, to shouts of ‘vae, vae, ecclesia ardet’, accurrunt plurimi laici cum monachis, aquas hauriunt, secures vibrant, gradus ascendunt, ecclesiae Christi jam jamque periturae succurrere cupientes (GERV. CANT. Combust. 4, ‘“Oh no! the church is on fire!” a large number of lay people came running with the monks, they drew water, brandished axes, ran up the stairs, desperate to bring help to the church of Christ which was on the point of destruction’). As for all the church treasures, Gervase describes with pointed play on rapere and eripere how accurrunt plurimi ad ornamenta ecclesiae, pallia et cortinas deiciunt, alii ut rapiant, alii ut eripiant (ibid., ‘many came running to the church ornaments, pulled down the hangings and curtains, some to carry them off as loot, some to rescue them’). He then concludes, with continued precision in his choice of words, that as a result of the fire domus Dei hactenus ut paradisus deliciarum delectabilis, jam tunc in incendii cinere jacebat despicabilis (ibid. 5, ‘the house of God, hitherto resplendent like a garden of delights, now lay wretched among the ashes of the blaze’).

(p.181) The process of rebuilding the cathedral over the next few years is also described by Gervase, who includes interesting architectural vocabulary in his account. Unfortunately in the fifth year of work the architect William of Sens suffered an accident:

peractis … utrisque triforiis et superioribus fenestris, cum machinas ad fornicem magnam volvendam … praeparasset, repente ruptis trabibus sub pedibus ejus et inter lapides et ligna simul cum ipso ruentibus, in terram corruit, a capitellis fornicis superioris altitudine, videlicet, pedum quinquaginta.

GERV. CANT. Combust. 20

when both the triforia and the upper windows had been completed and when he had prepared the machines for vaulting the great arch, the planks suddenly broke beneath his feet and collapsed between the stones and the beams together with him, and he fell to the ground from the capitals of the higher arch, from a height of fifty feet.

In describing the accident Gervase uses a Latin word, triforium, which he is apparently the first to introduce,12 for a feature of ecclesiastical architecture. There has been much discussion as to its precise meaning and its derivation, but it seems to mean ‘a gallery or arcade over the arches at the sides of the nave or choir in a church’ and is now an accepted term in English and a feature common to many medieval cathedrals. The master builder is devastatingly described by Gervase as now sibi et operi inutilis (ibid., ‘useless to himself and his task’).

The paralysed William is less fortunate than the boy described among the miracles associated with St John of Beverley: the 13th-century writer of the ‘C’ version of the miracles gives us not only more vocabulary relating to church architecture but also an example of allegorical interpretation, so beloved of ecclesiastical Latin writers, alongside the example of the common ‘falling from a building’ type miracle. He tells us that one Easter a huge crowd was watching a passion play infra septa polyandri13 ecclesie beati Johannes (‘within the cemetery of the church of St John’ i.e. Beverley Minster), and a group of boys, unable to find a seat to watch the performance levitate puerili gradatim insuper murales ascendebant basilicae testitudines, ea ut reor intentione, ut per altas turriculorum fenestras, seu si qua vitrearum fenestrarum essent foramina, liberius personarum et habitus et gestus respicerent (Hist. (p.182) Church York i. 328, ‘with a boyish sense of fun gradually climbed up above the vaulting of the church, apparently hoping to get a better view of the actors’ costumes and actions through the high windows of the turrets or through any gaps there might be in the glass windows’). But the church registrars (referred to here by the Late Latin term matricularii) give chase. One of the boys climbs even higher, above the great cross. Stepping onto a square stone that happens to be loose, he dislodges it so it shatters on the stone floor; he loses his footing and falls too. Members of the audience come running and find him sprawled on the stone floor, apparently lifeless; his parents weep and wail, but a miracle occurs and suddenly the boy gets up, unhurt. The writer then points out how appropriate it was that this resurrection occurred inside the church while the play representing Christ’s resurrection was taking place outside, and elegantly brings out the typological implications of the harmony between the two stories, with Old Testament allusions typical of so much ecclesiastical writing:

per decisionem … lapidis sine manu decidentis a muro, plane indicabatur, sine admixtione virili, ex virgine dominica incarnatio. per utriusque casum, scilicet et lapidis et pueri, significabatur passio Ejusdem, hominis et Dei. veruntamen lapis cadendo confractus typum gessit arietis occisi; adolescens vero typum Isaac permanentis illaesi, unde Cujus passionis secundum humanitatem signum fuit ruina, Ejus etiam resurrectionis secundum divinitatem signum exstitit erectio miraculosa.

Hist. Church York i. 330

By the fall of the stone which fell from the wall without any intervention, is clearly indicated the Lord’s incarnation from the Virgin, without any intervention from a man. By the fall of both, i.e. the stone and the boy, is understood the putting to death of this same Lord, both man and God. Indeed the stone that fell and broke is a type of the slaughtered ram [cf. Gen. xxii 13]; for the young man is a type of Isaac who remained unharmed and so his fall was a sign of the Lord’s Passion according to his humanity, while his miraculous standing up again is a sign of the Lord’s Resurrection according to his divinity.

But although William of Sens, as the result of Dei vindicta vel diaboliinvidia (GERV. CANT. Combust. 20, ‘God’s punishment or the devil’s envy’), was not miraculously healed while rebuilding Canterbury cathedral, the work was nonetheless completed, with a new chapel for Thomas, by the time of the installation of Baldwin as archbishop in 1185.

5. Charters and Grants

The rebuilding of Canterbury Cathedral was not the only construction associated with Becket taking place in the years immediately after his canonisation. During the 1170s, work was also taking place on one building (p.183) in London and one in Dublin, both dedicated to this new saint amongst many others at the time. As evidence of the first we have a letter of Gilbert Foliot, Bishop of London, offering an indulgence of 20 days to those who provide financial or other help for the xenodochium being built at Southwark, i.e. St Thomas’ hospital. Sometime after 1173 Foliot writes in a letter,

universitatem vestram … rogamus … quatinus ad construendum xenodochium quod in honore Dei et beati Thome martiris Lundon’ apud Sudwerc ad pauperum et infirmorum susceptationem pariter et sustentationem de novo est inchoatum … manum auxilii misericorditer porrigatis. … omnibus … qui ad predictum pietatis opus manum auxilii porrexerint … viginti dies relaxamus de injuncta sibi penitentia

G. FOLIOT Ep. 452

We ask all of you mercifully to offer a helping hand for the construction of the hospital which has been begun in honour of God and Thomas the blessed martyr in London, at Southwark for the reception and upkeep of the poor and sick. … To all who offer a helping hand for the aforesaid work of piety … we remit twenty days of the penalty imposed on them.

With this can be compared what may be the earliest surviving authentic English episcopal indulgence, issued by Anselm in 1107 when he was Archbishop of Canterbury, a document preserved in a cartulary14 of Bury St Edmunds in which Anselm writes,

sciatis quod ego confirmo decem dies remissionis quos dominus Johannes cardinalis Romane ecclesie concessit his qui sanctum Aedmundum requirendo ad opus sue ecclesie sua ponunt, et ipsis decem diebus ex mea parte sicut petistis tres adicio

Act. Ep. Cant. 13

May you know that I confirm the ten days of remission which lord John, the cardinal of the Roman church, granted to these people who, by visiting St Edmund, give what they have to assist his church, and to these ten days I for my part add three days, as you requested.

Throughout the following centuries all sorts of construction projects were to be funded in this way, with the exchange of indulgences for payment assuming an increasingly central role in medieval society.15

(p.184) Foliot’s letter is in fact the earliest extant document for St Thomas’ hospital, though among other kinds of documents associated with this institution there is also a cartulary (a collection of charters dating from 1213 to 1525) preserved in British Library, MS Stowe 942 (Parsons 1932), and a petition of 1349 contained in the papal registers asking that Walter de Larlawe, brother of the hospital for the poor of St Thomas the Martyr, in Southwark, be granted a dispensation so that despite his illegitimacy he may be appointed hospital prior, ‘especially as the mortality’—presumably caused by the Black Death—‘amongst the brothers has left no one so fit to rule as the said Walter.’16 It’s an ill wind … and indeed the year after this the treasurer’s accounts for Becket’s shrine at Canterbury unsurprisingly show a considerable rise in income, as the number of visitors increased at the height of the plague.

The second example of an institution dedicated to Becket soon after his death was the Abbey of St Thomas in Dublin, founded in 1177 by a relative of Henry II, as the first foundation in Ireland after the king landed there, with papal backing, in 1171. Preserved from this abbey of canons regular is the oldest record volume associated with the Anglo-Norman settlement, namely the Register containing documents relating to churches, lands, possessions, and rights, including charters witnessed by the great ecclesiastical writer—and critic—Gerald of Wales, whose brothers made grants to this abbey (Reg. S. Thom. Dublin 242 and 373). From these texts which provide a meeting-point for the religious and secular worlds, it can be seen that the language and formulae of charters, too, were part of ecclesiastical Latin, as also exemplified in the hundreds of documents, dating from the late 12th to the late 15th centuries, in the Dean and Chapter archive at Canterbury, as well as in the documents associated with many other landowning ecclesiastical and monastic foundations. Two examples drawn at random from the Register of St Thomas’ in Dublin will suffice as typical of their genre. In no. 29 a grant to the Abbey by Gilbert Nugent contains common technical formulae, recognisable from a wide range of medieval charters:

has duas carrucatas terre dedi prefate ecclesie Sancti Thomae tenendas et habendas de me et heredibus meis in perpetuam elemosinam, libere et quiete, et pacifice, integre et plenarie, cum omnibus libertatibus, in ecclesiis et decimis et liberis consuetudinibus, sine omni seculari servicio

I have granted these two carucates of land to the aforementioned church of St Thomas to be held and possessed from me and my heirs in frank almoign, freely and with immunity and undisturbed, wholly and in full, with all liberties, in churches and tithes and free privileges, without any secular service.

(p.185) In no. 147 we find a new word that became common in such contexts from the 12th century, warentizare, deriving from the French warant/garant: que ego et heredes mei eis ubique contra omnes viventes warentizabimus (‘which I and my heirs will guarantee in every instance against all living people’), where the grantor wishes to provide a guarantee that if anyone takes the church of Tulagbroc away from the abbey, he or his heirs will offer recompense.

In the texts cited above we witness the daily processes, so integral to the fabric of church society, of grants, donations, and of various forms of reward and recompense. Donations and rewards of various kinds on an even larger scale were to be triggered by the translation of Becket’s relics that took place in 1220, 50 years after his death, in the new, grander manifestation of Canterbury Cathedral. Already in 1173 the pope had written to the prior and monks there, instructing them to transfer his sacred body to a suitable capsa (‘casket’) at the high altar (Becket Mat. vii Ep. 784) but then the cathedral caught fire and only in 1185 is mention again made of an international desire for a translation ceremony (ibid. Epp. 804–5). However, it was not until 7 July 1220, under Archbishop Stephen Langton’s leadership and with the pope’s backing (ibid. Ep. 807), that the ceremony took place. The author of the monastic Annals of Waverley makes it clear what a special occasion it was when he tells us that

tam grandis conventus utriusque sexus de diversis mundi partibus convenerat, ut nunquam retroactis temporibus, ut dicitur, tam magna multitudo hominum ad unum locum in Anglia coadunata fuerat

Ann. Wav. 293 (cf. Ann. Osney 62)

there was such a huge gathering of both men and women who had converged from different parts of the world, that it was said that such a large crowd of people had never in the past assembled in one place in England.

But the first part of the ceremony took place in secret, away from the crowds: the lapis marmoreus was removed (Becket Mat. iv. 426; cf. W. COVENTR. ii. 245–6, and M. PAR. HA ii. 241), and Becket in his priestly robes licet ex vetustate pro parte consumpta (‘despite being partially decayed due to age’) was revealed, in preparation for his removal to the new shrine. The archbishop himself transferred the body to the capsa,17 exceptis paucis ossiculis .. magnis viris et ecclesiis ad ipsius martyris honorem distribuenda (Becket Mat. iv. 427, (p.186) ‘apart from a few little bones … to distribute to great men and to churches in honour of this martyr’). Coincidentally, Langton had only recently assisted in the successful canonisation process of Hugh of Lincoln, who had resorted to more extreme measures in his belief that it was legitimate to take bits of a human relic to use elsewhere: his biographer, Adam of Eynsham—forced willy-nilly to collaborate—records that at the monastery of Fécamp, Hugh took a bite out of a bone from the arm of Mary Magdalen while no one was looking (AD. EYNS. Hug. ii. 169–70).

6. Sermons

In connection with this ceremony Langton gave a sermon (tractatus), in which we again find the blend of Scripture (here particularly of the Old Testament) and allegory which is such a characteristic feature of so many medieval genres. The sermon was an important instrument of communication and instruction in medieval society, in Latin and in the vernacular (indeed, even in monastic circles the vernacular was sometimes preferred),18 and an important source for our understanding of medieval spiritual and social life (Roberts 1992: 15). Early examples of sermons that took Becket as their theme, dating from the 1170s, are those of Gilbert of Hoyland, Gervase of Chichester, and the more rhetorical one of Herbert of Bosham; later Becket was to form the focus of many sermons by preachers on the continent too (Roberts 1992: 20). Langton draws attention to the relevance of the fact that the translation takes place on the anniversary of the interment of Henry II, connecting the two events by citing Job xiv 18 mons cadens defluit et saxum de loco suo transfertur (S. LANGTON Serm. 421–2, ‘the mountain falls and crumbles and the rock is moved from its place’), interpreting the king as mons and Becket as saxum. Langton also dwells on the connotations of the word lapis (semantically related to saxum) which we have already seen used in the Miracula of John of Beverley, for essential parts of the material cathedral as well as being interpreted as a type in the allegory on Christ’s passion. Langton says, in sacra scriptura per lapides plerumque sancti martyres designantur (ibid. 411, ‘in holy Scripture the holy martyrs are often allegorically described as “stones”’) and states that the lapis grandis in sanctuario … erectus (ibid., ‘the large stone set up in the sanctuary’) on the present occasion stands for Thomas martyr gloriosus de tumulo elevatus (ibid., ‘Thomas the glorious martyr raised from the tomb’), alluding to Joshua xxiv 26.

(p.187) It has been suggested that Langton was also the author of a text of a different genre, namely the liturgical Office for the feast of the Translation of St Thomas which is probably best preserved in the versions in the breviaries of Salisbury, Worcester, and Hereford, seeing that the Canterbury version, possibly the prototype of the others, was badly damaged in a fire in 1670. Foreville (1958: 89–95), in her study on the jubilee celebrations for St Thomas, suggests that the Office uses a number of similar themes and scriptural texts, such as that of saints as stones, as mentioned above.

In the historical compilation known as the Memoriale that Walter of Coventry put together in about 1300, drawing indirectly on the anonymous chronicle of Barnwell for the period around Becket’s translation, the author states that in addition to the feasting for all ranks of society on the day of the translation, the archbishop decided that this day should be celebrated as a special holiday in perpetuity, though this seems to have been overlooked by later generations of bank holiday legislators. On a more spiritual level, Pope Honorius had sent a letter granting to all who came to Canterbury, on that day or during the following fortnight, forty days’ indulgence from any penance imposed on them for sins committed (Becket Mat. vii Ep. 808) and in addition further days of indulgence were granted for the same occasion by the papal legates, archbishops, and bishops:

dominus vero papa omnibus qui in hac die translationis beati Thomae martyris ob reverentiam ipsius Cantuariam venerant, vel infra xv dies sequentes venturi essent, xl dies de injuncta poenitentia relaxavit; similiter et legatus suus xl dies, quilibet etiam trium archiepiscoporum xl, sed et singuli episcoporum xx dies indulserunt

W. COVENTR. ii. 246

the lord Pope remitted to all who had come to Canterbury on the day of the translation of the blessed martyr Thomas out of reverence for him, or who came during the following fortnight, forty days of imposed penance; similarly, his legate also remitted forty days, and each of the three archbishops forty, while each of the bishops remitted twenty days.

We have already seen, in connection with money to be raised for the construction of St Thomas’ hospital, the concept of remitting a certain number of days of penance in exchange for charitable work. With reference to the Translation of St Thomas in 1220, the days of remission are granted to anyone who travels to Canterbury with the correct motives.19 The year 1220 was also the fiftieth anniversary of Becket’s murder and so it is not surprising that the concept of ‘jubilee’—and therefore of remission of debt or sin—seems to lie (p.188) behind much of the Old Testament language in Langton’s sermon. Although Langton does not use the word jubilaeus he does point out that any reader of Scripture will know that the number fifty signifies remission (PL cxl. 421). Henry of Avranches does however use the collocations jubilaeus annus and series jubilea dierum in his poem (H. AVR. Poems 2. 267–9) and in the Annals of Dunstable the following entry for 7 July 1220 is found:

in crastino octavarum Petri et Pauli, sollemnissime translatum est corpus beati Thomae martyris, anno quinquagesimo a passione sua, nobis omnibus jubilaeo

Ann. Dunstable 58

On the day after the Octave of Peter and Paul, the body of blessed Thomas martyr was translated in the most solemn manner, in the fiftieth year since he was put to death, being a year of remission for us all.

We can see from the cited passages that the most common words used in this context are relaxare, remissio, and indulgere (cognate with indulgentia, ‘indulgence’), all words attested in Classical Latin but here undergoing semantic extension to refer to remission of penance incurred for sins committed (cf. Vincent 2002: 37).

Probably the greatest effect Becket’s murder had down the following centuries was in making Canterbury the focus of his cult (until this was eradicated by Henry VIII) and a prime destination for pilgrimage. The obtaining of remission of penance was indeed one of the reasons for undertaking a pilgrimage, as at the time of the 1220 Translation. In the case of Henry II’s entry into Canterbury in 1174, the pilgrimage had been part of the penance imposed, and indeed this was a common way of using pilgrimage.20 Another motive for pilgrimage was the hope of a miraculous intervention at the shrine of a saint, usually with reference to healing. Yet another was to fulfil an earlier vow made to a saint when praying for healing and this is the reason highlighted by Chaucer in his Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, written not long after the great Jubilee of 1370:

  • And specially from every shires ende
  • Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
  • The hooly blissful martir for to seke,
  • That hem hath holpen when that they were seeke

Chaucer CT prol. 15–18

(p.189) To be sure, pilgrimage had been a part of Christian life for many centuries. It was clearly becoming popular already in the 4th century when Christians were seeking ways to show their devotion at the time when Christianity had become an Empire-wide phenomenon: pilgrimage—in the form of a kind of spiritual tourism to the Holy Land, as evidenced for example by the text known as the Itinerarium Egeriae (or Peregrinatio Aetheriae)21—was slightly less extreme than selling everything and heading for the desert, but it was still pretty impressive. Yet already at that period Jerome had felt compelled to point out that it is more important to live a devout life than to go on pilgrimages (non Hierosolymis fuisse sed Hierosolymis bene vixisse laudandum est) and that since God is spirit, he is not confined to a particular place: et de Hierosolymis et de Britannia aequaliter patet aula caelestis (Jer. Ep. 58. 2–3, ‘heaven is equally open from both Jerusalem or Britain’).

Pilgrimages specifically to St Thomas’ tomb are mentioned already soon after his death, as in the miracle mentioned above (BEN. PET. Mir. Thom. I 10), and in a letter written before 1176 to John of Salisbury Peter of Celle writes:

undecunque non solum Angli sed et Galli, quasi ad solemnes epulas et ad fertilissimas jubilationes, concurrunt ad tumbam predicti sancti

P. CELLE Ep. 174

not only Englishmen but also Frenchmen from all over the place, came rushing to the tomb of the aforesaid saint as if to formal banquets and the most generous celebrations

And in 1180 Gerald of Wales, passing through Canterbury on his way back from France notes in his self-promoting autobiographical work De rebus a se gestis that the monks at Canterbury treated him to a luxurious meal accompanied not only by wine but by the best beer in England; that he did visit Becket’s tomb on this occasion is indicated in passing by the fact that he and his companions are said to have signaculis B. Thomae a collo suspensis (‘little badges of St Thomas hanging from their necks’) when they arrived in London to attend the Bishop of Winchester’s sister’s divorce proceedings (GIR. RG II 5): here the classically attested word signaculum, meaning a seal, is applied to some kind of little badge already at this early date being given or sold to (p.190) visitors to the tomb.22 Canonisation, followed by translation nearly 50 years later, clearly sparked an ever-increasing interest in heading for Canterbury, as part of a Christendom-wide development of pilgrimage as an organised business.23

7. Accounts

But pilgrims were not only there to receive but also to give. Donations, particularly of money, jewellery, or wax, and sales of badges and other souvenirs, at the shrine of destination were a huge source of revenue, to the local church and later also to the papacy, ‘the medieval pilgrimage business’, as Adrian Bell and Richard Dale (2011) have shown. Some of the evidence for these transactions is based on another genre of text: namely, financial accounts, of which a wide variety of Latin texts survive from ecclesiastical, monastic, royal, and secular sources. The treasurers’ accounts at Canterbury, a few of which were published by C. E. Woodruff (1932),24 record not only income but expenditure, for the authorities needed to spend money on looking after the pilgrims, especially the sick, on building shrines, and on paying for papal indulgences. The accounts show that the unusually large income for 1220 was just over £1142 but the allowance granted to the monastery’s cellarer, responsible for entertaining pilgrims, amounted to over £1154, with expenditure therefore, perhaps unsurprisingly, exceeding income that year.

However, donations and payments were not without problems. In 1470, for example, the archbishop’s commissioner writes to all those specially appointed to act as confessors to the pilgrims expected at the coming Jubilee celebrations, ordering them not to petere, exigere, aut extorquere aurum, argentum, sive rem aliam (‘ask for, demand, or extort gold, silver, or anything else’) during the time that the papal indulgence is valid, on pain of excommunication (Lit. Cant. iii. 253). Similar problems had already been noted in 1424 in a document recorded in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s register in connection with those known as quaestores (or quaestuarii) who were licensed to (p.191) collect alms, often in exchange for indulgences: a warning is given against those who desire ‘financial rather than spiritual profit’ by means of fictitious indulgences—instead, people should be encouraged to give, for example, to the hospital of St Thomas at Rome which caters for English nationals who are poor and sick (Reg. Cant. 1414–43 iv. 256; cf. Vincent 2002: 54–5 for English condemnation of quaestores already in 1215). It is of course a quaestor who is satirised by Chaucer in his description of the pardoner who is fraudulently taking payment for contact with pigs’ bones touted as holy relics (CT prol. 700–4). Quaestor thus retains its sense of ‘financial officer’ as in Classical Latin but in the medieval period is used in a specifically ecclesiastical context.

Accounts for monasteries and their manorial estates, along with the already mentioned cartularies, and other administrative documents such as monastic custumals, visitation records, and inventories provide an important body of Latin writings in medieval Britain which help to illustrate how Latin developed the terminology and formulae for everyday record—terminology that was often common to both ecclesiastical and lay contexts.

8. Wills

There is a further genre of ecclesiastical Latin document that provides evidence for pilgrimages to Canterbury: namely, wills, surviving in several collections associated with different parts of the country. In the Register of Archbishop Chichele for 1434, there is a will, proved before the archbishop, recording in the words of the testator:

item lego ad distribuendum pauperibus pro anima mea in die obitus mei et in die trigintali et in anniversario xl s. item lego Elizabethae uxori mee ad complendum peregrinaciones meas ad Beatam Mariam de Walsyngham et ad Cantuariam iiij marcas

Reg. Cant. 1414–43 ii. 539

likewise I bequeath forty shillings to be distributed to the poor for my soul on the day of my death and on the thirtieth day and on the anniversary. Likewise I bequeath to my wife Elizabeth four marks to complete my pilgrimages to the blessed Mary of Walsingham and to Canterbury.

In this man’s desire for spiritual support after his death he grants money for donations to the poor on various days after his death—using the Medieval Latin word trigintalis (which lies behind the English term ‘trental’, via the alternative ML form trentale) to indicate the day on which the final mass of the trental was held—and for his wife to complete the pilgrimages he should (p.192) have made to Walsingham and Canterbury. Such deputising of a pilgrimage was common (Webb 2000: 191–201).

9. Customaries

And while all these people travelled to and from Canterbury, the monks in the monastery dedicated to St Augustine continued to live a life according to the Benedictine rule, as precisely described and prescribed in the 14th-century Customary of St Augustine’s. Here we find details of practices and objects in daily use in a Latin which, despite its specifically monastic subject, uses many words familiar from Classical Latin, and which, despite the cloistered environment in which it was produced, also exhibits the occasional word derived from vernacular sources: the novices, on being introduced to the monastery, sat juxta stallum abbatis (Cust. Cant. 4, ‘next to the abbot’s stall’) where stallus derives from a Germanic source (possibly itself cognate with CL stabulum) which produced versions in Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, and Old French, as well as versions of the modern English ‘stall’ in corresponding modern languages. Rules as to the clothing and bedding permitted (with some allowance for a degree of comfort) to each monk are given, including, for example, sotularium eciam, sc. botarum, duo paria, unum sc. par diurnalium … et aliud nocturnalium, quod sc. fultro vel panno propter frigora noccium sit furratum (Cust. Cant. 401, ‘also two pairs of shoes, namely boots, that is one pair for daytime use and another pair for nighttime, which should be lined, that is with felt or cloth, on account of the chills of nights’, where bota, the source of our word ‘boot’, derives from French) and stramenta lectorum sint ista sc. sagum unum et matra … (ibid. ‘their bedding should consist of the following things, namely a blanket and a mattress …’, where matra is one spelling for a word for mattress, found in several European languages of the time but ultimately deriving from Arabic).

10. Conclusion

The aim of this survey has been to allow the cited texts to speak for themselves in giving an impression of the Latin of the men, and it was mainly men, of the church in the later medieval period. The focus has been on the language of the post-Conquest period, which often reflects changes in society, spiritual and temporal, religious and secular. But the large amount of writing in many different genres associated with the church also provides evidence of the many continuities of language and genre going back to early Christianity and the establishment of the institution of the church in Britain during the Roman (p.193) period and in England with the arrival of Augustine at Canterbury in 597 and the subsequent founding of the cathedral church and the monastery at Canterbury as recorded by Bede in his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (I 33) in the early 8th century.

Even in this very small, and intentionally random, sample of all the ecclesiastical writings produced in Latin in the period covered by the DMLBS, and touching on letters, biography and autobiography, miracle stories, charters, indulgences, episcopal and monastic registers, chronicles, annals and other historical writings, accounts, wills, sermons, hymns, poems, and allegorical writing, it can be seen that Charles Johnson’s remark about Medieval Latin being largely patristic Latin needs to be qualified. It is certainly not the case that ecclesiastical Latin in particular, still less Medieval Latin in general, is a purely Christian language, a Sondersprache detached from Classical Latin. To be sure, many Greek words were adopted into Latin in the early centuries of Christianity to act as common technical terms—words such as angelus, episcopus, monachus, martyr, presbyter. Other Greek words we have seen entering Latin at this period include xenodochium and polyandr(i)um. However, it is essential to understand that even the Latin of the church fathers included plenty of words found in Classical Latin and used without embarrassment by later writers whose world view happened to have been altered by their adherence to the Christian faith. Throughout the period classical words could be—and frequently were—used in their classically attested senses, but also in new senses, affected by Scripture, by new beliefs, and by social developments. Such semantic extension of classical words, particularly of nouns and verbs, continued to operate on a massive scale throughout the medieval period. Furthermore, it should be remembered that the relative paucity of our sources means that many of what we regard as late or Medieval Latin words may have existed in an earlier period without leaving any trace in the written sources.25

It should be borne in mind that Latin was always primarily a written language in the medieval period, existing alongside the vernacular languages and occasionally used even in vernacular contexts, as with the names for the seven orders in the church used within an Old English matrix in Aelfric’s pastoral letter to Wulfsige at the end of the 10th century (Conc. Syn. i. 202-4). Despite translations into the vernacular and glossed works, Latin remained predominant until the complex influences of Renaissance and Reformation, fired by a desire for the reform of ecclesiastical abuses, by the question of the appropriate language of the Bible and the church, and by changing attitudes to Latin and classical literature, had taken effect. Already in the second half of the 14th century, Wyclif, writing both in Latin and in English, was proving (p.194) a thorn in the flesh of the church, arguing against many of the beliefs and practices mentioned in this chapter, against saints, miracles, pilgrimages, the need for reconsecration of churches, and indulgences and in favour of the use of the vernacular in church to aid the understanding of those who knew little or no Latin.

But a century and a half later, on the very eve of the Reformation in England, it was still in Latin that Erasmus was writing his satirical critiques of the practices and attitudes involved in the cults of saints, as in his 1526 colloquy ‘A pilgrimage for religion’s sake’ based on his own experience of pilgrimage to Canterbury and Walsingham. A couple of years later Thomas More attempted to defend such practices in his ‘Dialogue concerning Heresies’ (51-61, 94-101), but it is in English that he writes.


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(1.) Primarily those by John of Salisbury, Benedict of Peterborough, Alan of Tewkesbury, William of Canterbury, and Herbert of Bosham, later conflated into a single work known as the Quadrilogus; cf. Becket Mat. iv. 266; Gransden (1996: i. 296–308); Staunton (2006).

(2.) Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence wrote a verse version in Old French, while Beneit wrote one in Anglo-Norman, based (as was the Old Norse Thomas Saga Erkibyskups) on the Latin Vita et Miracula of Robert of Cricklade.

(4.) Koopmans (2011: 125–34, 211–13) and William of Canterbury to Henry II (W. CANT. Mir. Thom. I prol.); familiarity with miracles was also provided by word of mouth, and by, for example, the pictures of selected miracles in the stained glass windows at Canterbury Cathedral which were probably finished at about the time of Becket’s translation in 1220.

(5.) For other instances of humour, see the shaggy-dog miracle recorded in W. CANT. Mir. Thom. IV 10 and the letter of Peter of Celle to Benedict of Peterborough (Becket Mat. v Ep. 142), in which, tongue in cheek, he attributes the eventual reappearance of a lost book to St Thomas.

(6.) With the accounts of the life and miracles of Becket may be compared the later documents in support of the canonisations of the English saints Gilbert of Sempringham (Canon. G. Sempr.), Edmund Rich (Canon. Edm. Rich), and St. Osmund (Canon. S. Osm.).

(7.) For other writings in verse associated with Becket, see, for example, the hymns in various metres of William of Combe. Many other popular hymns and sequences, in Latin, English, or in macaronic verse, survive in manuscripts from all over Europe.

(8.) Cf. Henry of Avranches’ poem de quibusdam revelacionibus post martirium beati Thome (H. AVR. Poems 6). Elsewhere Becket is associated with visions in other genres, but for different purposes: for example at the beginning of Benedict of Peterborough’s collection of miracles the author includes some visions by means of which God gradually revealed the martyr’s sanctity and glory; Benedict tells how the saint appeared to him and others in visions, in one of which he asks Becket in French, ‘Aren’t you dead, my lord?’ and the saint answers in Latin mortuus fui, sed surrexi (Becket Mat. ii. 27–37, ‘I was dead but I have risen’). A few decades later Becket turns up in Peter of Cornwall’s Liber Revelationum, in a few of the many visions recounted to persuade atheists of the existence of God (P. CORNW. ii. 207–11, 219–20, 222).

(10.) cf. also GERV. CANT. Chr. i. 248, DICETO YH 383, GRIM Thom. 91–3.

(11.) For a discussion of the cause of the fire, and the plans for reconstruction, see Kidson (1993).

(12.) Cf. GERV. CANT. Combust. 13: supra quem murum (i.e. chorum circuiens) via erat quae triforium appellatur, et fenestrae superiores (‘On this wall (i.e. that goes round the choir) there is a passage which is called the triforium, and upper windows’). The phrase quae triforium appellatur may indicate that this is a new technical term with which the contemporary reader might be unfamiliar.

(13.) Polyandrum derives from a Greek word but known in Latin since the beginning of the 4th century.

(14.) Cf. Clanchy (1993: 101–2) on cartularies, another originally monastic genre.

(15.) For an excellent account of the complex history of indulgences with reference to medieval Britain, with many references to British Latin texts and an explanation of the difference between early medieval commutation of penance and later indulgence, see Vincent (2002). See also Swanson (this vol., ch. 5).

(17.) Note the use of synonyms for capsa in other descriptions of the same events: theca in M. PAR. Min. ii. 241 and loculus in Ann. Wav. 293; in Becket Mat. v. Ep. 174 Peter of Celle had joked about the size of Becket’s future shrine, using the word cassula i.e. capsula; now (1176), he says, undecunque non solum Angli sed et Galliconcurrunt ad tumbamsancti (‘from all over the place not only the English but also the French rush to the saint’s tomb’).

(18.) See, for example, BRAKELOND 128, where it is said that Latin is sometimes avoided even to a monastic audience, as the literary display which Latin is regarded as encouraging can detract from the moral purpose of the sermon.

(19.) For a discussion of the meaning of remission of a certain number of days of penance, see T. CHOBHAM Conf. 208; cf. also Vincent (2002) and Bell & Dale (2011: 610).

(20.) For example, in the Liber Poenitentialis of Robert of Flamborough, written only a few years before the Translation, it is stated that if a priest has sexual relations with a female religious, he should lose his job and peregrinando quindecim annis paeniteat i.e. suffer fifteen years of exile (ROB. FLAMB. Pen. 234), while someone who sets fire to a church poenitentiaei detur ut Hierosolymis aut Hispaniam per integrum annum in servitio Dei permaneat (ibid. 255, ‘should be given a penance to remain in Jerusalem or Spain for a whole year in the service of God’).

(21.) Egeria’s account provides an interesting comparison with Becket’s translation ceremony: she tells us of the celebration to mark the anniversary of two church dedications and the finding of the true cross in Jerusalem, mentioning all the monks, bishops, and clergy present, as well as ordinary men and women de omnibus provinciis who believe they would be incurring a great sin if they did not attend unless they had a very good excuse for not doing so (Itin. Eger. 49); a further similarity between the pilgrims of 4th-century Jerusalem and 12th-century Britain can be found in Egeria’s remark that the true cross is guarded by a circle of deacons since nescio quando dicitur quidam fixisse morsum et furasse de sancto ligno (ibid. 37, ‘It is said that at some point someone bit into the holy wood and stole some it’). Cf. Hugh of Lincoln §5 above.

(22.) Cf. Blick (2007: ch. 2) on badges and ampullae of St Thomas.

(23.) Langton’s translation sermon itself contains many references to travelling along a road, suggesting that he had in mind the association between pilgrimages and the veneration of saints at particular shrines such as the one he has just instituted. He asks, quidmagis expedit viatori quam ut iter ejus sit certum, securum, et laetum? (‘what is more important for a traveller than that his route be clearly known, safe, and joyful?’) linking these with the three themes of (409) exemplum, subsidium, and gaudium and further on he quotes a series of scriptural verses involving roads and paths e.g. viam mandatorum tuorum (Ps. cxviii 32), and ambulabam in latitudine (Ps. cxviii 45) in an extended spiritual riff using word associations so characteristic of medieval exegesis.

(24.) See also Smith (1943: esp. 1–28) and Nilson (1998: 147) for archival references to these accounts.

(25.) Cf. also Swanson (this vol., ch. 5).