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Marian Studies and Devotion in the Benedictine Cathedral Priories in Later Medieval England*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2016

Joan Greatrex*
Robinson College, Cambridge


On 15 November 1407, in the monastic infirmary of Christ Church, Canterbury, Thomas Wykyng breathed his last with a prayer for the intercession of the Virgin Mary on his lips. The brethren in attendance, so the memoir continues, were convinced that at the moment of his departure the Blessed Virgin summoned him to herself (‘ad se evocavit’) because next to his trust in God he had always placed supreme confidence in her. He was remembered as a model monk who had served his turn in many offices including those of cellarer, sacrist, novice master, and warden of Canterbury College, Oxford. To the many young monks who owed their instruction in the celebration of mass to him he strongly recommended that this same prayer be included as part of their personal devotions as they stood at the altar.

Research Article
Copyright © Ecclesiastical History Society 2004

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I would like to record my gratitude to Nigel Morgan who shared with me his liturgical expertise in commenting on an earlier draft of this paper.


1 The opening and closing words of the prayer are provided in the death notice in Canterbury Cathedral Library, Lit. Ms. D.12, fol. 18v, revealing it to be one that is found in monastic breviaries today: ‘Beatae et gloriosae semper virginis Mariae, quaesumus, Domine, intercessio gloriosa nos protegat et ad vitam perducat aeternam. Per Dominum.’

2 Ibid. The exact wording is ‘… post deum in ipsa gloriosa virgine fiduciam obtinuit singulariter.’

3 Ibid.; see also Greatrex, Joan, Biographical Register of the English Cathedral Priories of the Province of Canterbury, c.1066-1540 (Oxford, 1997)Google Scholar [hereafter BRECP], 328-9.

4 Bede’s homilies in PL 94 include one on the Annunciation (cols 9-14), one on the Purification (cols 79-83), and also one on the Visitation (cols 15-22); T. Symons, ed., Regularis Concordia (1953), 20.

5 In a recent article Prof. Nigel Morgan has summarized some of the results of his prolonged researches in Marian studies: ‘Texts and images of Marian devotion in English twelfth-century monasticism and their influence on the secular church’, in B. Thompson, ed., Monasteries and Society in Medieval Britain, Harlaxton Medieval Studies, 6 (Stamford, 1999), 117-36. It is furnished with copious footnote references which amount to an indispensable bibliography of the relevant publications.

6 William explained the purpose of the string of beads: ‘ut singularem contactu singulas orationes incipiens numerum non praetermitteret’, N. Hamilton, ed., Willelmi Malmesburiensis Monachi de Gestis Pontificum, RS, 52 (1870), 311. This might have been a proto-rosary which was used in the repetition of Paternosters for the purpose of keeping count; see H. Thurston, ‘Prayer beads’. The Month, 129 (1917), pt 1:352-7, and also A. Winston-Allen, Stories of the Rose: the Making of the Rosary in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia, PA, 1997), 14. Coventry became a cathedral priory in 1102.

7 J.S. Brewer et al., eds, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 23 vols in 38 (London, 1862-1932), 13/i, no. 1177; 13/ii, no. 543. It should be noted that Durham was dedicated to the Virgin and St Cuthbert; see D. Rollason, ed., Symeon of Durham, Historian of Durham and the North (Stamford, 1998), pl. 31. I owe this and other helpful information concerning Durham to Alan Piper.

8 It should be noted that from time to time a new matrix came into use on which the image might differ from its predecessor in certain details; see the late thirteenth- and the sixteenth-century seals of Worcester cathedral priory in R.H. Ellis, comp., Catalogue of Seals in the Public Record Office: Monastic Seals, I (1986), nos M963a, 963b; a late thirteenth-century Coventry seal is ibid., M249.

9 The late fourteenth-century kalendar for Dunster, a cell of Bath which almost certainly observed the same feasts as the cathedral priory, has been printed in F. Wormald, ed., English Benedictine Kalendars after A.D. 1100, Henry Bradshaw Society [hereafter HBS], 2 vols, 77, 81 (1939-46), 1:145-60; also printed there are an early thirteenth-century Christ Church kalendar (1:63-79); a Durham kalendar, dated as prior to AD 1170 (1:161-79) and a thirteenth-century Ely kalendar (2:8-19). J.B.L. Tolhurst, ed., The Customary of the Cathedral Priory Church of Norwich, HBS, 82 (1948) includes a late thirteenth-century kalendar, 1-12. N.J. Morgan reconstructed the Winchester kalendar by collating kalendars of different dates with the result that he has presented it in the form of a fourteenth- or early fifteenth-century text: ‘Notes on the post-Conquest calendar, litany and martyrology of the cathedral priory of Winchester with a consideration of Winchester diocese calendars of the pre-Sarum period’, in A. Borg and A. Martindale, eds, The Vanishing Past: Studies of Medieval Art, Liturgy and Metrology presented to Christopher Hohler, BAR International Series, 3 (Oxford, 1981), 136-46. For the Worcester kalendar see Antiphonaire monastique, 13 siéecle: Codex F1 60 de la Bibliothéque de la cathedrale de Worcester, Paléographie musicale, 12 (Tournai, 1922), 29-40. No surviving kalendars for Coventry and Rochester have been identified.

10 The Canterbury kalendar used by Wormald (11.9 above) is in BL, MS Cotton Tiberius B.iii, fols 2r-7v to which this date has been assigned, and for the kalendar in the Worcester antiphoncr, Worcester Cathedral MS F. 160, see preceding note.

11 The widespread observance of these two octaves is exemplified by the liturgical kalendars cited with references in n. 10 above.

12 See J.T. Fowler, ed., Rites of Durham, Surtees Society, 107 (1903), 30; the Durham altars were those of Our Lady of Houghall and Our Lady of Bolton, both named after the lands from which the income for the officiating priest was derived.

13 The vestry altar is named in R.R. Darlington, ed., The Cartulary of Worcester Cathedral Priory, Pipe Roll Society (1968), item 340; the image and altar/chapel of Blessed Mary ‘at the Red Door’ occur in the sacrist’s accounts, Worcester Cathedral Muniments, C.425-C.430; could this have been situated at the eastern end of the nave against the pulpitum?

14 For example, at Ely where there was a Lady altar in the south aisle of the presbytery, see R.B. Pugh, ed., Victoria History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, 4 (1959), 59. At Winchester, however, Bishop Wykeham’s chantry chapel replaced the nave Lady altar; see BRECP, 725 under Richard de Pek.

15 At Durham there was an altar of our Lady of Pity on the north side of the Galilee and close beside it the chantry chapel of Bishop Thomas Langley (d. 1437) dedicated to the Virgin, Fowler, Rites of Durham, 44.

16 M.R. James, Life and Miracles of the Virgin in the Sculptures of the Lady Chapel at Ely (1895); Lindley, P., ‘The monastic cathedral at Ely c. 1320-c. 1350: art and patronage in medieval East Anglia’, 3 vols (University of Cambridge, Ph.D. thesis, 1985), 2:189249.Google Scholar

17 Park, D. and Welford, P., ‘The medieval polychromy of Winchester cathedral’, in Crook, John, ed., Winchester Cathedral Nine Hundred Years, 1093-1903 (Chichester, 1993), 12338 Google Scholar, at 133-4 with further references.

18 J. Brewer et al, eds, Giraldi Cambrensis Opera, 8 vols, RS, 21 (1861-91), 4:202; W. Pantin, ed., Documents Illustrating the Activities of the General and Provincial Chapters of the English Black Monks, 1215-1540, 3 vols, Camden Society, 3rd ser., 45, 47, 34 (1931–7), 1:45.

19 R. Graham, ed., Registrnm Roberti Winchelsey, Cantuariensis archiepiscopi, 1293-1313, 2 vols, CYS, 51-2 (1952-6), 2:820; S.J.A. Evans, ed., ‘Ely chapter ordinances and visitation records, 1215-1515’, in Camden Miscellany, xvii, Camden Society, 3rd ser., 64 (1940), 8; E.H. Carter, ed., Studies in Norwich Cathedral Priory (Norwich, 1935), 22.

20 See J.B.L. Tolhurst, The Monastic Breviary of Hyde Abbey, 6 vols, HBS, 69-71, 76, 78, 80 (1930-42), 6:120-2. The Canterbury MS, BL, MS Cotton Tiberius A.iii (dated c.1050), is printed in extenso in E.S. Dewick, ed., Facsimiles of Florae de Beata Maria Virgine, HBS, 21 (1902), fols 107b-112. The Worcester antiphoner, of which the kalendar is slightly later than the main text, is Worcester Cathedral MS F.160; the Ely breviary is CUL, MS Ii.4.20.

21 Tolhurst, Hyde Breviary, 6:205;see also Antiphonaire monastique, 93-6 for details of the Worcester observance.

22 John Harper refers to this office as the Office of Our Lady, and he describes the other, which was said daily, as the ‘Little Office’, because it was the shorter form: The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 1991), 133-4. The portiforium of St Wulstan, associated with Worcester, contains the earliest surviving evidence of the Saturday commemorative office of Our Lady and was in use before 1100, A. Hughes, ed., The Portiforium of St Wulstan, 2 vols, HBS, 89-90 (1956-7), 2:60-2; directions for the weekly commemorative office are also found in the late thirteenth-century Norwich customary, occurring passim through the text, Tolhurst, Customary.

23 Pantin, Black Monk Chapters, 1:68.

24 See Roper, S., Medieval English Benedictine Liturgy: Studies in the Formation, Structure and Content of the Monastic Votive Office, c.950-1540 (New York and London, 1993), 1405.Google Scholar

25 Pantin, Black Monk Chapters, 2:33, and reissued in 1444, ibid., 2:197.

26 Roper has dealt with monastic votive observance in Medieval English Benedictine Liturgy, which includes a critical study of the Marian office.

27 See Bishop, E., ‘On the origins of the feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary’, Downside Review, 5 (1886), 10719 Google Scholar; with papal authorization the Council of London in 1129 approved the celebration of this feast in England, ibid., 112.

28 E.g., copies of Anselm’s De conceptu virginali et de peccato originali were to be found at Durham, Norwich, and Rochester, as well as Canterbury: M.R. James, The Ancient Libraries of Canterbury and Dover (Cambridge, 1903), Eastry catalogue, 23 (nos 62, 63, 65, 66) (Canterbury); Catalogi veteres librorum ecclesiae cathedralis Dunelm., Surtees Society, 7 (1840), 22 (Durham); CUL, MS Kk.4.12 (Norwich); BL, MS Royal 5 Ax (Rochester). References to the printed texts of both are given in R. Sharpe, A Handlist of the Latin Writers of Great Britain and Ireland before 1540 (Turnout, 1997), 59-60 (Anselm), 104 (Eadmer).

29 Details of the printed editions are in Sharpe, Handlist, 60, 105; Eadmer may also be the author of De excellentia virginis Mariae, although it was attributed to Anselm in the Middle Ages, ibid., 104.

30 Adam’s Historia is listed in Sharpe, Handlist, 13. The introduction of the feast into England is discussed in R.W. Pfaff, New Liturgical Feasts in Medieval England (Oxford, 1970), 43-4.

31 Sharpe, Handlist, 13.

32 M.A. Devlin, ed., The Sermons of Thomas Brinton, Bishop of Rochester (1373-1389), 2 vols, Camden Society, 3rd ser., 85-6 (1954), 1, nos 38,52; 2, nos 82, 98.

33 The details are given in the precentor’s accounts: Worcester Cathedral Muniments C.373, 375, 378; see also BRECP, under Richard Barndesley, 773, and John Lawerne, 830-1.

34 Bodley, MS Bodl. 692, fols 133V, 140, 141. Lawerne was at Oxford during the 1430s and 1440s.

35 R. Southern, ‘The English origins of the Miracles of the Virgin’, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 4 (1958), 201-2.

36 James, Ancient Libraries, 48-49 (nos 275-280), 139 (no 1724). Reference to the printed edition of Witeker’s Miracula is in Sharpe, Handlist, 401; Witekcr’s career is summarized in BRECP, 320-1 (as Wireker).

37 CUL, MS Ii.2.19; two were by the founder monk-bishop, Herbert of Losinga, fols 221v, 234V. Another Norwich MS, CUL, MS Kk.4.13, consists of a set of public readings (lectiones) from the Fathers for three of the Marian feasts, fols 42V, 55r, 152r.

38 Piper, A.J., ‘The libraries of the monks of Durham’, in Parkes, M.B. and Watson, A.G., eds, Medieval Scribes, Manuscripts and Libraries: Essays presented to N.R. Ker (1978), 2301.Google Scholar

39 Catalogi veteres, 82; the list is dated 1395.

40 CUL, MS Kk.3.26, fols 132r-135r.

41 J.B. Sheppard, ed., Litterae Cantuarienses, 3 vols, RS, 85 (1887-9), 2:147, 149, 151. This description of the Marian psalter was given to me by Nigel Morgan who referred to the example of the thirteenth-century Reading abbey psalter described in his Early Gothic Manuscripts, 2 vols, A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, 4 (1988), 2, item 106.

42 See BRECP, under John de Bruges, 348.

43 For Whitrig, see H. Farmer, The Monk of Fame: the Meditations of a Fourteenth Century Monk (1961), 119-26. The prayers attributed to Segbrok are in BL, MS Arundel 507, fols 34v-39v.

44 Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 63, fols 3r-7r, 22r, 29v-31r.

45 James, Ancient Libraries, 69-70 (no. 603).

46 CUL, MS Ii.1.22, fols 196r-206v.

47 They are, in James, Ancient Libraries, 33 (no. 161), 65 (no. $37), 73 (no. 647), 77 (no. 698); another copy from Norwich is in CUL, MS li.1.31, fols 9r-20v, one from Worcester is in Worcester Cathedral Library, MS F.71, fols 150v-157r; and one of several from Durham is in Bodley, MS Laud misc. 345, fols 62r-77v.

48 CUL, MS 11.1.18, fols 128v-134r, 139r-142v (Norwich); Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 332, pp. 90-152, 180-97 (Rochester).

49 These are Worcester Cathedral Library, MSS F.71, Q.66 (incomplete); CUL, MS Kk.4.6; BL, MS Royal 4C.Xi. V.I.J. Flint lists all but MS F.71 and explains the Worcester connections of Honorius in her ‘Honorius Augustodunensis’, in Authors of the Middle Ages: Histor ical and Religious Writers of the Latin West, Volume II, nos 5-6 (Aldershot and Brookfield, VT, 1995) [also published separately], 173 [79], 102-4 [8-10].

50 This is found in Bodley, MS Bodley 767, along with the handbook for priests known as Speculum juniorum.

51 These are in Bodley, MS Rawlinson C.4, fols 198r-265r; BL, MS Royal; Durham, DCL MS B.IV.40. It was John Manby who purchased this last MS from a fellow monk, who was unidentified.

52 See Greatrex, J., ‘Benedictine sermons: preparation and practice in the English cathe dral priory cloisters’, in Muessig, C., ed., Medieval Monastic Preaching (Leiden and Boston, 1998), 2712.Google Scholar

53 See Leclercq, J., ‘Dévotion et théologie mariales dans le monachisme bénédictin’, Maria, Études sur la sainte Vierge, 2 (Paris, 1952), 5767 Google Scholar; also R, Laurentin, Court traité de théologie mariale, 4th edn (Paris, 1953), 69-70.

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