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and silver, which catalogue was afterwards continued, but not in the
same manner (Wanly, 249). This is probably the same book which was
published in 1841 by the Surtees Society, under the name of _Liber
Vitæ Ecclesiæ Dunelmensis_. It contains the names of all the
benefactors of St. Cuthbert's Church from its foundation, and lay
constantly on the altar for upwards of six centuries.]

[Footnote 2: According to Wanly there is in the Cotton Library (Dom. A.
7) of the reign of Athelstan, in which the names of the chief
benefactors of the Church of Lindisfarne are written in letters of gold
and silver, which catalogue was afterwards continued, but not in the
same manner (Wanly, 249). This is probably the same book which was
published in 1841 by the Surtees Society, under the name of _Liber
Vitæ Ecclesiæ Dunelmensis_. It contains the names of all the
benefactors of St. Cuthbert's Church from its foundation, and lay
constantly on the altar for upwards of six centuries.]

[Footnote 3: Thus when Leofric established canons in the Church of
Exeter, he made them several valuable presents, on condition that, in
their prayers and Masses, they should always remember his soul, "that
it might be the more pleasing to God." Monas. Ang. tom i. p. 222.]

[Footnote 4: Hist. Rames, p. 427.]

There were three kinds of good works usually performed for the benefit
of the dead: One consisted in the distribution of charity. To the
money, which the deceased, if he were in opulent or in easy
circumstances, bequeathed for that purpose, an addition was often made
by the contributions of his relatives and friends. Large sums were
often distributed in this manner. King Alfred the Great says in his
will: "Let there be given for me, and for my father, and for the
friends that he prayed for, and that I pray for, two hundred pounds;
fifty among the Mass-priests throughout my kingdom; fifty among the
servants of God that are in need, fifty among lay paupers, and fifty to
the church in which my body shall rest." [1] Archbishop Wulfred in his
will, (an. 831) made provision for the permanent support and clothing
of twenty-seven paupers, out of the income from certain manors which,
at his own cost and labor, he had recovered for the Church of
Canterbury. Frequently the testator bequeathed a yearly dole of money
and provisions to the poor on the anniversary of his death. Thus the
clergy of Christ-church gave away one hundred and twenty suffles, or
cakes of fine flour, on the anniversaries of each of their lords, by
which word we are probably to understand archbishops; but Wulfred was
not content with his accustomed charity; he augmented it tenfold on his
own anniversary, having bequeathed a loaf, a certain quantity of
cheese, and a silver penny to be delivered to twelve hundred poor
persons on that day. Of such dole some vestiges still remain in certain
parts of the kingdom.

[Footnote 1: Cod Diplom (double S?) i. 115.]

Another species of charity, at the death of the upper ranks, was the
grant of freedom to a certain number of slaves, whose poverty, to
render the gift more valuable, was relieved with a handsome present. In
the Council of Calcuith, it was unanimously agreed that each prelate at
his death should bequeath the tenth part of his personal property to
the poor, and set at liberty all bondmen of English descent, whom the
Church had acquired during his administration; and that each bishop and
abbot who survived him, should manumit three of his slaves, and give
three shillings to each, for the benefit of the soul of the deceased

The devotions in behalf of the dead consisted in the frequent
repetition of the Lord's Prayer, technically called a belt of
Paternosters, which was in use with private individuals, ignorant of
the Latin tongue; 2d, in the chanting of a certain number of psalms,
generally fifty, terminating with the collect for the dead, during
which collect all knelt down, and then repeated the anthem in Latin or
English: "According to Thy great mercy give rest to his soul, O Lord,
and of Thine infinite bounty grant to him eternal light in the company
of the saints;" [1] 3d, in the sacrifice of the Mass, which was offered
as soon as might be after death, again on the third day, and afterwards
as often as was required by the solicitude of the relatives or friends
of the deceased. No sooner had St. Wilfred expired than Talbert, to
whom he had intrusted the government of his monastery at Ripon, ordered
a Mass to be celebrated, and alms to be distributed daily for his soul.
On his anniversary the abbots of all the monasteries founded by Wilfred
were summoned to attend; they spent the preceding night in watching and
prayer, on the following morning a solemn Mass was performed, and then
the tenth part of the cattle belonging to the monastery was distributed
among the neighboring poor.

[Footnote 1: On the death of St. Guthlade, his sister Pega recommended
his soul to God, and sang psalms for that purpose during three days.]

In like manner we find the ealdorman Osulf, "for the redemption and
health of his own soul, and of his wife, Beornthrythe," giving certain
lands to the Church of Liming, in Kent, under the express condition
that "every twelve months afterwards, the day of their departure out of
this life should be kept with fasting and prayer to God, in psalmody
and the celebration of Masses."

It would appear that some doubt existed with respect to the exact
meaning of this condition; and a few years later the archbishop, to set
the question at rest, pronounced the following decree: "Wherefore I
order that the godly deeds following be performed for their souls at
the tide of their anniversary; that every Mass priest celebrate two
Masses for the soul of Osulf, and two for Beornthrythe's soul; that
every deacon read two passions (the narratives of our Lord's sufferings
in the gospels) for his soul, and two for hers; and each of God's
servants (the inferior members of the brotherhood) two fifties" (fifty
psalms) "for his soul, two for hers; that as you in the world are
blessed with worldly goods through them, so they may be blessed with
godly goods through you."

It should, however, be observed, that such devotions were not confined
to the anniversaries of the dead. In many, perhaps in all, of these
religious establishments, the whole community on certain days walked,
at the conclusion of the matin service, in procession to the cemetery,
and there chanted the dirge over the graves of their deceased brethren
and benefactors.

Respecting these practices some most extraordinary opinions have
occasionally been hazarded. We have been told that the custom of
praying for the dead was no part of the religious system originally
taught to the Anglo-Saxons, that it was not generally received for two
centuries after their conversion, and that it probably took its rise
"from a mistaken charity, continuing to do for the departed what it was
only lawful to do for the living." To this supposition it may be
sufficient to reply, that it is supported by no reference to ancient
authority, but contradicted in every page of Anglo-Saxon history.
Others have admitted the universal prevalence of the practice, but have
discovered that it originated in the interested views of the clergy,
who employed it as a constant source of emolument, and laughed among
themselves at the easy faith of their disciples. But this opinion is
subject to equal difficulties with the former. It rests on no ancient
testimony: it is refuted by the conduct of the ancient clergy. No
instance is to be found of any one of these conspirators as they are
represented, who in an unguarded moment, or of any false brother who,
in the peevishness of discontent, revealed the secret to the ears of
their dupes. On the contrary, we see them in their private
correspondence holding to each other the same language which they held
to their disciples; requesting from each other those prayers which we
are told that they mutually despised, and making pecuniary sacrifices
during life to purchase what, if their accusers be correct, they deemed
an illusory assistence after death.


Vernon is perhaps the only town in France wherein the ancient custom of
which we are about to speak still exists. When a death occurs, an
individual, robed in a mortuary tunic, adorned with cross-bones and
tear-drops, goes through the streets with a small bell in either hand,
the sound of which is sharp and penetrating; at every place where the
streets cross each other, he rings his bells three times, crying out in
a doleful voice: "Such-a-one, belonging to the Confraternity of St.
Roch, or the Confraternity of St. Sebastian, &c., &c., is recommended
to your prayers. He is dead. The funeral will take place at such-an-
hour." Then he rings again three times. The first Sunday of each month
arrives. Then, at the dawn of day the same individual goes again
through the town, ringing continuously, knocking thrice at the door of
each member of the confraternity, and stopping at the corners of the
streets, he sings: "Good people," or "good souls, who sleep, awake!
awake! pray for the dead! &c." - _Voix de la Verité_, July 22,



An English writer, the gifted author of the Knights of St. John, makes
the following assertion as regards the people of her own nationality:
"Our Catholic ancestors," she says, "are said to have been
distinguished above all other nations for their devotion towards the
dead; and it harmonizes with one feature in our national character,
namely, that gravity and attraction to things of solemn and pathetic
interest which, uncontrolled by the influence of faith, degenerates
even into melancholy." In view of this assertion, it will be
interesting to spend a few moments in gathering up the links of this
most ancient and most touching devotion, amongst a people who have
collectively, as it were, fallen away from grace. It is therefore our
purpose to look backwards into that solemn and beautiful past of which
heretical England can boast, and behold her, as Carlyle beheld her in
his "Past and Present," offering to the world the sublime spectacle of
a people devout and faithful, undisturbed by doubt, tranquilized by the
harmonious influence of religion, and unharassed by the spirit of so
called philosophic inquiry, which, misdirected, is the true bane of
English society at the present day.

This retrospection, as we shall have occasion later on to recur to the
subject of devotion to the dead in England, must necessarily be both
brief and cursory. But even the merest outlines are of interest, for
they prove that prayer for the departed was no less the favorite
devotion of the learned than of the simple, and that it had its home in
those ancient seats of learning, Oxford and Cambridge and their
dependencies, from the very hour of their foundation. Of the Founder of
Oxford, it is said, that prayer for the dead was one of his devotions
of predilection. It is not necessary here for us to follow him, the
great and good William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, and
subsequently Lord Chancellor of England, in the gradual unfoldings of
that project of founding a University, so dear to him from almost the
moment of his elevation to the episcopate. Suffice that in the March of
1379, he laid the corner-stone of "St. Marie's College of Winchester,
Oxenford." It is with his great charity towards the Holy Souls that we
are at present concerned, and of this we have ample proof in the
testimonies of his biographers. Here is one of them, in the paragraph
which follows:

"There was another devotion which was most dearly cherished by Wykeham,
and which is an equal indication of the singular _spirituality_ of
his mind, - we mean, that for the suffering souls in Purgatory. It may
be safely affirmed, that this devotion, so unselfish and unearthly in
its tendencies, carrying us beyond the grave, and making us familiar
with the secrets of the unseen world, could never find a place in the
heart of one who was engrossed by secular cares, or the love of money.
Its existence in any marked and special degree argues in the soul of
its possessor a profound sense of sin, a deep compassion for the
sufferings of others, and a habit of dwelling on the thoughts of death,
judgment, and eternity. Moreover, it is utterly opposed to anything of
that mercenary or commercial spirit which exists among men of the
world, who like to see some large practical result even in matters of
devotion. We pray, and are sensible of no return; we spend our money in
a Requiem Mass, and there is nothing but trust in God's word, and God's
fidelity, to assure us that the money is not thrown away. Every _De
Profundis_ that we say is as much an act of faith as it is an act of
charity; and it has its reward. We do not speak merely of the benefit
reaped by the souls of the faithful departed; but who can measure the
effect of this devotion on a man's own soul, bringing him (as it does)
into communion with the world of spirits, and realizing to him the
worth of Christian suffering, and the awful purity of God?"...

Wykeham's heart was full of compassion for suffering, and the dead
shared his charity with the living. Never did he offer the Holy
Sacrifice for the departed without abundant tears. His reverence for
the Holy Mysteries, and the singular devotion with which he celebrated,
are often referred to by those who have written his life; one of whom,
after speaking of his various charities, thus continues: "Not only did
he, as we have said, offer his goods, but also his very self, as a
lively sacrifice to God, and hence, in the solemn celebration of Mass,
and chiefly at that part where there is made a special memorial of the
living and the dead, he was wont to shed many tears out of the humility
of his heart, reputing himself unworthy, as he was wont to express it
in speaking to his secretary, to perform such an office, or to handle
the most sublime mysteries of the Church."

From the same biographer we add to the foregoing a further testimony as
to what a hold this devotion of predilection had taken upon the soul of
the Founder of Oxford:

"Among his charities we accordingly find a great many which were solely
directed to the relief of the suffering souls. Wykeham's benevolence
had in it one admirable feature: it was not left to be carried out
after his death by his executors, but all his great acts of munificence
were performed in his own lifetime. One of his first cares, after his
accession to the See of Winchester, was to found a chantry in the
Priory of Southwyke, near Wykeham, for the repose of the souls of his
father and mother and sister, who were buried within the priory church;
and in all his after foundations provisions were made for the continual
remembrance of the dead; and (ever grateful to his early friends) King
Edward III., the Black Prince, and King Richard II. were all commended
to the charity of those who, as they prayed for Wykeham, were charged
at the same time to pray for the souls of his benefactors."

In Winchester we read, also, of the College of the Holy Trinity,
endowed as a "carnarie," or charnel-house, of the city. The chief
duties of the priests belonging to the chantry attached thereto were to
bury the dead, and keep up perpetual Masses for the souls of the

Those Colleges of Winchester, with their simple beauty and grandeur of
design, with their conventional rule of life, the singing of Matins,
and the daily chanting of the divine office by chaplains and fellows,
offer to us a very fair picture, indeed. But we observe that in the
Masses sung with "note and chant," there is one specially mentioned for
the souls of the founder's parents, and of all the faithful departed; a
second for the souls of King Edward III., Queen Philippa, the Black
Prince, Richard II., Queen Anne, and certain benefactors.

On the 24th of July, 1403, the saintly Wykeham made his will. He
directed that his body should be laid in a chantry which he had himself
founded, and at the altar of which he was wont to offer up the Holy
Sacrifice. He desired that on the day of his burial, "to every poor
person coming to Winchester, and asking alms, for the love of God, and
for the health of his soul, there should be given fourpence." Alms were
likewise to be distributed in every place through which his body was to
pass, and large provision was made for Masses and prayers for the
repose of his soul. He had, besides, made an agreement with the monks
of St. Swithin's, by which they were to offer three Masses daily for
his parents and benefactors in the chantry chapel; the first of these
was a Mass of Our Lady, to be said very early. The boys attached to the
College were, moreover, to sing every night in perpetuity, either the
_Salve Regina_ or _Ave Regina_, with a _De Profundis_ for his soul's
repose. So, as the hour of his death drew near, he who had concerned
himself through life with the souls of the departed, essayed to make
provision for his own. Since that hour when he proceeded to the high
altar of Winchester Cathedral, escorted by the Lord Prior of Winchester
and the Abbot Hyde, to celebrate his first Pontifical Mass, the same
constant memory of the dead had been with him, as when kneeling he
prayed aloud for the soul of his predecessor,
William de Edyndon, and bade the choir chant the _De Profundis_,
while he himself recited the _Fidelium omnium conditor_.

But leaving Oxford and its pious founder, we turn our gaze upon that
ancient foundation of Eton, which was to serve as a preparatory school
for the new establishment of King's College of Cambridge, which Henry
had in contemplation. Henry, in his famous Eton charter, makes mention
of his desire that this college shall be, as it were, a memorial of
him, and be composed of clerks, "who," he says, "shall pray for our
welfare whilst we live, and for our soul when we shall have departed
this life." The Pope, Eugenius IV., afterwards granted a plenary
indulgence to all who should visit the College Chapel of Our Lady of
Eton, after Confession and Communion. Henry having visited the
Colleges of Winchester, first met there with William Wayneflete, with
whom he was to be united in so warm and beautiful a friendship. The
"Master of Winton," as Wayneflete then was, is described as "simple,
devout, and full of learning." But a short time after he was removed
to Eton, and presently raised to the Provostship. Among many beautiful
and pious customs, the memory of the dead was carefully preserved
among the Eton scholars, and their verses on All Souls' Day were on
the blessedness of those who die in the Lord. But Wayneflete is, of
course, chiefly identified with Magdalen College, Oxford, said to be
"the finest collegiate building in England," and of which he was the
founder. It was, in truth, his dream, and one which he was destined
to see realized. Here is neither the place nor time to dwell upon its
beauties. The first stone was laid by the venerable Tybarte, its first
president. He was buried in the middle of the inner chapel, and upon a
cope, preserved among the ancient church vestments, is one upon which
is worked the inscription, "_Orate pro anima Magistri Tybarte_." [1]

[Footnote 1: Pray for the soul of Master Tybarte.]

Among the rules and regulations of this new foundation was one which
obliged the president, fellows, and scholars to recite, while dressing,
certain prayers in honor of the Blessed Trinity, and a suffrage for the
founder. Daily prayers were offered up for the repose of the souls of
the founder's father and mother, "those of benefactors of the college,
and for all the souls of the faithful departed." These suffrages were
to be made by every one, at whatever hour of the day was most

There were many foundations of Masses attached to this College of
Magdalen. Of these daily Masses, offered at the six altars of the
chapel, the early "Morrow Mass" was always said in the Arundel Chapel,
for the soul of Lord Arundel, the chief benefactor of the institute.
Another Mass was to be said every day for "souls of good memory,"
including, besides the two kings, Henry III. and Edward III., his dear
and never forgotten friends, Henry VI., Lord Cromwell, and Sir John
Fastolfe, as well as King Edward IV. Other Masses and prayers were said
for other intentions. The founder was to be especially remembered every
quarter. Every day, after High Mass, one of the demys was to say aloud
in the chapel, "_Anima fundatoris nostri Willielmi, et animae omnium
fidelium defunctorum, per miscricordiam Dei in pace requiescat._"
[1] The same prayer was to be repeated in the hall after dinner and

[Footnote 1: "May the soul of our founder, William, and the souls of
all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace."]

But the life of the Founder of Magdalen, the great Bishop, was drawing
to a close. We shall see by his will how firm his faith in that most
Catholic of all doctrines - Purgatory. After various bequests, he left a
certain portion of his property for Masses and alms-deeds for his own
soul and the souls of his parents and friends. On the day of his
burial, and on the thirtieth day from the time of his decease, and on
other appointed days, his executors are charged to have 5,000 Masses
said in honor of the Five Wounds of Christ, and the Five Joys of Mary -
his favorite devotions - for the same intention. His remains were buried
at Winchester, in a tomb which he had prepared as a place of burial
during his lifetime. His was, indeed, the third chantry chapel in
Winchester, the others being those of his predecessor. This custom was
common to all the great prelates of the time. They prepared a place of
sepulture during their life, and there where they officiated at all
solemn offices, and so frequently celebrated requiems for the departed,
they knew that their remains were one day to be laid, and prayers and
the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to be offered for themselves. It was
thus a constant reminder of death.

A ceremony connected with Magdalen Tower seems likewise to have had its
origin in this pious custom of remembrance of the dead. "On the 1st of
May," says Anthony Wood, "the choral ministers of this house do,
according to ancient custom, salute Flora from the top of the tower, at
four in the morning, with vocal music of several parts." Of course, as
a chronicler remarks, it was not to salute Flora that any Catholic
choristers thus made vocal the sweet air of May. "The sweet music of
Magdalen Tower," remarks the author of the Knights of St. John, "had a
directly religious origin. On the 1st of May the society was wont
annually to celebrate the obit or Requiem Mass of King Henry VII., who
proved a generous benefactor to the College, and who is still
commemorated as such upon that day. The requiem was not, indeed,
celebrated _on the top of the tower_, as Mr. Chalmers, in his
history of the university, affirms, in total ignorance that a
_requiem_ is a Mass, and that a Mass must be said upon an altar;
but it is probable that the choral service chanted on the 1st of May
consisted originally of the _De Profundis_, or some other psalm,
for the repose of Henry's soul, and as a special mark of gratitude."
Some semblance of the old custom is still kept up, as ten pounds is
still annually paid by the rectory of Slimbridge, in Gloucestershire,
for the purpose of keeping up this ceremony.

Such are a few brief glimpses of this belief in Purgatory, which was so
dear to the hearts of Englishmen, in those centuries before the blight
of heresy had fallen upon the Island of the Saints. These hints upon
the subject are given very much at random, and will simply serve to
show how prayer for the dead was a part of all Christian lives in those
ages of faith. It was incorporated in the rules of every collegiate
institute, and more especially those two most notable ones of Oxford
and Cambridge. It entered into every man's calculations, and was
provided for in every Will and Testament. Had it been in our power to
go backwards, into a still more remote antiquity, it would have been
our pleasant task to find this belief in suffrage for the dead taking
so vigorous root in every heart. Do we not find the Venerable Bede,
"the Father of English Learning," who was born in 673 and died in 734,
asking that his name may be enrolled amongst the monks of the monastery
founded by St. Aidan, in order that his soul after death might have a
share in the Masses and prayers of that numerous community, as he tells

Online LibraryMrs. James SadlierPurgatory → online text (page 18 of 35)