Forgot your password?  

Resources for students & teachers

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 290 pages of information about The Parish Clerk (1907).

[Illustration:  THE CLERK BEARING HOLY WATER AND ASPERGING THE COOK]

[Illustration:  THE CLERK BEARING HOLY WATER AND ASPERGING THE LORD AND LADY]

At Faversham a set of parish clerk’s duties of the years 1506, 1548, and 1593 is preserved.  In the rules ordained for his guidance in the first-mentioned year he with his assistant clerk is ordered to bear holy water to every man’s house, as of old time hath been accustomed; in case of default he shall forfeit 8 d.; but if he shall be very much occupied on account of a principal feast falling on a Sunday or with any pressing parochial business, he is to be excused.

A mighty dissension disturbed the equanimity of the little parish of Morebath in the year 1531 and continued for several years.  The quarrel arose concerning the dues to be paid to the parish clerk, a small number of persons refusing to pay the just demands.  After much disputing they finally came to an agreement, and one of the items was that the clerk should go about the parish with his holy water once a year, when men had shorn their sheep to gather some wool to make him a coat to go in the parish in his livery.  There are many other items in the agreement to which we shall have occasion again to refer.  Let us hope that the good people of Morebath settled down amicably after this great “storm in a tea-cup”; but this godly union and concord could not have lasted very long, as mighty changes were in progress, and much upsetting of old-established custom and practice.

The clerk continued in many parishes to make his accustomed round of the houses, and collected money which was used for the defraying of the expenses of public worship; but he left behind him his sprinkler and holy-water vat, which accorded not with the principles and tenets, the practice and ceremonies of the reformed Church of England.

This was, however, one of the minor duties of the mediaeval clerk, and the custom of giving offerings to him seems to have started with a charitable intent.  The constitutions of Archbishop Boniface of Canterbury issued in 1260 state: 

“We have often heard from our elders that the benefices of holy water were originally instituted from a motive of charity, in order that one of their proper poor clerks might have exhibitions to the schools, and so advance in learning, that they might be fit for higher preferment.”

He had many other and more important duties to perform, duties requiring a degree of education far superior to that which we are accustomed to associate with the holders of his office.  We will endeavour to obtain a truer sketch of him than even that drawn by Chaucer, and to realise the multitudinous duties which fell to his lot, and the great services he rendered to God and to his Church.

CHAPTER III

THE MEDIAEVAL CLERK

Follow Us on Facebook