The Anglo-Saxon Monk drops his jaw at the ticking-off of Bishop Ascelin by a papal legate
The Judgment of Imar of Tusculum. Textus Roffensis, folio 204r. Imar was legate to England (1144-45), appointed by Pope Lucius II. He passed judgment on the argument between Ascelin, bishop of Rochester, and his monks at St Andrew's Priory. The document is not by the main scribe of Textus Roffensis, who completed his work about the year 1123. It was likely added soon after the events it discusses, around 1145. Image © Dean and Chapter of Rochester Cathedral. By permission.
I have been reading the latest translations of Textus Roffensis by the other Monk of this website, and I'm astonished by what I've read. Such scandalous behaviour! Now that's caught your eye, has it not, blessed ones?
My astonishment lies with Ascelin, a bishop of Rochester Cathedral in the twelfth century (1142-48), who, quite frankly, needed a good telling-off by someone bigger than him. Well that's what he got.
Unlike some of his predecessors, Ascelin's role at Rochester was not that of both bishop and prior. Not being a monk, therefore, it would seem he was, at least for a time, incapable of sharing in the cares and concerns of a monk, which, blessed ones, are many and frequent, as much as we throw our burdens on the Lord.
Once you read the text for yourselves, you will see (with a little bit of reading between the lines) that Ascelin was rather preoccupied with his own well-being as bishop, and not so much with that of the brethren of St Andrew's Priory, for whom, as their bishop, one would have assumed on his part at least some natural affection.
His hubris, however, had led him to argue for the right to certain land that was actually owned by the Rochester monks, land from which they were entitled and accustomed, as collective 'lord', to receive food rents and other privileges. All monks need to eat, blessed ones!
Ascelin was actually carrying on the same argument that his immediate predecessor, bishop John II (1139-42), had already started with the monks. But the monks sent a letter to the pope, Lucius II (1144-45), it would seem, and this led to action.
'The Judgment of Imar of Tusculum', which followed, pertinently observes that 'quarrels not finally laid to rest may yet be renewed in the future'. And so it was that this legate of Lucius, Imar, made it very clear which side of the quarrel the pope stood. Now, please try not to enjoy Ascelin's reproof too much.
The papal rota of Eugene III. Textus Roffensis, folio 208r. The papal rota was copied from the original document to authenticate this copy. This charter is not by the main scribe, who completed his work around 1123, but was probably added soon after the original was sent by the pope, which was dated to 1146. The rota is translated in Dr Monk's publication. Link below.
You may also find the translation of the bull of the subsequent pope, Eugene III (1145-53), rather interesting for the way it reinforces Imar's judgement. The language is subtler, but it is clear that Ascelin was being publicly criticised by the pope for not showing Christian esteem for the brothers of St Andrew's, and the religious life of monks more broadly. Ah, all bless Eugene, I say.
The Anglo-Saxon Monk takes a gander at what King William I bequeathed to Rochester Cathedral priory
Dr Monk has published four more translations from the wonderful Textus Roffensis, all of which you can find links to below. One of these, however, stood out to me: the deathbed bequest of William the Conqueror (r. 1066-1087).
Being an eleventh-century Anglo-Saxon monk, I am quite sure I don't need to spell out for you why I always shudder at the mere mention of that king's name. But as a time-travelling Benedictine, I must also report faithfully on all matters that come to my attention, regardless of my prejudices. I am nothing if not godly.
Let us now swallow out pride and take a look at what the 'great king' bequeathed to the cathedral priory of Rochester. Just to make it clear, that epithet is not mine but was issued by the scribe and his fellow monks, the majority of whom were most likely of Norman descent. Just take a look at the image, below, showing the rubric (the red ink) to the relevant text in Textus Roffensis: Donum Willelmi magni regis ('The gift of the great king William').
And I suppose I should point out the big, purple letter 'W' marking the beginning of his name, and where the text proper begins. You would never guess the brothers were happy with the contents, would you now?
Top of the list of goodies was one hundred pounds! One hundred smackers, blessed ones, as some rather disreputable twenty-first century folk I know would put it. Perhaps the later rumours that William regretted his mistreatment of the English are true; and so we need to ask, do we not: was this generosity in reality an act of death-bed penance?
Mind you, the Rochester community needed the money because it was not long before the king's son and successor, the even less likeable William Rufus (r. 1087-1100), demanded that Gundulf, the bishop and prior of Rochester (1077-1108), build him a castle, which cost our embattled brother sixty of those hundred smackers. But a profit is a profit, as all good bishop-priors know.
The remainder of the bequest is a curious mix of the personal and the ecclesiastical: a royal tunic, a special ivory horn, and a dossal with a silver-gilded frame. Certainly, the bequeathing of garments and textiles was well-known in early medieval England: the Anglo-Saxons liked to give curtains and bedding, and, yes, garments, too.* What the brothers were going to do with the dead king's tunic, however, is anyone's guess. I just hope it wasn't the one he wore at the Battle of Hastings.
The 'special ivory horn', proprium cornu eburneum in the Latin, may have looked something like the Horn of Ulph, a carved elephant tusk decorated with silver, 'one of a number of surviving oliphants manufactured in southern Italy in the eleventh-century' ('A Viking antiquity: the horn of Ulph', University of Cambridge exhibition).
