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RELIGION Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Nottingham hospitals administration regulations church services poverty meals clothing behaviour Palmers charity

Subject: Rules of St. John's Hospital
Original source: 17th century transcript (believed to be from the Red Book), Greaves papers, Nottinghamshire Archives
Transcription in: W.H. Stevenson, ed. Records of the Borough of Nottingham, (London and Nottingham, 1882), vol.1, 29-32.
Original language: Latin
Location: Nottingham
Date: 1241


This is the order and rule of the brothers and sisters of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist at Nottingham, made and ordained by Walter de Grey, archbishop of York, in 1241 A.D.

Walter, by the grace of God archbishop of York, primate of England, to our beloved in Christ Robert Alwin, master of the Hospital of the blessed John the Baptist of Nottingham, and to the brethren serving God and St. John the Baptist there, our greetings and blessing. Since men of religion have agreed among themselves that order should be observed, without which order there would be no religion, we decree and firmly direct that whoever shall be the warden or master of the House of St. John the Baptist of Nottingham is to ensure that there will always be two or more chaplains there to celebrate divine service. Furthermore, we decree that between Michaelmas and Easter all brethren shall get up at the same time for Matins, at an early enough time to allow Matins to be sung before dawn or at the break of day. Prime and Tierce having been sung thereafter, mass is to be celebrated; Sext and None having been sung after mass, the brethren may attend to the business of the house, each one according to the duties assigned to him. And, when they are not prevented by some reasonable and unavoidable hindrance, they shall hear Vespers and Compline. We also decree that all shall habitually be obedient to their warden or master, without gainsay or demur. None of them is to possess any property; but if any of them has possessions, he may surrender them to the warden or master within seven days of the issuing of this rule, or else on the seventh day be excommunicated on the grounds of having kept possessions. The keeper or warden may put to the use of the house the possessions anyone may have. If, however, it is discovered that any of them has property when he dies, his corpse shall be denied burial on Christian ground, and shall be buried elsewhere, the brethren casting his possessions upon him and saying "Take your money with you into perdition!" No-one may have a locked chest, unless it is a chest assigned for his official duties. Everyone shall receive the same kind of clothes, food and drink, and shall not eat meat during the week except on three days – Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday – unless by permission of the warden. They shall dine together in one refectory, keeping silent during the meal or – if it is necessary to say something – speaking in a low voice. Everyone shall sleep together in one dormitory, dressed in breeches and undershirts or garments which they use instead of undershirts; and they shall go to sleep at the time they retire to the dormitory. They shall observe silence until Prime has been sung and, during the night, the brothers shall not approach where the sisters are, nor vice versa, unless they are taken ill. Everyone shall be chaste and sober; they shall not drink anywhere in the town or the suburb. They shall eat in moderation, putting the goods of the house and alms collected to provide [instead] for the needs of the poor and infirm. They will dress in a standard habit; that is, of russet and black cloth. At least once a week they shall meet in chapter where transgressions [of the rule] will be denounced and formally corrected by the warden or master; there is to be no chatter or noise while the chapter is being held, and those who have transgressed shall humbly and obediently submit to canonical discipline. No more brothers and sisters are to be admitted [to the brotherhood] than are needed to serve the infirm and administer the goods of the house. If any of them has a household it is to be well-behaved, honest, sober, and chaste; if any member of the household is discovered to be drunk or lecherous he is to be expelled from the service of the house, unless he restrains himself from such vices. No brother may wander through the town or elsewhere, unless he has formal permission from the warden or master. [Financial] accounts shall be rendered immediately after the Provincial Council. This document is to be read out in chapter, once a month, in French or English. To the extent compatible with their sex, the lay sisters shall comply with what we have above decreed for the brothers to observe. At the beginning of Matins the lay brothers and sisters shall chant Credo in Deum" and "Pater Noster"; next, for Matins, twenty-five "Pater Nosters"; at Prime, seven "Pater Nosters"; at Tierce, seven "Pater Nosters"; at Sext, seven "Pater Nosters"; at None, seven "Pater Nosters"; at Vespers, fifteen "Pater Nosters"; at Compline, seven "Pater Nosters". After Compline they will chant a single "Pater Noster" and "Credo in Deum". In the place where brothers and sisters shall die, the remainder will, within thirty days, chant five hundred "Pater Nosters". Also, everyone shall chant a hundred "Pater Nosters" each week for the brothers and sisters living and dead and for all the benefactors of the House of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist.


The foundation of a hospital, or almshouse, at Nottingham by the Palmers was made possible by a grant of land by Robert de St. Remy (for the benefit of the soul of his brother); it was confirmed by Henry II at some point in the 1160s or '70s, and in the 1180s given recognition by the Pope. The Palmers were professional pilgrims – that is, those who chose a pilgrim life, as opposed to those who made a pilgrimage as a break from their normal life; their name associates them particularly with the Holy Land (palm leaves), although they in fact travelled to many lands. They professed poverty and supported their wanderings through alms. In one or two places in England they seem to have established gilds – which suggests that some at least had given up the itinerant life – and this may have been the case in Nottingham. The purpose of the hospital was described as providing hospitality to poor folk, and probably the Palmers had their own kind particularly in mind. Whether it was this that subsequently became the hospital of St. John Baptist – perhaps as a re-foundation – is not clear, but possible.

The hospital of St. John, by that name, is first mentioned in endowments of land from the 1220s, when already in existence as is evident from a papal grant (1220) of chapel and cemetery for the house; it is believed to existed since at least 1202. Yet, in response to investigations during an archepiscopal visitation in 1321, jurors stated that the hospital had been founded by those men of Nottingham who made the endowments in the 1220s. Possibly it was at that time that the hospital adopted its dedication to St. John. The roles of the hospital at that time were to give alms to the poor, and to provide shelter and care for the infirm poor. Its funding for this came from the income from the endowments and apparently also efforts to collect alms for redistribution; the latter task helps explain its location next to the bridge where the road from London crossed the River Trent and entered Nottingham, the hospital being assigned responsibility for the bridge's upkeep.

The hospital subsequently came under the administration of the borough authorities, but some of this control was lost in the early years of Edward I's reign (when the borough liberties were suspended for several years). By the time of the inquiry in 1321, the hospital had declined considerably in means – accusedly by dissipation – and motivation, and its community had dwindled to practically no-one. The archbishop's intervention began a process of recovery, and was later furthered by a licence from the king to acquire property in mortmain. The hospital is still heard of in the 1460s.



"Matins" "Prime and Tierce" "Sext and None" "Vespers and Compline"
In canonical rule Matins are the divine offices held at midnight; matitutina were originally held just after dawn, but later the term was applied to midnight service and the service in the first hour after dawn renamed Prime, approximately 6 a.m. Here Matins is evidently used for a pre-dawn but not necessarily midnight service, Prime presumably for the first post-dawn one. Tierce, as the third hour after dawn, would have been approximately at 9 a.m., Sext around midday, Nones around 3 p.m., Vespers (the hour for lighting candles) around 6 p.m., and Compline (the completion, or close, of the day) around 9 p.m. Bells were rung to announce these services, thus providing some indication of the time of day, but only an approximate one, since the intervals between services were adapted somewhat to the differing number of hours of daylight in summer and winter.

The reference to individual brethren having a "household" is unclear; it seems improbable that anyone admitted to the house would bring family with him or her, and the communal style of living indicates that there were no household accommodations. Possibly what is meant is brethren in their official duties having servants.

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Created: March 14, 2003. © Stephen Alsford, 2003

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