The Schools of Medieval England

By A. F. Leach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
THE ALMONRY OR CHORISTERS' SCHOOLS IN THE MONASTERIES

THE Almonry at Canterbury, mentioned above in connexion with the Bredgar Exhibition foundation, was the earliest specimen of a new addition to the monasteries, at this time the only contribution by them to lay education. The Almoner, Elemosinarius or eleemosynary officer, alms-giver, was one of the "obedientiaries", or officers, of most, if not all, monasteries. It was his duty to distribute the broken meats from the monks' meals at the gate of the monastery every day, and on certain days to distribute doles in money or kind among the poor, often as many as 1000 receiving a penny each. At the beginning of the fourteenth century a movement sprung up in connexion with the great increase in the worship of the Virgin Mary, for the establishment of choristers in the Lady Chapels of the monastic churches, and special provision had to be made for their housing and education. As the Almoner's chamber, or house, was, for the convenient performance of his duties, always by the outer-gate of the monastery, and he came in contact with the outside lay world, on him naturally devolved the custody and care of the boys, who thus became inmates of the monasteries, in total defiance of strict monastic rules and principles. In providing board, lodging, and, eventually, teaching for their choristers, the monasteries were, however, only following the example of the great secular churches, which had begun, more than a century earlier, to establish separate endowments and common houses, colleges as they were sometimes called, as at Lincoln, for the choristers. In earlier days the choristers were merely imported to sing in the choir, and either lived at home or were lodged in the houses of the resident canons, who had to feed them and look after them.

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