Journal Article

Cathedrals and Charity: Almsgiving at English Secular Cathedrals in the Later Middle Ages

David Lepine

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXVI, issue 522, pages 1066-1096
Published in print October 2011 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online October 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cer260
Cathedrals and Charity: Almsgiving at English Secular Cathedrals in the Later Middle Ages

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This article challenges the widespread presumption that, unlike monastic houses, the nine English secular cathedrals did not engage in significant almsgiving. It discusses the range of charitable activities undertaken by cathedrals as institutions: ritualised giving on formal occasions, regular distributions from general income and payments made as part of post mortem commemorations. Surviving accounts enable some quantification of their almsgiving and the Valor Ecclesiasticus is used to compare their charity with that of other religious houses in the 1530s. Individual almsgiving by their clergy was an important component of cathedral charity as a whole. They gave alms regularly in their lifetimes and were particularly generous after their deaths. This is compared with that of other groups: the episcopate, lay magnates and the lesser aristocracy. The high level of discrimination in cathedral almsgiving, evident from an early date, is also discussed. Finally the impact of their charity on the poor is considered. Secular cathedrals were a reliable source of alms over the long term, but this was not regularly spaced through the year. Like most medieval charity its primary intention was to secure spiritual benefits rather than eradiate poverty. The article concludes that secular cathedrals met the charitable obligations expected of them and made a significant contribution to the alleviation of poverty in cathedral cities and on their estates. Almsgiving was an integral part of the Christian life practised by them.

Journal Article.  14984 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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