Life in a Medieval College: The Story of the Vicars-Choral of York Minster

By Frederick Harrison | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
OBITS, CHANTRIES AND LETTERS-PATENT

OBITS AND CHANTRIES

No small part of the obligation of a parish priest, a monk or a member of a secular corporation was to pray for the departed. In order that those who wished that either themselves or their relatives and friends should be regularly prayed for after their deaths, two allied and yet different kinds of foundation came into existence in the first half of the thirteenth century and persisted till the dissolution of the chantries and the obits in the year 1547. These were, respectively, the chantry and the obit. A chantry consisted of the provision of an altar, as a rule in a chapel of its own, the vestments, the ornaments, the books and the sacred vessels necessary to the use for which the chapel was set apart, together with the provision for the income of the chaplain. The duty of the chaplain appointed and collated to such a chaplaincy was to say or sing a mass every day for the soul of the founder of the chantry and for the souls of those whom he chose to be associated with him. In order to support the chantry and the priest, property was set aside and the income used for the purpose in the mind of the founder and for no other purpose. Sites of chantry chapels can be seen even now in ancient parish churches, sometimes at the east ends of aisles, sometimes in surviving chapels separated from the remainder of the church by stone or wooden screens and often little changed from their original appearance in cathedrals such as Winchester and in former churches of canons-regular such as Hexham Abbey. An obit -- Latin obitus, death, or the day of death -- was like a chantry only in one thing, namely, that the mass was said or sung, but only once a year, often as near as was possible to the day of the death of the founder or (if a different person were the beneficiary) the death of the beneficiary. An altar, sometimes the high ltar, sometimes the altar of a chantry chapel, was named ata

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