Clothing the righteous...
Seven more charters from 'the book of Rochester' translated in time for Christmas
I have an early Christmas present for you all. I know, I'm very loveable. Well, to be frank, it's Dr Monk (not quite so endearing) who offers you this gift: seven translations of charters from Textus Roffensis ('the book of Rochester'), that wonderful twelfth-century compilation of legal texts, providing us with rich insights into the lives of the English peoples, from the Anglo-Saxon period to the decades after the Conquest. (That last word always gives me indigestion.)
The spiritual life...
This time, beloved, we have two charters that document how certain individuals found their way into the monastery at Rochester. Let's just say they didn't get in for free.
Then we have a charter that tells us the pounds, shillings and pence collected by Gundulf, bishop of Rochester (1087-1108), for clothing his monks. Very nice man, Gundulf.
Building up the spiritual home...
We also have two charters documenting various provisions made by Ernulf, a subsequent bishop of Rochester (1114-24), for his wonderful monks. The first is very important for showing how the bishop allocated funds for the building and maintenance of the brothers' home... in other words, how he got the priests in the diocese to cough up; and the other is indispensable for its insights into the importance of livestock for keeping the blessed brethren going.
The gifts of the spirit...
Following these, we have a later twelfth-century note, a rather testy one, if truth be told, stating how the bishop finances his procurement of clothes, shoes, candles, gifts, and whatnot. We believe you, bishop, we believe you!
Giving to others...
And finally, blessed ones, we go back to Ernulf and Gundulf for a charter that, in many ways, tells us what this religious life is all about. We learn that the good Ernulf sets up an annual charity in honour of the great Gundulf.
So there's a record of alms-giving from various sources, including 1000 herrings (!) donated by the cellarer (one of the chief monks), and eight whole salmon from several of the monastic estates in Kent and beyond. Then we hear of the subsequent distribution to the poor.
Ah, that is kindness and godliness to marvel at, is it not? And so inspiring at this time of year. Mind you, best not dwell on the final part of the charter:
'Having acquired bread and herrings, the cellarer himself with the almoner will distribute these very things to the poor on this day. The salmon, however, the brothers will have in the refectory.'
Oh, I see.
N.B. To access all of Dr Monk's published translations to date, click on the button below: