Priory Visitations

Background (probably secondary school level)

The Augustinian Priory was active for over 400 years. The Augustinians were canons and not monks. They had more freedom than most monks but the priory and the canons still had to be kept in line. This was done by regular visits by senior church officials; rather like OFSTED inspections. Some visitation reports are given below, with my comments in italics. The Priory was essentially a place of work and, like any workplace, sensible controls were needed.

Reference – Visitation Reports

1279-80 The Archdeacon of Richmond had, they said, travelled on his visitation with a retinue of ninety-seven horses, twenty-one dogs, and three hawks, and in a brief hour (hora brevi) had consumed more than would have maintained their house for a considerable period. This led to a mandate from (Pope) Innocent III (1198-1216), protecting the canons from undue exactions from archbishops, bishops, archdeacons, and their officers, and restricting the equipages of those persons to what the eleventh Lateran Council had permitted, which only allowed an archdeacon to travel with seven horses on such occasions. (power and wealth can lead to self grandisment and unfettered extravagancies).

  • First he ordered that the monastic alms were not to be put to any illicit uses, but were to be duly distributed. (gifts for favours?)
  • No one, without reasonable cause, was to go into the infirmary, or pretend that he was not able to attend the service of God. (taking time off pretending to be sick)
  • The prior was not to give leave to any brother to wander about the country, or to visit friends or relations, without need; and in giving leave to go out, the prior was to be careful that scandal was not brought on the monastery. (living it up away from their normal place of work)
  • Suspected boxes with locks were forbidden. (personal possessions were not allowed, but still desired)
  • No canon was to dwell alone in any manor, or elsewhere, particularly not at Blouberhous, to the injury of his reputation. (be careful who you deal with and take a witness. Blubberhouses in the west Riding seemed to have been notorious.)
  • Under pain of anathema, any persons who were professed, and had appropriated anything, were to restore it at once to the prior for the common use of the house. (the desire for personal possessions again)
  • The canons and conversi were not to keep the sporting dogs or horses of other persons. (keep your mind on your job)
  • The prior was to see that the office of sacrist was more diligently fulfilled than hitherto, (pick someone honest and diligent to look after your valuables)
  • …..and that useless and mean persons, who consumed the goods of the monastery, were expelled.
  • Sent Reynold de Thyrnum, one of the canons, to Nostell, to undergo the due rigour of regular discipline; he was not to be permitted, either in the prior’s chamber, or elsewhere in private places, as had been his wont, to lead an easy life, unless sickness or other necessity existed. (why should we put up with those who don’t pull their weight?)
  • All their canons living outside in manors were to be immediately recalled unless their fidelity, and also their absence, was unanimously approved by all. (make sure you can trust people who work away)
  • The cloister, in which the regular life flourished, was to be well kept from the going to and fro of secular persons, and no mean, but worthy persons only, were to take their food there, according to the judgement of the superior.
  • Nuns, or secular women, were not to be received within the precincts of the monastery, great ladies alone excepted, who could not be refused without grave inconvenience. (visitors to be controlled, particularly women in an all male establishment)
  • No one was to receive presents without the leave of the president.
  • The old clothes of the canons were to be given to the poor, and no liveries, corrodies, or annual pensions were to be sold without the archbishop’s special leave. (the receiving of gifts, and disposals, should not lead to personal gain)
  • The superfluous and suspected exits towards the new cloister of the vivarium were to be speedily closed. (maintain security of the buildings)
  • Useless servants of the house (and especially the useless servants in the infirmary and hostelry) were to be removed. (don’t put up with shirkers)
  • Buffoons were to be repelled, who raised laughter to the injury of silence. (surely no-one in your school would dream of behaving like this!!)
  • No canon or conversus was to have horses, or a horse in turn, without the expressed assignment of the prior. (today that would be, bosses should restrict car allowances to those who need them)
  • No woman was to approach the place of the canons in the quire; and the minor or young canons were to exhibit reverence and obedience to the older ones. (support a high moral standard)
  • Walter, whose most recent demerits had notoriously accumulated, was to be kept alone in safe custody, and on one day each week was to fast on bread and water. (bad behaviour should be punished)
  • ….. and make inquiry concerning a certain Simon, a novice, whose disregard of the duties of his profession as regarded divine service (again, no shirkers)
  • …… respecting Canon Simon le Constable, who, priding himself on his noble birth, refused to conform to the rule, and as a corrupter of morals was to be transferred to Guisborough, whither the prior was ordered to send him, with a decent equipage, necessary habit, and honest company. (coming from a privileged background does not, by right, place you above others)
  • The services of our Lady, and those for the departed, and others said without music, were to be distinctly and clearly recited; there was to be no gabbling of the verses of the psalms, one side beginning before the other had finished. (do your job properly)
  • None were to make any innovations in the habit worn within or without the house. (wear the correct uniform and don’t allow fashion statements)
  • …… admonished Gerard, the prior, that within a year he should cause a competent chamber, with a chimney and other necessaries, to be made for the prior, and for the reception of the archbishop when visiting the priory (ignore your boss’s needs at your peril)
  • The sub-prior and cellarer were removed from office, the prior resigned somewhat later, and Richard de Kirkeby was again sent away. (even bosses can be disciplined)
  • The sub-cellarer was to render weekly accounts of the daily expenses, and of all kinds of food. All were to abstain from inviting strangers, and to refrain from all superfluous expenses; whatever was left of the food in the refectory or other places was to be given as alms to the needy poor. (run a tight ship)
  • Robert Warde, the prior, being no longer able to perform the duties of his office, resigned, and a pension was assigned him during the remainder of his life. He was to have, inter alia, the habitation called the chamber of John Gisburn, formerly prior, with its garden and easements. Each day he was to receive two ‘honest’ services of flesh or fish, or other meats from the kitchen, such in quantity as that served to two canons, also a service called the ‘Yomanmesse’ for himself, or those who ministered to him; and from the cellar, daily, two white loaves of the greater weight and one white loaf of the lesser weight, with a loaf called the ‘yomanlofe.’ At every tonellacio in the monastery he was to have (blank) flagons of conventual ale from the brewery, and daily from the cellar two flagons of the same, and unam quartam of wine except on Wednesdays and the vigils preceding festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the days when wine was customarily served to the brethren he was to be content with the same allowance as that given to the others. In addition he was to have a yearly allowance of 100s. (a nice pension scheme!)
  • …… commanded the prior to warn all the officials and administrators of the goods of the house to render a true account before the auditors whom he had appointed. (don’t try to hide financial problems)

Suggested Activities

  1. Think of similar examples that might apply in the school or a workplace, and how you would combat the problems that result.
  2. Consider how these visitation records reflect on human nature.
  3. Re-enact a visitation.