The Parish Clerk (1907) eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 290 pages of information about The Parish Clerk (1907).
duties was to cense the people in their houses.  He was an actor of no mean repute, and took a leading part in the mysteries or miracle-plays, concerning which we shall have more to tell.  He even could undertake the prominent part of Herod, which doubtless was an object of competition among the amateurs of the period.  Such is the picture which Chaucer draws of the frivolous clerk, a sketch which is accurate enough as far as it goes, and one that we will endeavour to fill in with sundry details culled from medieval sources.

Chaucer tells us that Jolly Absolon used to go to the houses of the parishioners on holy days with his censer.  His more usual duty was to bear to them the holy water, and hence he acquired the title of aquaebajalus.  This holy water consisted of water into which, after exorcism, blest salt had been placed, and then duly sanctified with the sign of the cross and sacerdotal benediction.  We can see the clerk clad in his surplice setting out in the morning of Sunday on his rounds.  He is carrying a holy-water vat, made of brass or wood, containing the blest water, and in his hand is an aspergillum or sprinkler.  This consists of a round brush of horse-hair with a short handle.  When the clerk arrives at the great house of the village he first enters the kitchen, and seeing the cook engaged on her household duties, he dips the sprinkler into the holy-water vessel and shakes it towards her, as in the accompanying illustration.  Then he visits the lord and lady of the manor, who are sitting at meat in their solar, and asperges them in like manner.  For his pains he receives from every householder some gift, and goes on his way rejoicing.  Bishop Alexander, of Coventry, however, in his constitutions drawn up in the year 1237, ordered that no clerk who serves in a church may live from the fees derived from this source, and the penalty of suspension was to be inflicted on any one who should transgress this rule.  The constitutions of the parish clerks at Trinity Church, Coventry, made in 1462, are a most valuable source of information with regard to the clerk’s duties.

The following items refer to the orders relating to the holy water: 

     “Item, the dekyn shall bring a woly water stoke with water
     for hys preste every Sonday for the preste to make
     woly water.

     “Item, the said dekyn shall every Sonday beyr woly water of
     hys chyldern to euery howse in hys warde, and he to have hys
     duty off euery man affter hys degre quarterly.”

At the church of St. Nicholas, Bristol, in 1481, it was ordered that the “Clerke to ordeynn spryngals[20] for the church, and for him that visiteth the Sondays and dewly to bere his holy water to euery howse Abyding soo convenient a space that every man may receive hys Holy water under payne of iiii d. tociens quociens.”

[Footnote 20:  Bunches of twigs for sprinkling holy water.]

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The Parish Clerk (1907) from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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