[Footnote 35: Decr. Greg. IX. Lib. III. tit. i. cap. iii., quoted by Dr. Cuthbert Atchley in Alcuin Club Tracts, IV.]
“Lately, when two clerks were contending about the carrying of holy water, the clerk appointed by the parishioners against the command of the priest, wrenched the book from the hands of the clerk who had been appointed by the rector, and who had been ordered to read the epistle by the priest, and hurled him violently to the ground, drawing blood.”
[Footnote 36: John of Athon, Constit. Dom. Othoboni, tit. De residentia archipreb. et episc.: cap. Pastor bonus: verb sanctae obedientiae.]
A very unseemly disturbance truly! Two clerks righting for the book in the midst of the sanctuary during the Eucharistic service! Still their quarrel teaches us something about the appointment and election of clerks in the Middle Ages, and of the duty of the parish clerk with regard to the reading of the epistle.
In 1411 the vicar of Elmstead was enjoined by Clifford, Bishop of London, to find a clerk to help him at private Masses on weekdays, and on holy days to read the epistle.
In the rules laid down for the guidance of clerks at the various churches we find many references to the duties of reading and singing. At Coventry he is required to sing in the choir at the Mass, and to sing Evensong on the south side of the choir; on feast days the first clerk was ordered to be rector chori on the south side, while his fellow performed a like duty on the north side. On every Sunday and holy day the latter had to read the epistle. At Faversham the clerk was required to sing at every Mass by note the Grail at the upper desk in the body of the choir, and also the epistle, and to be diligent to sing all the office of the Mass by note, and at all other services. Very careful instructions were laid down for the proper musical arrangements in this church. The clerk was ordered “to set the choir not after his own brest (= voice) but as every man being a singer may sing conveniently his part, and when plain song faileth one of the clerks shall leave faburdon and keep plain song unto the time the choir be set again.” A fine of 2 d. was levied on all clerks as well as priests at St. Michael’s, Cornhill, who should be absent from the church, and not take their places in the choir in their surplices, singing there from the beginning of Matins, Mass and Evensong unto the end of the services. At St. Nicholas, Bristol, the clerk was ordered “to sing in reading the epistle daily under pain of ii d.”
[Footnote 37: Faburdon = faux-bourdon, a simple kind of counterpoint to the church plain song-, much used in England in the fifteenth century. Grove’s Dictionary of Music.]
These various rules and regulations, drawn up with consummate care, together with the occasional glimpses of the mediaeval clerk and his duties, which old writers afford, enable us to picture to ourselves what kind of person he was, and to see him engaged in his manifold occupations within the same walls which we know so well. When the daylight is dying, musing within the dim mysterious aisle, we can see him folding up the vestments, bearing the books into their place of safe keeping in the vestry, singing softly to himself: