Friday, April 24, 2009

A Medieval Church Inventory

Although I’ve been known to harp on the fact that I believe reality should never stand in the way of a good gaming experience, this doesn’t mean that I won’t reference actual historical sources in order to inspire and improve the game world. One of my favorite tricks for coming up with memorable weirdness in-game is to see what sort of bizarre hi-jinks humanity gets up to in the real world. Weird reality is too much fun not to use. In addition to the real but bizarre, I keep an eye out for itemized lists and inventories that date from the medieval period. These come in handy when it’s time to flesh out a location, dungeon room, or town business.

A few weeks ago, I was reading Life in a Medieval Village by Francis and Joseph Gies. That book details life in an English “open field” farm village circa the 12th and 13th centuries. Amongst the pages of that book was the following passage, which I found to be very useful in detailing what exactly might be found inside a church or temple in a pseudo-medieval setting:
In 1287 Bishop Quinel of Exeter listed the minimum furnishings of a church: a silver or silver-gilt chalice; a silver or pewter vessel (ciborium) to hold the bread used in Communion; a little box of silver or ivory (pyx) to hold the remainder of the consecrated bread, and another vessel for unconsecrated bread; a pewter chrismatory for the holy oils; a censer and an incense boat (thurible); an osculatorium (an ornament by which the kiss of peace was given); three cruets; and a holy-water vessel. The church must have at least one stone altar, with cloths, canopy, and frontal (front hanging); a stone font that could be locked to prevent the use of baptismal water for witchcraft; and images of the church’s patron saint and of the Virgin Mary. Special candlesticks were provided for Holy Week and Easter, and two great portable crosses served, one for processions and one for visitation of the sick, for which the church also kept a lantern and a hand bell. To these requirements a list dictated by Archbishop Winchelsey in 1305 added the Lenten veil, to hang before the high altar, Rogation Day banners for gang week, “the bells with their cords,” and a bier to carry the dead. Conspicuously missing were benches, chairs or pews; the congregation stood, sat on the floor, or brought stools.

The church was supposed to have a set of vestments for festivals and another for regular use. Bishop Quinel recommended a number of books to help the priest: a manual for baptism, marriage, and burial; an ordinal listing the offices to be recited throughout the church year; a missal with the words and the order of the Mass; a collect book container prayers; a “legend” with lessons from the Scriptures and passages from the lives of the saints; and music books, including a gradual for Mass, a troper for special services, a venitary for the psalms at matins, an antiphoner for the canonical hours, a psalter, and a hymnal. Books and vestments were stored in a church chest.
It’s an inventory like this that makes one of the more difficult aspects of refereeing a breeze – coming up with treasure. It’s always nice to spice up the treasure list of a dungeon with something other than yet another gold necklace or ruby the size of a fist. Taking a look at the above passage, we can see a plethora of objects that are just begging to be gilded, bejeweled, or adorned and thereby bump up their market value. This is also a good starting place for determining what exactly might be found in your name level clerics stronghold/church once it’s time to start detailing those things out. Although this inventory is for a small church of the Christian faith, it’s not too difficult to adjust it to fit any sort of religion – real or imagined – that may exist in your own campaign.

11 comments:

Chris said...

Odds that Bishop Quinel had shares in the local silversmithing and masonry operations? And note his clever bit of job creation for the scriptorium at the local monastery.

And I'm betting Archbishop Winchelsey kept either kept lots of sheep, or had flax fields, or a friend who imported Flemish cloth.

Bishops; political figures, not just prelates. ;)

Good find btw Mike.

taichara said...

Sweet damn, but do I love the Gies' books --

I have to confess to having made use of that passage myself, also *grins*

Mr. Scratch said...

That bell and portable cross to visit the sick is filling me with ideas. What if, in a more polytheistic setting, the monks of the god of death come visiting in that way to escort the sick to their final resting place. The streets would empty at the first chime, the eunuch monk with The Endless Circle at the end of his staff, the young boy ringing the bell half his size, the family sobbing as they welcome the Cold Hand. These mendicants can not heal, only ease pain and hasten the end with a touch. Some say apostates still know that secret and are willing to use those skills for a price.

Excellent post as usual Mike.

Scott said...

Have you ever seen any of David Macaulay's books like Castle or Cathedral? They're painstakingly researched and illustrated explorations of various (medieval or other) edifices, etc. -- how they were built, what's in them, and so on. Still in print, I think, and they've always been cheap for what you get.

rcarbol@home.com said...

I can spend days wandering around http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html looking for things like http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/guild-sthhmptn.html

Amityville Mike said...

Sweet damn, but do I love the Gies' books --

I think they're very good overviews of their subjects. My only problem with them is that they can be a bit of dry read and they sometimes skimp on depth, but that can be excused since they're intended as history for non-historians by non-historians.

Amityville Mike said...

The streets would empty at the first chime, the eunuch monk with The Endless Circle at the end of his staff, the young boy ringing the bell half his size, the family sobbing as they welcome the Cold Hand.

If I recall correctly, the priests often had to make do with a donkey when they didn't have a noviate to assist them on their rounds. Makes you wonder what kind of beast the clerics of death might use in place of an ass...

Amityville Mike said...

Have you ever seen any of David Macaulay's books like Castle or Cathedral?

No, but I've been meaning to get my hands on a big book about cathedrals. They're one of the facets of medieval life that I have the least grasp on and, judging by my tendency to use temples, churchs, shrines, chapels, and whatnot in my adventure settings, I'd probably better get myself up to speed on cathedrals too.

I'll keep an eye out for a copy. Thanks.

Amityville Mike said...

I can spend days wandering around http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html looking for things like http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/guild-sthhmptn.html.

Thanks for the link. I'll take a look and see what I can steal...er...be inspired by.

E.G.Palmer said...

"If I recall correctly, the priests often had to make do with a donkey when they didn't have a noviate to assist them on their rounds. Makes you wonder what kind of beast the clerics of death might use in place of an ass..."

When I read this, a voice in my head said, "Run for your lives! The Ass of Death comes!"

Andreas Davour said...

Are the shrines and temples in my dungeon plain in comparison, or what!

Thanks for the little inspirational piece!