Now I know the vast majority of you (I'm looking at those of you who don't attend church regularly) are wondering, probably saying out loud, what on earth is a dossal? Well, it is an ornamental hanging placed so as to rise from the back of the altar. At the time of this bequest, this would probably have been a panel of decorated fabric, possibly an embroidery or tapestry.** Earlier in the eleventh century, Queen Emma gave two such hangings, which she had probably made herself, to Canterbury Cathedral.*** Likely something similar was left to Rochester.
Well, blessed ones, I am sure you all agree with me that that was quite a generous, and largely thoughtful, bequest from the dying William. I do hope it got him into heaven a little more quickly. Certainly, Gundulf and his monks were appropriately impressed and grateful. In fact, they were so overwhelmed by his benevolence that they established an annual 'festal anniversary' in his name. I wonder if anyone will do that for me when I am gone.
Do enjoy reading for yourself the translation of the document, as well as the other three documents. There will be more translations coming in a couple of weeks, so please look out for those. There is a really good one about a later Rochester bishop getting short shrift from a papal legate over his claims to his monks' estates. We all like a bit of scandal, do we not?
*On Anglo-Saxon bequests, see Anglo-Saxon Wills, ed. and trans. by Dorothy Whitelock (1930; paperback 2011).
** Dossal derives from medieval Latin dossale, which is a variant of dorsalis, meaning 'on the back'; hence the hanging is placed at the back of the altar. From the second half of the thirteenth century, the dossal is associated with the retable, an ornately painted wooden panel. For some beautiful examples, see The Frame Blog.
*** See Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg, 'Holy women and the needle arts: piety, devotion, and stitching the sacred, ca.500-1150', Negotiating Community and Difference in Medieval Europe: Gender, Power, Patronage and the Authority of Religion in Latin Christendom, ed. Katherine Allen Smith and Scott Wells (2009), pp. 83-110, at p. 98.
The Anglo-Saxon Monk announces Dr Monk's latest translations from Textus Roffensis
I know most of you appreciate how hard we monks work, especially Anglo-Saxon monks. But even my post-Conquest Benedictine brethren deserve some recognition for their spiritual endeavours. After all, if it were not for the finger-wearing scribing of the anonymous monk of St Andrew's Priory, Rochester, you wouldn't be reading all the wonderful texts from Textus Roffensis today.
With this in mind, beloved ones, I take great pleasure in announcing the release of the latest texts to be translated from that wonderful codex, all of which relate in some way to the lives of the industrious brothers of Rochester at the end of the eleventh century.
The four texts are from the cartulary section (the charters) of Textus Roffensis and they concern life in the priory, and beyond, during the bishopric of Gundulf (think spiritual wizard, if you must). What a good man he was, both bishop and prior at Rochester (between 1077-1108), always on the look-out for his fellow monks, ready to fight for their material as well as spiritual needs, as you will discover.
Please find below my overview of the four texts. Just click on the buttons to go to Dr Monk's translations, published by Rochester Cathedral Research Guild.
1. Bishop Gundulf affirms the release of land to William II in exchange for land originally granted to St Andrew's priory as a garden for the monks
The first text is a short one. It summarises the struggle Gundulf had getting a certain three acres of land confirmed as the monks' garden: a bishop grants it, a king takes it away, Gundulf has to swap it for some other land. Terrible really for our poor monks. All they wanted was to grow a few vegetables, for Heaven's sake... and probably a few grapes too (you need to read footnote 12 in the translation to get the allusion to the monks' vineyard).
2. Bishop Gundulf confirms a grant of land by Gilbert the priest in exchange for Gilbert entering the monastic life. 3. The account of Gilbert entering the monastic life and Gundulf's subsequent dealings with his relatives over land tenure.
The second and third texts need to be read together. They relate the story of Gilbert the priest who wanted to become a monk. And how do you do that, you ask. Well you hand over a chunk of land to the brothers, who will be happy to oblige.
But that is only half the story, to be honest. You see, Gilbert had a son and another relative who still managed some other land that Gilbert had previously had as tenant of the king, William Rufus. But Ralf and Osmund, as they were known, got into a bit of bother over this land because basically the king was a big meanie as a land-lord, and also as a tax collector. So, as you will find out, they ask good old Gundulf to come to their rescue.
4. The dispute between bishop Gundulf and Pichot, sheriff of Cambridge
Now the final of the four new translations is the best of the bunch, particularly if you like a bit of medieval scandal. And I know you do, blessed ones.
In this tale of greed and chicanery we have our hero Gundulf and his sidekick monk named Grim (yes, that really was his name); the highly disreputable sheriff of Cambridge, Pichot (loud boos, please); and a dozen noblemen who are bullied into lying under oath about land that belonged to the good monks at St Andrew's Priory.
Now, I will not spoil it all by telling you the outcome, but I do have to say that I was initially a tad disappointed that no one got their fingers burnt. I mean literally, blessed ones, for there is talk of trial by hot iron in this text!
But in the end I had my admittedly rather harsh perspective readjusted by, of all people, the other Monk of this website. I yielded to him, just this once, as he is the translator. Well, in a nutshell, he told me that I should, as a man of God, be contented that justice was arrived at by less painful means. I suppose he has a point.
Should you wish to catch up with all the other translations to date from Textus Roffensis, just click on the button below: