Decoding Divine Enterprise Part 1: The Domestic Affairs of 13th Century Canterbury Cathedral

Luke Daly

As with most English monastic communities by the early thirteenth century, parentage, institutional structure, and monastic activity can all be traced to the father of Western monasticism.

The requirements of prayer, meditation, discipline, duty, and work which were imparted through the practical and theological wisdom of St. Benedict (480-543) within his Rule were why the function of these foundations became more than simply a hub of faith. Instead, through his Rule, monastic sites became bustling homes of learning, which nurtured the study of theology and arts whilst also incorporating agriculture, economic administration, and land ownership. This structure achieved such popularity that both the priory and abbey at Canterbury belonged to the Order of the Black Monks of St. Benedict. The creation of a reformed Order, as well as a new pastoral and administrative structure by Archbishop Lanfranc, was instrumental in providing this large and diverse constituency with intellectual power, leadership, and economic precision. The system of the obedientiaries (high officials) which arose from this reorganisation will thus be the focus of this article as they provide a particular insight into the topography of Christ Church and its great officers whose monastic activity it revolved around. Understanding the obedientiaries of Canterbury alongside the prior will provide insight into the importance and complexity of these offices. Before delving into the domestic offices, however, the prior should first be examined as he was the pinnacle of the community and its affairs. Although the archbishop was, in effect, the true summit of the monastic hierarchy within the cathedral priory, he was rarely present after the first half of the twelfth century. As such, the prior stood in loco abbatis and exercised power and influence almost equal to the archbishop. In fact, from a social standpoint, the prior was almost indistinguishable from a contemporary great feudal magnate. Whilst during the Saxon period the prior, known as decanus et munuc, was elected by the archbishop, by our period in question the structures of the election had significantly changed. In 1174, Pope Alexander III granted Christ Church the privilege to elect their own prior, so long as he was a member of the Canterbury community and could fulfil the role suitably. This was confirmed by Urban III in 1187 who also added that the prior should not be deposed, save for the gravest reasons. Pope Gregory IX (1227 – 1241) also specified, most probably due to the events of the exile of the monks in the early 1200s and jostling between the king and papacy, that the election of the prior belonged solely to the monks. This was a highly contentious matter which resulted in frequent clashes between the Christ Church monks and the various secular and ecclesiastical authorities over their power to elect. To navigate such tensions, a system seems to have emerged in the early thirteenth century whereby the monks submitted potential candidates to the archbishop for final review. As such, although the monks had the right to appoint their prior, the archbishop reserved the right to make the final decisive decision. This was not, however, entirely successful and the prolonged periods of vacancy between priors represent occasions where there were disagreements over succession. Ultimately, the tensions and privileges which underpin the succession of the Canterbury prior demonstrate the extent to which it was a keystone pillar of the monastic community. Although the prior was urged to live amongst the monastic community in accordance with the Rule, his role made it inevitable that he would be absent for prolonged periods. As such, a series of sub-priors, or priores claustrales, were appointed to represent his will and command. The main role of the sub-prior was to undertake periodical inspections of the other obedientiary offices and report on any forms of mismanagement or breach of discipline. The following examines the group of obedientiaries who dealt with the domestic, and somewhat secular, affairs of the priory. The first of which, the cellarer (often accompanied by a sub-cellarer), held a key position in the administration of the household and its bodily life. The cellarer, in its purest form, was in command of the food and drink supplies at the priory, but he also ordered building materials for damaged buildings and fuel. Not only did servants, monks, and other dependents rely on him, but so did millers, bakers, cooks, and brewers for their raw resources. As such, the cellarer was often absent from the priory, acquiring produce from granges, markets, farms, and fairs. He was so integral to the household that he was granted a special privilege of absence from religious ceremonies, offices, and prayers on the promise that he would undertake these privately on his travels. Not only was he provided with special permissions, but the cellarer was also afforded the largest revenues amongst all other obedientiaries. When understanding the cellarer expenses across the whole period from 1213 to 1230, some notable results arise. In the year that the monks return from exile at the hands of King John, the expenses are incredibly low, only £301 13s. 7d. In the following year, as the income streams began to return and money was injected into the priory, the total expenses of the cellarers rose and stabilised at around £850-£900. The cellarer’s expenses, as well as the total income and expenses of the priory, suddenly diminished from 1215 to 1217. This period coincided with the First Barons’ War, and more specifically the siege of Dover and control of the region by Louis, son of Philip Augustus of France which heavily impacted Kent and the surrounding counties. The total expenses of the cellarers at that time were between £200-300. As the war finished and financial recovery occurred, the expenses of the cellarer also increased. Then, in 1220, at the year of the Translation of Thomas Becket, the cellarer's expenses dramatically rose to £1154 16s. 5 ob, namely because of the grand amount of wood and wine purchased for the ceremony. What is then particularly interesting is that the expenses of the cellarer then slowly decreased each year following the Translation. This was most probably due to a relaxation in pilgrims and thus a decrease in the income which could be redistributed internally.
Decoding Divine Enterprise Part 1: The Domestic Affairs of 13th Century Canterbury Cathedral
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Decoding Divine Enterprise Part 1: The Domestic Affairs of 13th Century Canterbury Cathedral
An example of a cellarium, in Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire.

The cellarers had an especially high expenditure above other departments, and the reason for this was due to the vast number of monks and potential guests that they had to provide for twice a day.

Whilst two standard meals, one (prandium) at midday and the other (cena) at around 5pm, may not seem a great deal, Gerald of Wales comments on the luxurious banquets served at Christ Church at the end of the twelfth century. On one Trinity Sunday, he recounted with great delight that no less than 16 courses were served firstly to the prior, and then to privileged individuals and monks. Records corroborate this splendour by demonstrating that bread, fish, eggs, and poultry were all commonly consumed within a meal at the refectory. Alongside standard meals, the cellarer also had to prepare for the many monastic occasions for celebration and feasting. Detailed in the anniversarian’s accounts are records of food allowances made to monks on obit-days of priors and archbishops. On High Mass, extra rations of food were also given to monks for celebration. As such, the monastic community at Christ Church had an impressively high standard of living which was maintained by the cellarer and required precise planning. There was, however, a controversial exception to the culinary menu of Canterbury Priory as St. Benedict forebode the practice of eating meat within his Rule. This practice was upheld from as early as 960 until 1216. Whilst after this period meat could be eaten in selected places, in 1225 the accounts show that the cellarer bought no meat at all. Instead, varieties of fish and poultry were depended upon alongside cheese, eggs, and vast amounts of bread. There were three main loaves consumed at Christ Church. Panis monachalis, also known as panis conventus, was a wheat-based bread served at the monk’s table along with small loaves known as smalpeys, and playnpayn. A barley-based loaf of lower quality, feytis, was also commonly eaten amongst servants of some importance. Those at the bottom of the hierarchy were given a coarse, mixed-corn loaf to be satisfied with. Alongside the vast amounts of bread consumed were copious amounts of wine. Gerald of Wales remarks also that many wines, both mulled and clear, together with mulberry wine, unfermented, and mead were served in the refectory of Christ Church. The treasurer accounts of 1220 show that the purchasing of wine accounted for £190 15d. ob, or around 16% of the total cellarer expenses. Such a vast amount was to meet the demands of the bustling crowds attending the Translation, but the expenditure on wine in other years was not too far off as in the following year, £84 9d. was spent as part of the cellarer’s expenses. Aside from food and drink supplies, there are several other expenses listed within the accounts which were attributed to the cellarer. Wood, alongside wine, was also a large expense of the cellarer’s accounts which may well have been used for either fuel or building materials. Typically, these expenses ranged from as little as £53 to as much as £215. In 1221, however, the sum of expenses for wood was an astonishing £431 17s., almost half of the total cellarer expenses for that year. Furthermore, considering the extent to which the cellarer travelled throughout the year, it was no surprise to see that a horse and cart were listed amongst the cellarer’s expenses for £10 in 1219 and £7 in 1220. Equally, in 1218, £14 13s. was also attributed to the cellarer for hay for his travels. It should be noted, however, that all these expenses were divided up amongst multiple cellarers within a fiscal year. Historians have written very little about the number of cellarers at any given time, nor the turnover rate of the position. Despite this, the treasury accounts of 1222 from manuscript DCc/MA1 provide a glimpse into the structure of the role by stating the following: Cellarer John Crundale: Expenses from the feast of St. Michael to the feast of St. Martin Cellarer Richard: Expenses from the feast of St. Martin to the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle Cellarer John of Roffa: Expenses from the feast of St. Thomas to the feast of St. Michael This demonstrates that multiple cellarers worked on a rotation and divided the year into three periods. What was peculiar, however, was that there was not a fixed date of rotation, as corroborated by the accounts of the following year which state: Cellarer John of Checham: Expenses from the feast of St. Michael until the vigil of St. Jacob Cellarer John of Crundale: Expenses from the vigil of St. Jacob until the feast of St. Michael This would give the impression that the rotation of office was divided irregularly amongst the number of cellarers of that year, with some cellarers in office for as little as 2 months, or as many as 9 months. Whilst the reasoning behind the choice of these dates and rotation periods is uncertain, it does demonstrate that the structure of the role differed vastly from the prior. Rather than a permanent position, the offices of the obedientiaries were temporary. The prominent reason behind this was that an individual cellarer was feared to wield too much influence and wealth, and thus a high-turnover rate made it impossible for any single cellarer to become a threat to financial unity. Although true, this did not mean that a certain cellarer could not return to his position. Taking a step back to understand the manuscript in a wider scope, we see that John of Crundale was listed as a cellarer in 1222, 1223, 1224, and 1225. Equally, a cellarer named Radulf was listed as holding his position in office from 1225 to 1227 and in 1229 (presumably also 1228). Lastly, another cellarer named William held his office from 1214 until 1217, and a cellarer named Richard held office from 1218 to 1221. Thus, whilst a rotation of office within the fiscal year does occur, the respective cellarers held their position for prolonged periods of around three years.

The cellarer, however, worked closely with a lesser obedientiary, the garnerer. Situated on the north-side of the curia, the predominant role of the garnerer was to oversee the granary for wheat.

Next to the granary was the bakery where the loaves listed previously would be baked for the respective meals by servants under the watchful eye of the garnerer. Flour was typically purchased by the cellarer or garnerer from the various mills owned by the priory. The expenses of an individual garnerer varied quite drastically; in 1217, as little as £4 15s. 6d. was spent, whilst in 1220, over £290 was credited to them. It is noteworthy that the proportion of this expense which was earmarked for purchasing wheat was very small. In 1216, of the £34 4s. spent by garnerer Luke, 58s. 8d. Ob was used to purchase wheat from Pecham. The rest, most probably, was used to maintain the granary and pay the servants. Unlike the cellarer, the structure of the garnerer role was as flexible as their expenses. Whilst in 1213, only one garnerer was listed as William, by 1215, as many as four garnerers; Luke, Alexander, Herlewin, and Andrew are provided, and in 1216, another garnerer, Richard, was added. Then, in 1217, only two are listed, Hubert and Richard. The reasoning behind such a chaotic structure was uncertain, but perhaps the granary was afforded more flexibility and freedom with its employment as it was a very small threat to the grand scheme of financial unity and aided in limiting the influence of the cellarer. Alongside the cellarer, another prominent obedientiary who was key to the daily life of the community was the chamberlain, or camerarius. Unlike the aforementioned obedientiaries, this office was shown in the accounts to only contain one official with an assistant. There was an instance in 1213, however, of two chamberlains being listed within the accounts. This was potentially a temporary measure to ensure a quick recovery after the exile, or an overlap of obedientiaries when the returning monks had re-joined those who remained. Be as it may, it is clear that the expenses of the chamberlain follow a similar pattern to the cellarers but at a much lower amount. Whilst the chamberlain also witnesses a decrease in expenditure as a result of the First Barons’ War, the Translation does not appear to make overly much difference to how much was spent. This was most probably because the role of the chamberlain focused predominantly on the monks, and thus he did not have to accommodate the vast numbers of pilgrims in the same way that the cellarer did. Although the expenditure of the chamberlain was much lower than the cellarer, the chamberlain, along with a sub-chamberlain, was equally as integral to the priory. They oversaw the clothing, accommodation, laundry work, washing, and shaving of the monks and servants. The chamberlain was primarily based within the tailor’s workshop within the precinct and purchased a variety of goods to make into garments. According to the Rule, precise rules and regulations governed the size, shape, and design of the black habit, and as such, black cloth was typically the leading expense in the chamberlain’s account. Maintaining a large cohort of monks with garments, soaps, and other amenities would have been a grand undertaking. As such, it was common for the chamberlain, like the cellarer, to also venture to fairs and markets to purchase cloth, linen, pelts, and leather, as well as sewing materials and bathroom necessities. Whilst he was not strictly afforded the same special privileges as the cellarer, the chamberlain was sometimes excused from prayers and ceremonies to fulfil his role if needed. What was particularly notable, however, was that a proportion of money, only 50s., was attributed within the accounts of 1213 and 1224 to the chamberlain for a “domum in Hoilande”. R.A.L Smith writes that from the fourteenth century, monks purchased “the best Flemish cloths for their garments”, and in 1318, the Canterbury foreign agent purchased over 200 Frisian cloths. It was, therefore, possible to propose that this particular expense could have been an early formation and establishment of the economic cloth trade between Canterbury and the Low Countries in the following century. Aside from cloth, a common expense of the chamberlain was soap, which was to be used for compulsory baths at Christmas and optional baths throughout the rest of the year. For smaller occasions, the chamberlain was tasked with providing hot water, towels, and soap among other cleaning amenities. And whilst there was no definitive site of a laundry-room at Canterbury, lists of washer-women illustrate that there was a structure in place for habits, shirts, drawers, and socks to be cleaned every fortnight in summer, and every three weeks during winter. This, as well as upholding a system of tallies to ensure items were returned to the right monk, was maintained solely by the chamberlain and his assistant. The remaining obedientiaries tasked with the domestic affairs of the priory were the refectorarian, infirmarian, and master of novices. Whilst these officers are not mentioned within the treasury accounts, it was worth discussing them briefly to understand their role and contribution to the wider cathedral community. The first of which, the refectorarian, worked closely with the cellarer to supply the refectory with utensils and necessary tools. The infirmarian was primarily in charge of the infirmary, which was not just an accommodation for the sick, but also those who were too infirm for daily duties as well as monks who were bloodletting. The infirmarian, however, oversaw the whole wing to the east of the cloister and therefore the hall, chapel, dining-hall, and kitchen were within their control. Nevertheless, within the infirmary was a resident physician and bleeder who relied on local oculists and apothecaries for herbs, cordials, lozenges, and ointments for the sick. The prior, however, reserved the right to see a specialist or consultant in London for a hefty price. Finally, the master of novices was instrumental in teaching the Rule and divine office to novices and monks. He may well have worked closely with the precentor or succentor, who will be discussed in the following article, as a subordinate for educational work. His role, as with the refectorarian and infirmarian, required few expenses and thus his appearance within records at Christ Church is uncommon. Nevertheless, he taught the young monks about monastic life, daily routine, and discipline without succumbing to impulse. Even recreation was a key part of a monk’s life, and the master of novices was key in promoting both indoor and outdoor activities which all participated in. And so, the above concludes the domestic affairs, also known as the bodily life of the community. But this was only half of the offices that monastic communities, like Canterbury, contained. In part 2 of this examination of the 13th-century divine enterprise, we shall examine the intellectual and spiritual affairs of the community through the offices of the precentor, succentor, and sacrist.
Decoding Divine Enterprise Part 1: The Domestic Affairs of 13th Century Canterbury Cathedral
The Priors of the Christ Church Cathedral Priory
Decoding Divine Enterprise Part 1: The Domestic Affairs of 13th Century Canterbury Cathedral

Luke Daly

I am Luke Daly, a Medieval Historian who specialises in religion and saints of the 1000-1300s. I am due to start my PhD in October but in the meantime am writing a book with Pen and Sword Publishing called ‘Sainthood: A New History of the Middle Ages through Saints and their Stories.’ I am also host of The Daly Medieval Podcast.
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